A Diplomat’s Stand on Pentagon Document Leak

Anil Trigunayat

Hackers seem to have acquired a new heft and respect even from the State actors. Hackathons are conducted to crack the codes. Friends spy not only on enemies and adversaries but also on friends, proving that there are no permanent friends or enemies but interests. Any leaks, therefore, cause international embarrassment and can make friendly leaders even more nervous as many understandings and assessments are made and shared even at the highest level in great confidence.

Espionage and spy craft are perhaps as old as the human curiosity to derive some sense out of the ordinary and extraordinary alike. So is counter-espionage and embedding the moles, double agents and triple agents and the sleeper cells. With technological prowess and advancement and refinement of the spy tools, cyber security and breaches have become even more common.

There are standard protocols and agreements for exchange of relevant information between nations and their respective agencies on terrorism. So there are Official Secrets Acts across the world in different Avatars to prevent unauthorised leak through precaution and prescribed file movement protocols. But then a large part of the analysis of intelligence and its storage is used for securing national interests and international objectives.

It is not merely political and military intelligence but the economic intelligence and consequent tech thefts which have achieved greater salience among various countries especially those that do not have access to advanced technologies in a legitimate and institutionalised manner.

However, hackers seems to have acquired a new heft and respect even from the State actors. Hackathons are conducted to crack the codes. Friends spy not only on enemies and adversaries but also on friends, proving that there are no permanent friends or enemies but interests. It would be recalled that the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel was highly miffed when it was revealed that her phone was tapped and eavesdropped on by the CIA.

Putin is said to be using the standard burner phones as a mark of precaution given his training and profession as a KGB agent for long years. It is becoming a norm with worried and cautious high officials and leaders. No one wants to be smart under the hubris of smart phones. Leaks in the US and elsewhere have not been that infrequent. Snowden’s Wikileaks or Julian Assange’s extensive exposures were highly damaging as the documents revealed to any one and everyone and caused extensive concern and sensation across the world as it exposed the US fault lines and internal classified correspondence. They give away the crux and expose the intent which are otherwise couched in diplomatese.

Therefore, every country develops or at least tries to develop a supposedly foolproof system of how the intelligence received is stored meticulously and made available to certain security cleared personnel only. Any leaks therefore cause international embarrassment and can make the friendly leaders even more nervous as many understandings and assessments are made and shared even at the highest level in great confidence.

Deliberate Leaks of supposedly sensitive information are also an integral part of the ‘Grey Zone’ or disinformation war fare. Some would even suspect the current US intelligence leaks as deliberate for which motives of the US, Russia and Ukraine could arguably be justified to gain an edge in the public domain or steer the public opinion in a particular direction. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the leaks fake and designed to mislead Moscow.

The most recent leak of US documents allegedly done by a disgruntled 21 years old Jack Teixeira of Massachusetts Air National Guard at an Army base, who was apprehended and charged with unauthorised removal and retention and dissemination of classified and national defense information which led to illegal release of assessments of Ukraine war and other highly graded secrets thereby embarrassing the USA. Apparently, he shared these on his App Group called Discord to impress the young followers with real life war situations.

But it is more critical since the Ukrainian war is still going on. For example, it exposed the Ukrainian limitations and lack of availability of sufficient weapons and missiles and consequently an unlikely possibility of Kiev being able to retrieve territories occupied by Russia. Hence the spring offensive might not yield the desired outcomes. The estimates of those killed on either side of the war also berates the enthusiasm of the warring parties especially their Ukrainian friends. It also admits to the presence of foreign troops and military consultants of whom around 50 are British and nearly equal from USA and France thereby supporting Putin’s long held argument of the war of proxy by NATO and the US against Russia.

Moreover, it also decimates the recently reported statements of French President Macron, after meeting Xi Jinping, when he asked Europe to be equidistant from US and China. Serbia, a sympathiser of Russia, is said to be selling weapons to Ukraine. On the other hand, another US ally, South Korea, refuses to supply ammunition to Kiev but is hesitatingly ready to route these through Washington and the Pentagon whose leaks have exposed these murky stratagems.

Some other leaks refer to US mistrust in UNSG Antonio Guterres who seemed to be going soft on Russia in the grain deal. They also have been actively and allegedly spying over the countries and leaders in the US friends list like the UAE who are seen as getting closer to Moscow- a charge that Abu Dhabi denied. Likewise, the report of President Sisi of Egypt planning to supply 40000 units of rockets provoked a response from the Egyptians stating that they are maintaining equidistance from both warring parties.

Although Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms have caused tremendous popular opposition and protests including from defense and security forces – the leak mentions that even Mossad was opposed to these actions.

President Biden and Secretary Blinken have been commenting and cautioning Beijing and Xi Jinping against supplying weapons and critical support to Russia in the ongoing war. Even French President Macron conferred with president Biden before leaving to Beijing on these and the Chinese Peace plan. However , the leaked document reportedly confirms that’ China would respond more strongly and most likely increase the scale and scope of material it is willing to provide Russia if Ukrainian strikes hit a location of high strategic value or appeared to target senior Russian leaders.”

While eventually the investigation will reveal the truth even if not in the public domain, President Biden tried to dismiss the Pentagon leaks as not of ‘great consequence ‘, even as more damaging information is tricking in, stating “There’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence.” But he indeed was concerned that sensitive government documents had been leaked. This is beside the point that sensitive documents have reportedly been found with him and his predecessor Trump, which cast doubts over the custodianship and handling protocols of classified files in the US. Also a lesson for other countries and agencies.

This article was first published in CNBC TV 18 as Pentagon document leaks — a former diplomat’s take on major repercussions of such intelligence thefts on April 17, 2023.

Read more by the author: Navigating the New Normal in West Asia



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  • Anil Trigunayat

    Former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Distinguished Fellow and Head of the West Asia Experts Group at the Vivekananda International Foundation.

  • Vithita