US intelligence grapples with massive leak

US intelligence grapples with massive leak

Most of the documents are no longer available publicly, as the Discord channels have been wiped. Some of the documents, including several doctored ones, continue to circulate on Twitter and Facebook. This thread, quoting from stories from The New York Times and Yahoo News, summarizes some of the key discoveries. This Washington Post article summarizes it succinctly: 

The series of detailed briefings and summaries open a rare window on the inner workings of American espionage. Among other secrets, they appear to reveal where the CIA has recruited human agents privy to the closed-door conversations of world leaders; eavesdropping that shows a Russian mercenary outfit tried to acquire weapons from a NATO ally to use against Ukraine; and what kinds of satellite imagery the United States uses to track Russian forces, including an advanced technology that appears barely, if ever, to have been publicly identified.

One top secret document, allegedly from the CIA, claims that Hungarian President Viktor Orban, a constant thorn on both NATO and the EU’s side as he descends into authoritarianism, considers the US to be ”one of its most significant geopolitical adversaries.” What’s interesting isn’t that revelation. Anyone paying attention could surmise that. It’s the confirmation that American intelligence seemingly sought and found concrete evidence of this is what is damaging.

Same as slides claiming insight into the thinking and decisions of Israeli intelligence, South Korea’s executive branch, and even Ukraine’s military leadership. Everyone wants to keep up the fiction that no one spies on their allies. The revelation that they do isn’t unexpected or surprising, it’s just really freakin’ uncomfortable. Discretion is expected among friends.

One slide I have seen, and studied closely, is the supposed composition of nine brand new brigades to be used for the spring offensive, six of them supposedly ready March 31, and the last three by April 30. In addition to giving a more approximate date for the earliest the spring offensive might start (in three weeks), it’s not helpful for the enemy to know exactly what vehicles, and how many of them, any particular unit might have.  

On the other hand, it’s clear that the U.S. intelligence capabilities can be put to good use. For example, one slide details specific targets that the Russian Defense Ministry had picked in Odesa and Mykolaiv on a specific date (March 3). One of those targets was a Ukrainian drone factory. After early March drone attacks in those cities, Russia claimed to have destroyed a drone factory. One hopes that Ukraine got this intelligence and cleared out the location of that factory ahead of the strikes. It would be hilarious if Russia wasted critically short missiles or drones thinking they destroyed key Ukrainian military infrastructure, if all they hit was an empty warehouse. 

Should we be surprised? We knew prior to the war that the U.S. knew exactly where and when Russia would invade. It had precise information of the moment that ground commanders received the order to attack. We’ve joked over the past year that Putin had good reason to be paranoid, given how the U.S. seemed to have eyes and ears on his decisions. Now we know that insight extends from massive “Russia is about to invade” information, to the relatively trivial “these are the exact targets Russia will hit tomorrow.” 

One document notes that China might be more inclined to supply Russia with critically needed ammunition if Ukraine “hit a [Russian] location of high strategic value” or targeted “senior Russian leaders.” It is true that the U.S. doesn’t have many long-range ATACMS rocket artillery missiles, which Ukraine desperately wants. But American intelligence seems to be saying “send these rockets and one of them hits the wrong target inside Russia, then China single-handedly solves Russia’s ammunition challenges overnight.”

Suddenly, American reticence makes a lot more sense. Heck, even if Ukraine used the rockets sensibly, Russia could be incentivized to stage a false-flag attack to draw Chinese help. At the very least, it dramatically complicates the decision. Critics say that it’s stupid that Joe Biden doesn’t want to escalate the situation; “how much more can Russia escalate?” they ask. But given this slide, it’s not Russia they’re worried about. Ukraine’s chances of winning are far higher if Russia can’t replace the ammunition it’s consuming. 

The author of the thread above notes that “These US slides are absolutely full of detail on sources & methods on issues well beyond Russia/Ukraine. The phrase ‘according to a signals intelligence report’ comes up frequently. There are details on technical means of collection. This is a very damaging leak.” Again, I haven’t read the original documents, and the ones I did see didn’t speak to methods collecting, but “according to signal intelligence report” doesn’t really say much.

Everyone knows the NSA exists, and that the U.S. has unprecedented ability to hoover up and analyze anything transmitted over the air or online. Confirmation of that ability doesn’t seem particularly damaging. Same with satellite surveillance. The Washington Post story above notes that “the Feb. 23 battlefield document names one of its sources as ‘LAPIS time-series video.’ Officials familiar with the technology described it as an advanced satellite system that allows for better imaging of objects on the ground and that could now be more susceptible to Russian jamming or interference.” How could Russia jam imaging technology, which by this description, would just mean better cameras? And sure, those “officials familiar with the technology” might be fudging details or even the true capabilities of that system to throw Russia off the scent, but presumably Russia already knows our satellites have eyes on the ground, and are helpless to do much about it.

Documents estimating personnel and equipment losses were doctored and posted on Russian Telegram, but the originals point to a brutally decimated Russian military. According to Oryx’s open source count of visually destroyed Russian military equipment in Ukraine, Russia has lost 1,928 tanks, 1,168 of them destroyed. One of the leaked documents claimed that Russia had, at the time of the leak (around March 1), lost 2,048 destroyed. Maybe they meant “lost,” which would better line up with Oryx’s numbers, as those includes damaged, abandoned, and captured tanks as well. More interestingly, the document claimed that Russia’s remaining supply of tanks was severely depleted—with only 419 tanks left in Ukraine, and just another 561 tanks in reserves (which would explain why 1950’s era tanks are being pulled from storage.)

Another document provides American intelligence estimates of Russian and Ukrainian losses, the slide crudely doctored by the Russian side. The “low confidence” estimate of Russian losses is 35,500-43,000 dead and 154,000-180,000 wounded. For Ukraine, the numbers are 15,500-17,500 dead and 109,500-113,500 wounded. The wounded-to-dead ratio would confirm what we can plainly see—that Ukraine has far better medical evacuation and care for its wounded than the Russians, who we often see callously leave their wounded lying in fields. Still, the slide makes clear that the estimates are rough, even if these lower numbers make more sense than some of the other numbers floating around, such as Ukraine’s claims that they’ve killed 178,150 Russians as of today. But you add up the Russian dead and wounded, many of which are out of the war for good, and that 178,150 number as one that includes total casualties starts making more sense. 

Not that it matters, in a practical sense. This war won’t be won or lost based on who killed the most, but on equipment, strategy, and morale. Both sides have enough people to compel to the fight if necessary. It does them no good if they can’t equip them, or if there’s no will to fight. And this is why the ability of the West to supply Ukraine (and conversely, keeping China out of the fight) is so critical. 

This is where Bakhmut has been so important to Ukraine’s overall strategy. We know that over a thousand pieces of Western armor (and what seems to be Poland’s remaining stock of Soviet-era gear) are currently in Ukraine or en route. We know Ukrainian forces are being trained in combined arms maneuvers by the U.S. in Germany. We know that HIMARS rocket artillery has been working Russian logistics around Melitopol and other parts of Russian-occupied southeastern Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Russia’s vaunted Winter Offensive never truly materialized in any coherent sense. Rather than an intentional massed offensive designed to break Ukrainian defenses in the Donbas, thus meeting Putin’s goal of conquering both Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts by March 1, we got wave after wave of 6-10-man squads dying for the next meter of land. After eight months of trying, Russia still hasn’t even been able to conquer the otherwise strategically insignificant Bakhmut—only the 59th largest city in Ukraine. 

The cost to defend Bakhmut in lives has been horrific, and military historians will long debate whether its defense was worth the cost. Could Ukraine have retreated to more advantageous high ground immediately to its west, lessening losses? At this point it’s academic—Ukraine made its decision. While it sucks for raw recruits dying and losing limbs in its defense, it has bought Ukraine the time it needs for the coming spring offensive. And boy is Ukraine taunting Russia about it. 

What does Russia have in reserve? Nothing. It has now extended prisoner contracts from six months to 18, almost guaranteeing their death or dismemberment. It wants to recruit 400,000 new contract soldiers, but will be lucky to hit its targets in its spring conscription, much less get people to voluntarily sign up to go to Ukraine. And its sanction-crippled industry can’t supply the equipment its current troops need, much less equip hundreds of thousands of new troops if Russia manages to find them. 

I know the chart is hard to read, but on March 1, Russia launched 170 attacks against Ukrainian positions, and that has steadily decreased to only 40 on April 7. On April 8 the number was 50, and today’s report is back down to 40, thus the downward long-term trend continues. And most of those attacks are around Bakhmut, where the situation remains critical but contained, with the lone muddy dirt road into town still (mostly) open (because regular Russian army forces holding the flanks around Bakhmut either can’t, or don’t want to, cut it off). 

#SpringIsComing might be the harbinger of something big, or it might be psyops to psych out the enemy. Who knows! Well, given the intelligence leak, I bet Joe Biden knows, and apparently way too many people with top-secret designation who had access to those documents. 


These trenches aren’t going to dig themselves.
According to soldiers of the 1st Special Purpose Brigade: “He who has not held a shovel in his hands has never fought. Because a shovel is sometimes more effective than a machine gun.”

— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) April 8, 2023

Looks like they’re building underground living facilities.

The leaked documents claim that Ukraine has fired 9,612 GMLRS rounds. Given that Ukraine has had HIMARS in country for nine months now, that averages out to only around 35 per day. With people demanding more tanks, howitzers, and HIMARS launchers for Ukraine, I keep coming back to this—the challenge isn’t the weapons systems. Those are easy to deliver and relatively cheap. It’s the ammunition that’s the problem, and spare parts, and fuel, and lubricant, etc.

As I’ve written about before, the army had only produced 50,000 GMLRS total at the end of 2022, including deliveries to other weapons system operators (which I roughly count at 18 countries). Ukraine has received 20% of that amount, which is significant, but the actual numbers are still anemic. New production takes time—only 566 can be produced per month. And efforts to double that production won’t be fully in place until 2026.

Yes, this is incredibly frustrating. No, this doesn’t mean that the U.S. isn’t giving Ukraine the tools it needs to win, and no, there isn’t a simple solution. If anything, perhaps we’re learning that of the hundreds of billions the Pentagon spends on shiny new weapons systems, perhaps they need to spend some of that on stockpiling ammunition for the stuff they already have. 

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By dreamer_live

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