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Top-secret Pentagon documents on Ukraine war appear on social media

Ukrainian troops prepare to fire a mortar toward Russian positions on the frontline in the eastern region of Donetsk on Wednesday.
AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian troops prepare to fire a mortar toward Russian positions on the frontline in the eastern region of Donetsk on Wednesday.

Updated April 7, 2023 at 10:39 PM ET

Top-secret Pentagon documents with details about the war in Ukraine have been published on at least two social media sites, Twitter and Telegram.

The revelation set off alarm bells at the Pentagon, which is trying to determine how the material was leaked or stolen.

"We are aware of the reports of social media posts and the department is reviewing the matter," said Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh.

The Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the leaks and has been in communication with the Department of Defense, DOJ spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa told NPR in a statement. The DOJ declined further comment.

The documents include maps of Ukraine and charts on where troops are concentrated and what kinds of weapons are available to them. The online posts show photos of physical documents that were folded and creased in some instances.

One is labeled "Top Secret," and is titled "Status of the Conflict as of 1 March." It gives a detailed battlefield summary on that particular day, though it's not clear why the documents are emerging now, more than a month after they were prepared.

The story was first reported by The New York Times. NPR has also seen the documents online, but is not publishing links to them.

Military analysts say the documents appear genuine, but think the original versions were likely altered in some places.

For example, one chart puts the Ukrainian death toll at around 71,000, a figure that is considered plausible. However, the chart also lists the Russian fatalities at 16,000 to 17,500. The Russian count is believed to be much larger, though neither side releases overall casualty figures.

Also, the chart with the death toll is printed on a black background, while all the other charts on the page are printed on a white background.

It's not clear how valuable the information might be to the Russian military.

Documents do not contain battle plans

The papers published online do not reveal Ukrainian battle plans for a widely expected offensive this spring. Still, they do mention combat brigades that Ukraine is assembling and when they should be ready to fight.

The identity of those who published the documents, and their motives, are not known. Putting the documents online alerted the Pentagon that they had been leaked or stolen, which might not have been otherwise known.

Before the war, Russian intelligence agencies were considered extremely active in Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine were both part of the Soviet Union, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former intelligence agent himself, had meddled in Ukrainian affairs throughout his time in power, including an initial 2014 military incursion.

In the runup to Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, the U.S. intelligence community intentionally publicized some information about the Russian plans.

The goal was to persuade the international community that the threat of a Russian attack was real. CIA Director William Burns has made multiple visits to Ukraine and spoken about the ongoing intelligence sharing between the two countries.

Prior to the war, some U.S. officials expressed concerns that Russian intelligence could gain access to the information the U.S. was providing to Ukraine. But the intelligence sharing among the U.S., NATO and Ukraine has been seen as extremely valuable in helping the smaller Ukrainian military fight off the Russians.

On the battlefield, the Russians continue to press a months-long offensive in eastern Ukraine, in and around the town of Bakhmut, but the Russian military has only made progress in heavy fighting that has claimed thousands of casualties on both sides.

The Ukrainians are widely expected to launch their own offensive this spring, and most analysts expect it to focus on areas controlled by Russian troops in southeastern Ukraine.

A senior Ukrainian security official, Oleksii Danilov said that no more than five people in the world know when and where the counteroffensive will begin.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
Sergio Olmos