Pentagon Documents Leaked: What We Know So Far
NEWSRUSSIA-UKRAINE WARVOLODYMYR ZELENSKYVLADIMIR PUTINBAKHMUT
Newsweek has obtained more than four dozen of the leaked intelligence documents that were revealed three weeks ago and is publishing 20 of them here for the first time. The documents—labeled “secret” and “top secret”—offer important insight into the state of the Ukraine war, even as NATO expands in response to the Russian incursion and U.S. politicians debate the wisdom or necessity of supporting the war with financial and military aid.
- The stark conclusion buried in the documents is that Vladimir Putin‘s army has made little progress. Since last July, it has gained an average of just 2.7 kms (1.6 mi) of territory “per month” in its attack around Bakhmut.
- An equally startling disclosure is that the number of Russian mercenaries fighting around Bakhmut exceeds the number of regular soldiers. According to U.S. intelligence, 22,000 Wagner group fighters constitute 70 percent of those fighting—thousands more than was previously known and certainly a critical new variable.
- One document notes that Russia has “reacted” to U.S. and NATO reconnaissance sorties.
- Several others report that supplies and support are heading to Ukraine ahead of a Ukrainian offensive planned for April 30.
Most of the documents were classified “Top Secret.” The national security complex argues, as did a top Pentagon spokesman last week, that the disclosures present a “very serious risk to national security.” The FBI says that the documents are “based on sensitive U.S. intelligence, gathered through classified sources and methods….” The alleged leaker, Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the Air National Guard, was arrested Thursday and has been charged with two counts under the Espionage Act. The Bureau stated in its affidavit in support of Teixeira’s arrest that these images have already been posted “on various public Internet sites.”
In other words, the documents are already in the public domain. They were on gaming servers as far back as January, and the news media has written about them, though no outlet has so far published them as a group. A senior Defense source told Newsweek that Putin and the people around him have certainly seen the entire trove—filled with information which if anything is embarrassing to him and his military.
The documents were prepared by the Joint Chief of Staff intelligence directorate and the Defense Intelligence Agency and are daily briefings recounting the latest intelligence. Most deal exclusively with the Ukraine war. Almost all were written from February 27-March 1, and provide a fascinating snapshot of how U.S. intelligence sees the conflict.
(To understand the classification markings used in the documents, see the chart at the end of the story.)
U.S. intelligence is meticulously following the fighting around Bakhmut, mapping Russian troops down to individual trenches and tracking every electronic squawk, from individual cell phones to radars. The soda-straw view shows Bakhmut slowly falling into Russian hands. Its loss will be a psychological blow, but the town is not vital to the overall war, and the United States and its allies are looking to the future, busy building up Ukraine for the Spring “counteroffensive” that the documents say is slated to begin at the end of April.
That date comes none too soon for Ukraine. Russia can barely support its forces and is in a mad rush to replenish its troops on the battlefield. U.S. intelligence concludes that as many as 43,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and 180,000 have been wounded since February 2022. That’s more than the entire size of the initial invading force. The war has also been costly for Ukraine; its losses are as high as 131,000 killed and wounded.
In the eyes of U.S. intelligence, compromise of Top Secret information “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” Yet President Joe Biden, in Dublin on Thursday, said “there’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence” in the documents.
How can it be that documents stamped “Top Secret” could be of little consequence? Or that their compromise could mean so little despite the high level of classification? The answer lies in the nature of secrets themselves, or more precisely, in the routine over-classification that happens in the secret agencies.
The Top Secret documents are almost universally what the intelligence world calls “derivative,” that is, made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of disparate pieces of information—signals intercepts, satellite and aerial reconnaissance pictures, reports from spies, diplomatic cables. Most of that high level of classification is based on the theory that their unauthorized disclosure could compromise intelligence “sources and methods.”
An intercept of a military command net, for example, might be Top Secret because which Russian codes are compromised to allow the intercept is a real secret. A satellite photograph might be classified Top Secret because the acuity might give away capabilities unknown to the Russians (or some satellite sensor might be stealthy in some ways). A report derived from spies might compromise an individual working for the U.S. or its allies. As each piece is aggregated into briefing documents, the highest level of classification of any individual piece routinely carries forward. And then there’s habit—everything of a certain nature such as intelligence from NSA intercepts or from intelligence satellites is Top Secret.
Looking at the Ukraine documents, it’s impressive to see the specifics of Russian unit names and dispositions on the battlefield, but government report writers long ago forgot what the real reason is for the Top Secret classification. That is because there are so many pieces that go into the whole, identifying the unit at its home location, tracking it to Ukraine, locating it in country, following it on the ground. For the intelligence establishment, it’s just easier to use the highest level of classification to apply to an entire analysis, to an entire document. This is especially so when almost everyone in any position around intelligence or command has a Top Secret clearance.
Still, it’s useful to ponder whether there are real secrets contained in the documents. Is Ukraine’s planned April 30 counter-offensive Top Secret? Is a report derived from a specific intercept of a specific phone call Top Secret? To the intelligence community, the answer is yes. But to a public that is being asked to commit $80 billion of its money to assist Ukraine, an argument could be made that there is also a “need to know” the state of the war and impact of that investment.
There is a reason why 1.4 million Americans have Top Secret clearances. Over the years, more effort has been made to distribute intelligence reports to the lowest possible echelon and individual, to make it usable to people on the battlefield and those making decisions about the battlefield. Complaints going back to the Vietnam war about information stuck “behind the green door” and therefore known only to the intelligence people and not to the soldiers who needed it, pushed this reform. At first, that meant producing more information at lower levels of classification, but after 9/11, Top Secret again proliferated. The solution was to award more and more Top Secret clearance to more and more people so that everything could circulate.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, a retired Navy admiral, cautioned reporters last week against writing about the leaked documents. “This is information that has no business in the public domain,” he said.
But there it is. And the commander-in-chief—who rules the classification system by executive order—has himself questioned the severity of the impact.
The document is a daily overview of the battlefield. The main combat is portrayed as centered around the Bakhmut area, but with Ukraine continuing to slowly move eastward from Kherson into Luhansk. The southern demarcation is mostly static but firmly in control of Russia.
“RUS [Russian] forces continued ground operations in Donetsk and were establishing a defense-in-depth between Kherson and Zaporizhzhia,” the document says in a paragraph marked Top Secret, demarcating the positioning of the Russia’s four “groupings of troops”—central, western, southern and eastern.
“High explosive events” over the past 24 hours are recorded from Kherson in the west, through the western front, to Kupiansk in the northeast of the front.
The document also reports a Ukrainian sabotage operation in Belarus, where Ukrainian agents evidently “violated orders” and attacked a Russian airborne early warning airplane on the ground with a small drone. Though Ukrainian sabotage inside Belarus and Ukraine is known to occur, it is a unique piece of information.
The document states that 23 percent (110 of 474) Russian battalion groupings inside Ukraine are “combat ineffective,” 72 of 166 regular army battalions (43 percent) also combat ineffective. Both Russia and Ukraine are assessed as having “MODERATE combat sustainability, with Russia suffering between 35,500-43,500 killed in action (Ukraine is assessed as 16,000-17,500 killed in action) (see Document #15).
Killed in Action
The document is the same daily overview of the battlefield, one day earlier than Document #1, and nearly identical. There is no change on the battlefield, though an accounting of high explosive events portrayed in Document #1 is missing.
A Russian Kilo class diesel powered attack submarine is reported as having departed its Crimean base.
Russian and Ukrainian forces are recorded as suffering between 35,500-43,000 killed in action, 500 less than the next day. Ukraine is assessed as 15,500-17,500 killed in action, a similar difference of 500. This is not to suggest that 500 additional troops died in one day, but merely that the DIA’s methodology and assessment changes from day to day (see Document #15).
U.S. Personnel in Ukraine
This battlefield overview contains information on U.S. forces and activities. The document reveals that the U.S. has at least 100 personnel in Ukraine, suggesting that there are 100 in the embassy and attending to diplomatic and aid questions, with another 14 special operators in country, out of a total of 97 such commandos, half of whom are British.
The document also gives a sense of allied reconnaissance operations over Poland, Romania, and the Black Sea, a combination of U-2s, U.S. and U.K. RC-135 signals intelligence collectors, JSTARS [Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] ground moving target detectors, Reaper drones, and the ARTEMIS CL-650, all flying daily. Some 110 NATO fighter interceptor missions are being flown daily, the U.S. quietly flying interceptors from Lask and Powidz airbases in Poland.
The document contains reference to never-before-revealed “Phoenix Strike” training that is taking place in France, Germany, and the Netherlands for Ukrainian special forces.
Deploy the Kraken
The document reports on a February 28 order from chairman of the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate Kyrylo Budanov to deploy the elite “Kraken” unit to Bakhmut to stabilize a “catastrophic” situation. Ukrainian morale in Bakhmut is assessed as low. The second element of the document reports on a supposed attempt by the Russian Chief of the General Staff and the head of Russia’ National Security Council to undermine Vladimir Putin.
The first of two reports in the document is clearly from intercepted voice phone calls via a foreign intelligence service, as evidenced by the “REL [releasable] to USA” marking which means that it is being given to the U.S. The information about a possible political move against Putin, far more speculative, seems to come from a separate intercept of a Ukrainian member of Parliament.
A Campaign of Attrition in Donbas
The document is a macro overview of the battlefield that concludes that, since April 2022, “Russia’s ground forces, Donbas separatist forces, and Russian private military security company Vagner [Wagner] fighters settled into a campaign of attrition … slowly overwhelming Ukrainian defense with a daily deluge of artillery fires, airstrikes, and repeated multi-pronged, small-unit ground assaults.” These tactics, the document concludes, have “diminished Russian forces and munition stockpiles to a level that, barring an unforeseen recovery, can … frustrate Moscow’s war aims, resulting in a protracted war beyond 2023.” The DIA says that it could have a higher confidence in its assessment “if we could accurately estimate the endurance of Ukraine’s operations…”
The assessment is “based on analysis of NRO [National Reconnaissance Office]-collected and commercial imagery, LAPIS time-series video, and OPIR [overhead persistent infrared] data; and of SIGINT, open sources, and liaison [foreign intelligence service] reporting.” LAPIS is a Palantir processing tool that geolocates and strings together drone and other video into a searchable database.
This close look at the Russian offensive to capture Bakhmut shows the small scale of the battlefield. Though Russia is noted as controlling “approximately 790 square km” of territory east of the town, the briefing slide also concludes that Russia has averaged just 2.7 kms (1.6 mi) of movement “per month.” Russian forces have moved only some 11 kms (6.8 mi) since July.
Nothing in the document reveals unknown or specific intelligence “sources and methods.”
The document is a snapshot of the battlefield around Bakhmut (and further north around Kharkiv).
Twelve Ukrainian brigades of as many as 30,500 personnel are deployed in the “Bakhmut Axis,” defending against approximately 29,000 Russian personnel, 75 percent of them (22,000 personnel) being mercenaries fighting with PMC [private military company] Vagner [the Wagner Group] in 12 detachments. The size and preponderance of the Wagner fighters has not been publicly reported.
Powerful Ukrainian defense about Kramatorsk and Sloviansk are also shown.
What the OPIR Shows
The document concludes that the Ukrainian armed forces lost ground north of Bakhmut in the past weeks, withdrawing from the village of Berkhivka on February 23 (the village of Paraskoviivka was already lost). Some of the Ukrainian logistic lines to Bakhmut have been severed [ground lines of communications] and Ukraine is fortifying “fallback positions west of the city.”
The document says that the assessment comes from a combination of imagery, OPIR [overhead persistent infrared], SIGINT and Ukrainian and other foreign sources, the latter served up by the U.S. European Command Ukraine Coordination Cell. Even with all of that information, there are still limitations on what U.S. intelligence can know, for instance, there was imagery coverage on February 24 (the one-year anniversary of the war). The document also reveals that much of U.S. intelligence’s assessment of the course of the battle is derived from OPIR, essentially high-fidelity detections of hot spots literally created by explosions.
Collecting ‘Traffic’ Data
The document is a high-fidelity snapshot of Russian and Ukrainian forces, based on “emitter activity,” that is, intercepts of electronic signals—mostly radios and radars. It suggests the preponderance of Russian force to the south of the city center, though the emitter analysis might also show greater communications discipline on the part of Ukraine.
The document shows the degree to which the National Security Agency (NSA) and its military affiliates collect “traffic” data: electronic intelligence (ELINT) other than voice communications. No “sources or methods” per se are revealed.
ID’ing Ukrainian Units
The document identifies Ukrainian units by name and locates general front line deployments and defenses. It repeats the same data in Document #7 about numbers of forces and Wagner mercenaries. But it does not reveal any “sources or methods” in making the analysis.
The document is a daily overview of the battlefield around Kharkiv and its border with Luhansk state. Here as many as 48,600 Russian personnel face as few as 7,250 Ukraine personnel. Other than the area around Kreminna, this is a less active combat zone than Bakhmut further south. Concentrations of emitter data (similar to Document #8) locate Russian equipment and unit concentrations.
The document is a snapshot of the battlefield in the south, from Kherson on the western edge to north of Mariupol in the east. A significant number of military personnel still face off here, approximately 23,250 Russians and some 4,000-8,000 Ukraine soldiers. Concentrations of emitter data (similar to other documents) locate Russian equipment and unit concentrations.
Locating Russian Equipment
The document is a snapshot of the battlefield covering the eastern area between Kherson to Mariupol in the west (Document #11) and the Bakhmut area (Documents #8 and #9). As many as 23,050 Russians face as many as 20,000 Ukrainian personnel. Concentrations of emitter data (similar to other documents) locate Russian equipment and unit concentrations.
A ‘Secret’ Weather Report
The document shows the extent of frozen ground in eastern Ukraine in February-March, and the onset of mud season in April-May before wholly favorable movement conditions in June. Nothing in the document reveals unknown or specific intelligence “sources and methods.”
A Sobering Death Toll
The document summarizes Russian and Ukrainian equipment and human losses, at what the intelligence community refers to with “moderate” confidence. “We have low confidence in Russian (RUS) and Ukrainian (UKR) attrition rates and inventories because of information gaps,” the document says, not only questioning Russia’s numbers but also “potential bias in UKR [Ukraine] information sharing.”
More detailed than the data in Documents #1 and #2, the estimates are sobering: 189,500-223,000 Russians killed or injured in combat; and 124,500-131,000 Ukrainians killed or injured. For Russia, that’s twice as many soldiers and mercenaries than were present at the start of the conflict in February 2022. “Casualty assessments, which fluctuate depending on the source, are informed by RUS, Vagner, and UKR officials.”
With regard to equipment, roughly three-quarters of Russia’s deployed artillery guns have also been destroyed, draining Russia’s main offensive weapon. “RUS has … incorporated the use of older, less accurate, munitions system to overcome depletion of more modern system inventories,” the document says. By contrast, Ukraine has lost only about 10 percent of its overall artillery gun inventory.
Russia ‘Reacts’ to Reconnaissance Flights
The United States and NATO have flown 16 manned and 73 unmanned reconnaissance flights over the Black Sea since September (150 days), all of the missions evidently south of Crimea and outside the “SECDEF [Secretary of Defense] directed standoff” distance. Evidently the new rules were put into effect after a “near-shoot down” of a British RC-135 signals intelligence collector on September 29.
Since then, Russia has “reacted to” five U.S. and NATO reconnaissance sorties, a fact that might, if it were publicly discussed, help determine if such missions are worth the risk. Many other sources of intelligence are available, and the flights seem more episodic and as a show of force than a necessity, given that there were fewer than one a day.
Monitoring Chinese Missiles
A daily review of new intelligence obtained in the past 24 hours, the high classification relates to U.S. monitoring of missile flights worldwide—in this case Chinese and Iranian tests.
The “FISA” (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) marking is puzzling on this document, suggesting that something here comes from a lawful wiretap, though no paragraph on the page is so marked.
Diminishing Political Will in Europe
The document lays out continuing Europe support for Ukraine, country by country, and contains no surprises. Nine countries—Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg, Latvia, Portugal, Slovakia, and Slovenia—are listed as facing “diminishing military ability or political will” with regard to future reductions of aid.
The document is derived from reporting by U.S. defense attaches in foreign capitals.
This document shows a detailed breakdown of equipment pledged to Ukraine by combat brigade, noting the flow of military goods, delivery schedules from January-April 2023, and the state of training of Ukrainian personnel. The document also indicates that all U.S. and allied training of Ukrainian forces is taking place outside Ukraine.
Though the general outlines (and even specifics) of foreign deliveries to Ukraine are publicly known, the document indicates the degree to which deliveries are culminating in a “Spring offensive” that is planned for April 30, 2023. The nine combat brigades will experience significant increase in combat power before then. “Total equipment required for (9) BDEs is 253 x Tanks, 381 x Mech[anized vehicles], 480 x Motor[ized] vehicles, and 147 x Artillery plus delivery of 571 x U.S. up-armored HMMWVs,” the document states.
Curiously, the document is “releasable” to Finland, then a non-NATO member, but not to Sweden.
Readying for the Spring Counteroffensive
The document expands on details of equipment delivered to Ukraine in time “for the Spring Counteroffensive” (the previous document says “offensive”). The offensive will be undertaken by Ukraine’s 10th Operational Corps and by made up of the nine brigades that are being reequipped by U.S. and allied forces, with three additional brigades “fully sourced by Ukraine,” that is, equipped through reconstitution and cannibalization.
Classification Markings Used in the Documents
- C: Confidential.
- FGI: Foreign Government Information.
- FISA: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. According to the Director of National Intelligence, “information obtained by, or derived from, an investigative technique requiring a FISA Court order or other FISA authorized collection …” though the documents suggest it also refers to some “alliance” similar to Five Eyes (below) because it appears in the documents as FVEY/FISA.
- FVEY: Five Eyes. Information that can circulate to the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand.
- HCS-P: Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Controlled System – Product. The sub compartment indicates intelligence dealing with the reporting of HUMINT sources and not the operations or identities of those sources, which is designated HCS-O, for operations.
- NF/NOFORN: No Foreign Dissemination.
- OC/ORCON: Originator controlled, a caveat that commonly refers to information obtained by the CIA.
- REL TO USA: Releasable to the United States.
- RELIDO: Releasable by Information Disclosure Official. Information that can be released to foreigners on the discretion of high-level commanders.
- RSEN: Risk Sensitive.
- S: Secret.
- SI-G: Special Intelligence – Gamma sub compartment. Information obtained from signals intercepts, including from satellites.
- TK: Talent Keyhole. Information obtained from reconnaissance satellites.
- TS: Top Secret. Under Executive Order 13526, the unauthorized disclosure of material classified at the Top Secret level, by definition, “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security” of the United States.
“Still, it’s useful to ponder whether there are real secrets contained in the documents. Is Ukraine’s planned April 30 counter-offensive Top Secret? Is a report derived from a specific intercept of a specific phone call Top Secret? To the intelligence community, the answer is yes. But to a public that is being asked to commit $80 billion of its money to assist Ukraine, an argument could be made that there is also a “need to know” the state of the war and impact of that investment.”
There is no need to know for anyone about when and where Ukraine will conduct its offensive, not even to those who are investing in this, lest they want the investment to get lost. Not to mention what’s at stake for Ukraine!
Unless the info that has been released is disinfo, there is already too much talk.
If everything is fully disclosed, the 80 billion will be mostly wasted money.
A taxpayer wants the money to be spent wisely, which isn’t possible if the Russians know exactly what is where.
However, what makes me happy is that this actually proves a nobody in the army is not getting any real sensitive stuff under his eyes.
Yes, some of it was labeled top secret, but it may have been outdated when this guy had seen it.
There isn’t a lot of very sensitive stuff while that must really exist somewhere.
Most of it looks more like some low ranking personel browsing the web and put some publicly available stuff on sheets to save time of their superiors.
If it was truly like this that too many people had access to vital information, much more would have been leaked and in particular the important stuff.
I don’t even think this guy had any idea on what really mattered and what didn’t.