(CNSNews.com) – As investigations continue into the source of a leak of classified Defense Department documents, a Pentagon official said Monday the U.S. is engaging with allies to “reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence and fidelity to our security partnerships.”
Chris Meagher, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, declined to “characterize the conversations” or identify the countries concerned.
Many of the documents posted online appear to deal with U.S. assessments of Ukraine’s military campaign against the Russian invasion, including information on U.S.-provided training and equipment, deployments, and maps of the warzone.
Some reportedly affect allies such as Israel and South Korea, and others deal with U.S. intelligence evaluations relating to countries including North Korea, Iran, China, and Turkey.
Meagher told reporters at the Pentagon that the documents circulating online “present a very serious risk to national security and have the potential to spread disinformation.”
“The Department of Defense is working around the clock to look at the scope and scale of the distribution.”
The Department of Justice has initiated a criminal investigation into the leak.
Photographs of dozens of creased documents, some marked “top secret,” began appearing on social forums popular with gamers several months ago before coming to wider notice when some were posted on 4chan, Telegram, and other platforms.
They first came to the Pentagon’s attention last week, and Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin was briefed on Thursday.
Meagher said the documents in the photographs appeared to be “similar in format to those used to provide daily updates to our senior leaders on Ukraine and Russia-related operations, as well as other intelligence updates.”
“There have been steps to take a closer look at how this type of information is distributed and to whom.”
Meagher said that some of the images “appear to have been altered.” In one of the documents widely reported on last week, U.S. assessments of the number of Russians killed in the invasion of Ukraine were apparently reduced while the number of assessed Ukrainian casualties were inflated.
Administration officials do not know how many more leaked documents may yet appear on the Internet.
“We don’t know what’s out there,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told reporters at the White House. “We don’t know who’s responsible for this. And we don’t know if they have more that they intend to post.”
Although Kirby said the administration was “still determining the validity” of the photographed documents, he also stated that the information “has no business in the public domain” or on the “front pages of newspapers or on television.”
In addition to the information contained in the documents, he raised concern about what they could reveal about “the manner in which we glean that information.”
Meagher at the Pentagon went further, saying that the disclosure of sensitive classified material “could lead to people losing their lives.”
State Department principal deputy spokesman Vedant Patel offered similar comments to Meagher’s about the engagements with allies. He also did not identify the countries concerned, but was asked specifically about South Korea and Israel.
According to published accounts, one leaked document related to a discussion between senior South Korean security officials about whether a request to send artillery shells to the U.S. would violate Seoul’s policy on not providing lethal aid to countries at war – if the U.S. then sent the ammunition to Ukraine.
Another document claimed that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had encouraged staffers to take part in mass street protests against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plans.
In both cases, the information was reportedly obtained through “signals intelligence,” which includes electronic eavesdropping.
Asked if he thought the disclosures may harm U.S. relationships with the two allies, Patel said the U.S. commitment to South Korea and to Israel was “ironclad.”
More broadly, he added, “U.S. officials are engaging with high levels with our allies and partners over this, to reassure them as it relates to our commitment to safeguard intelligence and sensitive documents, as well as ensuring our commitment to the security of the partnerships that we have with these countries.”
On whether the department has had conversations with its Israeli counterparts on the issue, Petal declined to “read out private discussions that are taking place between the United States and our allies and partners, beyond just saying that they are happening at the highest levels and we are working to communicate when we can.”
On Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement on behalf of the Mossad – which falls under the prime minister’s office – calling the report “mendacious and without any foundation whatsoever.”
“The Mossad and its senior officials did not – and do not – encourage agency personnel to join the demonstrations against the government, political demonstrations or any political activity,” the statement said.
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