US President Joe Biden doesn’t have a lot of luck with classified documents. He’s already the target of a Department of Justice investigation relating to whether he personally mishandled secret papers from the Obama Administration that were found at his home and private office.
Now, as the US President begins his three-day visit to Ireland, he and top members of his team will be maintaining an anxious eye on events in cyberspace after a weekend leak of US intelligence papers that may not have ended yet.
The White House is scrambling to come to grips with the public appearance of more than 100 documents, many of them with markings that indicate a level of classification so high that they are not to be seen by any foreign or allied eyes.
Some relate to the war in Ukraine, and are already straining America’s global relationships.
US communications intercepts gathered only last month reveal that South Korea’s President, Yoon Suk Yeol, worried that Biden might personally pressure him to send hundreds of thousands of artillery shells to Ukraine, despite the country’s policy of not arming combatants in wartime. The government in Seoul has launched an investigation into how the US snooping of their president’s private conversations occurred.
The documents reveal US intelligence conclusions regarding the war in Ukraine that were presented to senior Biden administration officials as recently as February. Those documents reveal the US does not expect Ukraine to make substantial military gains during the anticipated counteroffensive that Kyiv is planning to launch.
In even better news for the Kremlin, the leak also reveals that the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi is poised to send 40,000 rockets to Russia, along with artillery rounds and gunpowder. The Egyptian leader, understanding the decision’s sensitivity, is shown to have explicitly urged his aides to respect its secrecy.
Over the weekend, President Biden ordered a Department of Justice probe into the leak, which started with documents being published via Discord, an online platform mostly used by video gamers. Documents also appeared on 4chan, a web platform with a long record of publishing leaks and conspiracy theories, and other criminal activities.
The Biden Administration admits it is still coming to grips with the scale of the crisis. Officials have no idea who leaked the documents, and the investigation is beginning with a handful of top Biden lieutenants who saw the US intelligence findings relating to Ukraine, a presentation that occurred within the last two months.
Some of the documents also appear to have been altered prior to their publication, although the White House is refusing to confirm the authenticity of any of them, insisting that investigations remain at a very early stage.
Asked on Monday if the leak was “contained”, the President’s national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters “we truly don’t know”. He indicated that Pentagon officials are reviewing the protocols for classified document distribution within the Department of Defence. “The American people,” said Kirby, “need to know, and deserve to know, that we’re taking this very, very seriously.”
Biden appears to have spent part of his Easter weekend reaching out to allies who are directly compromised by the leak. Although the White House has furnished no readouts of calls to the leaders of Ukraine or South Korea, Kirby confirmed that “US officials have been in touch with relevant allies and partners… at very high levels”. But he demurred on whether Biden would specifically raise the document leak during his meeting in Ireland with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
For Britain and America’s other allies in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing programme, the leaks are especially worrying.
Sunak, alongside heads of government in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, can only wonder whether any source intelligence from Five Eyes nations will be included in subsequent document leaks.
Put more plainly, America’s allies want to know whether their secrets are still safe with Biden’s White House.