Highly classified Pentagon documents leaked online in recent weeks have provided a rare window into how the US spies on allies and foes alike, deeply rattling US officials, who fear the revelations could jeopardize sensitive sources and compromise important foreign relationships.
Some of the documents, which US officials say are authentic, expose the extent of US eavesdropping on key allies, including South Korea, Israel and Ukraine.
Others reveal the degree to which the US has penetrated the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group, largely through intercepted communications and human sources, which could now be cut off or put in danger.
The leaked documents reveal that Ukraine has lost over 120,000 soldiers. The documents, which were recently leaked on social media and are currently the focus of a federal investigation, offer estimates for Russian and Ukrainian casualties.
US officials have described the information included in the leak — which appear to provide detailed assessments on the Ukraine war — as highly sensitive and classified.
One document in particular suggests that Ukraine has suffered between 124,500 and 131,000 casualties, including between 15,500 and 17,500 soldiers killed in action and between 109,000 and 113,500 troops wounded.
The trove of leaked documents, which became public last week as they began circulating on various social media platforms, has raised alarm bells in Washington and allied capitals about the sensitive military and intelligence information that's now been published.
The documents appear to feature details about a wide range of topics and countries — including US partners like Israel, South Korea, and Ukraine and adversarial nations such as Russia, China, and Iran.
A handful of the documents, like the one that reviews both Russian and Ukrainian casualties, contain information about Ukraine's combat readiness and battlefield preparations. They include detailed maps, battle damage assessments, force attrition rates, weapons and other equipment, and more classified information.
Presence of NATO Special Forces
One of the classified US military documents leaked online shows the presence of 97 NATO special forces operators in Ukraine as of March 1, 2023, of which 50 were British, multiple UK outlets reported on Tuesday.
The Guardian reported it had seen two files, dated late February and early March, that listed 50 British special operatives as being active in Ukraine. The US had 14 special operatives in the country, and France, another 15.
The documents were labeled ‘secret’ and were prepared for senior US defense officials, according to the outlet. The daily updates contained information about NATO military operations, logistics, weapons deliveries, and training of Ukrainian troops.
Another UK outlet, Declassified, noted that the 14 US special operators were among the 29 Pentagon personnel present in Ukraine, which included the Marine security detachment at the US Embassy in Kiev and military attaches. Another 71 State Department personnel were listed as being in the country as well, amounting to a total of 100 Americans.
Declassified also said that the slide was marked “not releasable to foreign nationals.”
While US special operators come from two units, Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force, the British definition extends beyond the Special Air Service (SAS) to paratroopers, marines, and other units. The prime minister is not obligated to brief Parliament on their deployment.
Dozens of classified US military documents have been discovered online over the past week, attracting considerable media attention. The US government has not officially confirmed their authenticity, but the Pentagon has launched a hunt for whoever leaked them, and the Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation as well. Russia and Ukraine have largely shrugged off the documents as irrelevant.
While Washington and London have never officially confirmed the presence of their special forces in Ukraine, multiple media outlets have reported on it over the past year. In April 2022, the French daily Le Figaro claimed that SAS and Delta Force operators had been present since the beginning of Russia’s military operation, waging a “secret war” on behalf of Ukraine.
The British Daily Mirror reported that dozens of retired SAS operators had gone to Ukraine to contribute their expertise to Kiev’s cause, funded through a private military company in an unnamed European country. Shortly after those revelations, the Times said a number of SAS operators had returned to Ukraine to teach Kiev’s soldiers how to operate British-made anti-tank rockets.
The outlet Grayzone reported in November that British special operators had been working through a private company called Prevail Partners to train Ukrainian saboteurs targeting Crimea. In December, a British military publication admitted that up to 300 Royal Marines had been deployed to Ukraine for “discrete operations.”