Daily Podcast: The secret Pentagon files explainedApr 13, 2023
Hi I'm Leah Belletto and this is Sky News Daily and in this episode we're talking about a massive leak of classified US military intelligence documents about the war in Ukraine that have been appearing on an online gaming forum and the Pentagon has hinted it is prepared for more, they seem to show details about UK forces operating in Ukraine, the status of Ukrainian air defenses and how the US might monitor other countries. Communications with Russia and China, the accuracy of the
filesis in question and the US has admitted they are investigating the leak, our defense and security expert Professor Michael Clarke will be here to talk about the impact this could all have.
But first, Jack Taylor works for Sky News' data and forensics team. What did you do with these leaked documents? When did you first see them? So it was last Wednesday. I think April 5th, when they started showing up online. I went into the office and the kind of open source areas that I control anyone. could get into them we're talking about telegram pages twitter bits I look at it for my work as part of monitoring the Ukraine war um I went online that morning and all I see is these pages of documents have been taken and posted and then we'll start talking about wow there are these leaked documents out there so that's the first time i saw them so what did you think and what did you take away from what you saw?
What got me initially was that there was a page of military losses that Russia and Ukraine had suffered, but there were two versions, uh, there was a version that listened to Ukrainian losses starting at 16,000, but then there was another version that went through channels pro-Russians who had the numbers changed to 61,000, so there was this kind of one that had been tampered with, I wasn't sure which one, but that was what stuck in my mind along with everything else and there It's when you start to think that I wonder if they're exactly real. Have been? planted, yeah, what did you do next?
So what I did next in a bunch of open source research was this: do you want when you find something like this? Do you want to find the original source? um with any piece of video or text that Sky News uses part of my work is who filmed it. Where is who wrote this kind of stuff? You have to track it, so bellincat, which is an open source research unit, uh, uh, they do what I do, but also long-term research. Ukraine, what they found was that some of these documents had appeared on Discord a month ago which is kind of a mess, a gaming app uses it to send messages with your information while you work, but the documents that appeared on the servers on Discord dedicated to Minecraft and YouTubers and it was sort of in this context of oh my gosh look what I got as people showing off um so they've been tracked to there other forum pages like on 4chan other internet .
Forum website um so they've been around for about a month we can tell from open source research yeah and what can we take away from them what we know so we don't know let's start off we don't know who initially took the photos of the documents because what people remember is the photos of a page that has been taken and passed around so we don't know who took them so that's the question mark in my head so we know where they came from. from and where the spread of these types of servers started, we don't know who took them and we don't know the context of why they were taken or where they were sent, but what we do know is that the Pentagon is investigating the leak of the documents, but they themselves say that as we investigate, we must note that we know that some of these have been altered and tampered with when he came across this particular batch of documents that were photographs. it's been playing it must have been one of those moments where you thought oh honey this is pretty big it could be completely and I think for us in this case we can't verify the actual content so we are relying on the Pentagon say we are investigating we are based on our knowledge of the Ukraine and what we are looking at you know these are correct switch control maps that people may be familiar with but if they are not they are the maps you will see on Sky News all the time time they show uh Ukraine with the lines of the front line of the wall um that is basically based on assessments of current control by Russian and Ukrainian forces using verified photos and videos found online that have been compiled by the Institute for the Study of the lana, so that was used in some of the documents that we looked at, but I think as far as our work, we had to take a step back and go wait for people to know what they're talking about to tell us what it's about because there's no nice way within my line of work i can verify the documents as they are so we have to stand back and wait for the authorities to talk about it so how does the usa deal with a leak of high security?
secretdocuments and Americans have long had a philosophy they call Dare to Share you know we have a need to know philosophy in Britain do you need to know if you don't need to know you won't know you won't get it you won't get the information but in the American system dare to share which is getting everyone on the same page with a common picture of what we're talking about and why Of course, it's based on the idea that proper Americans are patriotic enough not to leak material or do anything treacherous, but if 1.3 million people have access to some kind of secret material, even a small proportion know about 0.1 percent of those people if they are geeks who want to be a big shot among their friends like this person probably did among their gamer friends and I'm sure it's an anthem then you know some people like that will come out of the system this person or group from people who I think are computer geeks who put it on a gaming site the gaming site Discord which is a small site where you know how to play games to play games among a fairly small group of people and these docs look like I've sitting on the Discord site for many days possibly weeks before someone realized these were pretty important documents because I found it quite curious that it was this gaming forum that was the first to get these documents or images of the documents but then , when we are talking. about the context of the war in Ukraine, it has always been like this, Michael, this disinformation war, this manipulation of information, do you think it plays into any aspect of these documents or does it benefit Putin?
Well, that way it could because there are a lot of conspiracy theories out there that the Russians are very eager to sell and they produce these conspiracy theories about the development of chemical weapons in the Ukraine about the Ukraine having a nuclear program, all completely ridiculous, but if any of these crazy conspiracy theories really carry any weight to some people. and they do, yes, so it's possible that people, even within the American system, think that yes, the Russians are actually onto something, they're on to something here and we're behaving, we Americans are not telling the truth, it's it's quite possible that information warfare has had an effect on someone i mean again i think it's more geeky than treacherous but there may be an element of treachery to this because information warfare is very active right now and in the Rest of the world I have to say the Western world is losing the Ukraine war discussion to the rest of the world, the global south, more people are essentially Russian sympathizers, you know, even though there are 70,000 war crimes, marital behavior and cut off the heads of prisoners as they have done, as there is evidence that they have not.
Never mind that much of the world sympathizes with Russia as if somehow the western world needs a good kick it needs to be pushed back it needs to be shown who's boss and that's a very disturbing development well should we go a little deeper into this? leaks because one of them focuses on Western special forces in Ukraine. What did you do with it? Well, I'd be surprised if Western special forces weren't operating in Ukraine. I have no idea if these leaks are true. Accurate numbers, you know 50 British Special Forces agents and you know a few French Americans.
There is a Dutchman there. Latvian. Those numbers were suspiciously accurate, but I'd be surprised if there weren't any Special Forces operating out of the West because that's what they do. The idea that Britain would have more than others I think is credible because British Special Forces are recognized around the world, they're very, very good and they're very good at this kind of thing they don't go around killing people or fighting people they can do that if they have to they can use crippling violence on the king's enemies if they have to but their job what makes them special is that they can exist in any environment and they can sit and they can watch and that's what they do they don't need support they don't need support one and two man squads can exist in the mountains of afghanistan or in the deserts of arabia or on the streets of london lying in a doorway like you're a drunken grown up a homeless person just watching what really happens told her with a special reconnaissance regiment yes they concentrate on fighting terrorism and crime and some of his reconnaissance is still going on in london not that i won't reveal anything it's now on public record that at least one of those operatives wrote his own book about lying in a doorway covered in drink wearing clothes he'd had on for two or three weeks or the resmelt um and he was depressed he was a Dropout and his job was to stay on the doorstep for a couple of weeks watching what was going on in a certain part of london so he was shocked.
I suppose if there were no special forces in Ukraine, that would be the surprise, yes, and work in Ukraine is almost certain. if they're acting in the Ukraine and they would be observation, it's reconnaissance, they would just exist and what information they would be extracting, so, well, it could be a scale of the Russian forces, I mean, they could be looking at, you know, numbers of Russians uh huh, armaments going to the west uh on the railways or convoys or trucks or they could have been looking for HQ points I mean aiming points for the Ukrainian artillery in this situation it could have been more second hand stuff just trying to observe where there were the Russian forces. building and where their centers of power actually were within a given front, that would be my guess, so the MoD issued a statement, um, what did you make of what they said?
To say, first of all, remember that there are many inaccuracies in these documents. I want to say that the Americans are pretty well admitted. mod is using that to say look um you know not to believe what you read in these docs although I suspect 90 of them are probably true but I'm guessing all 10 have been tampered with in a way that we can see and the other thing the mod he's saying that's what they always say perfectly sensible they say we don't comment on Task Force operations we don't confirm or deny we just don't talk about it and that's fine that's what you would expect them to do so he doesn't get drawn into arguments with people like me saying well i think they're probably doing this they're probably doing that no there's no mod it makes a lot of sense we said look we don't talk about it you say what you like about them we don't.
Let's not talk about Moscow, so what can we expect to hear from Moscow? Well, it will play into their narrative and they'll say, oh look, these documents prove that the West is really attacking us in Ukraine, but they've been saying it anyway and they certainly won't be surprised, I mean, if I'm not surprised that the Forces Western special forces may be operating in the Ukraine, Moscow certainly won't be surprised, they would have known about it just as, in fact, I mean their own special forces are operating in other parts of Ukraine. the world and of course Ukraine so no surprises there but it will play into the propaganda war Moscow is waging against the West saying this is not really about Ukraine this war is all about determination of the West to destroy Russia by drawingus in a war in the Ukraine that's his current narrative well the other documents actually seen by NBC he suggests he's interested in getting your thoughts on this that the battle for the Don bass region of eastern Ukraine probably is heading for a stalemate until 2023 um does that match up with what you've been seeing okay we know yes it's kind of not true but it's true that a lot of people in the Pentagon including Mark Milley who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, um I have expressed skepticism that the Ukrainians are capable of making a decisive breakthrough and no one knows and so, by saying that in these documents they are only really echoing what Mark Milley has hinted at in public statements and what we know that some people in the Pentagon think and what it tells us is that there is a big discussion in the Pentagon, they are looking at Ukrainian capabilities, they are looking at training, they are looking at what they have on paper as far as the Russians are, etc. ., and they say it's okay in a simulation exercise, can they do it? and the answer is well we would like to think so but we are not sure and if the Ukraine is the main one that launched this offensive it can run out of steam like all offensives eventually and that could just leave them with another stalemate and that would be very destabilizing because even if they have taken more territory if they have not somehow broken the main part of Russia's control over the territory, then there will be a kind of fatigue in the western world to say look at this war It's such a big stalemate that it's going to continue for a long time.
The Ukrainians cannot really win on the battlefield. Therefore, we have to look for a way out, and therefore Putin succeeds. Oh, this spring offensive is really all or nothing. I am afraid so, if you leave them in a state of stagnation, it will be very difficult to maintain the consensus in the western world to continue to supply Ukraine at these high levels, both in equipment and not to mention. five billion dollars a month just to keep the ukrainian government running so michael your final thoughts on these lockdown leak documents and what it could mean for changes to the us overstated what we've seen well , we should keep these things in perspective every once in a while there's some kind of spying scandal in one of the five eyes countries, you know, kind of Britain America Canada Australia New Zealand that's the five eyes who are they the biggest and best intelligence collaboration uh in the world and every once in a while there's a spy scandal or a league scandal and it destroys some trust, it causes some embarrassment and bridges have to be rebuilt but they always are, so I don't think we should disproportionate this.
This is inconvenient. It is bad for the Biden Administration. It won't work well in the Biden re-election campaign because the republicans will keep bringing it up even though they know nothing to do with democrat republican ideas um and they're going to have to rebuild their relationships with their allies a bit after this to put together um like it's a hold strategy on these documents will overtake you um and there will be another scandalous spy Scandal or whatever in a few years that is in the nature of the intelligence relationship Taylor and you for listening to the Sky News Daily.
This episode was produced by Emma Ray Woodhouse and Alex Edin, the editor. Is Paul Stanworth a foreigner?
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