Pentagon Leak Traced To Video Game Discord Group Discussing Ukraine
According to open-source intelligence specialists, a damning trove of Pentagon leaks initially appeared to have been released on a video game chat service Discord in an effort to win a debate about the conflict in Ukraine.
Discord is a chat program geared for gamers and users who do not want to be censored. Ten of the papers were released on one server dubbed “Minecraft Earth Map” as early as March 4th, a month before they appeared on the other servers.
The strange origin of the leak may seem uncommon, but it is not the first time a gaming conflict has resulted in an intelligence breach, with the overlapped communities posing issues for both gamers and military systems.
Last week, documents revealing estimated casualties in the Bakhmut theatre of combat started to circulate on public social networks, revealing the existence of the leaked cache.
Among the Ukraine war observers were two copies of those documents, one of which had been hastily digitally edited to understate Russian losses and overestimate Ukrainian ones. One, with the accurate numbers, came via a leak to the anonymous image board site 4chan.
A second set of documents, which also contained the modified images, was reportedly circulating on “pro-Russian” Telegram channels.
However, neither was the original source. The data had been disseminated in private Discord chatrooms before they were ever made public on the internet.
“After a brief spat with another person on the server about Minecraft Maps and the war in Ukraine, one of the Discord users replied: ‘Here, have some leaked documents’ – attaching 10 documents about Ukraine, some of which bore the ‘top secret’ markings,” said Aric Toler, an analyst at the research group Bellingcat.
The documents had been uploaded on another Discord server maintained by and for followers of the Filipino YouTuber “WowMao” three days prior, along with dozens of other unconfirmed documents regarding Ukraine. They didn’t seem to be the original source, but rather, the documents could have been posted as early as mid-January on a third Discord server with the moniker “Thug Shaker Central,” among other names.
“Posts and channel listings show that the server’s users were interested in video games, music, Orthodox religion, and fandom for the popular military-themed YouTuber ‘Oxide’,” said Toler.
Despite the scale and sensitivity of the disclosures, it is not the first time that a dispute over video games has been linked to an intelligence compromise. “War Thunder,” a vehicular combat multiplayer video game, had become infamous for having a plethora of leaks associated with it.
Since there are around 70 million users typically playing the game, there are frequently arguments about balance and accuracy. As a result, users have violated the game’s rules in at least 10 different instances since 2020, mostly by posting classified documents about the power of active weaponry in an effort to argue that the digital version of the vehicle should be improved to be more accurate.
For instance, to win an online debate over the speed of the turret rotation on the French Leclerc tank, classified design information regarding the tank was uploaded by arguing discord users in October 2021.
A person posing as a tank commander in the British army then leaked documents about the vehicle’s armor structure in July 2021. Four other individuals also shared design documents for at least five different fighter jets in January of this year.
War Thunder has become a shorthand for intelligence agency oversight, forcing military contractor Raytheon to adamantly dismiss reports specifically asking about the game as part of its security clearance process.
“We always delete posts containing classified or restricted information from our forum as soon as possible. We forbid our users to share documents like this on our platforms. We remind our users again and again that it’s both illegal and pointless, so they should never do that,” said Anton Yudintsev, the founder of Hungarian developer Gaijin Entertainment.
“We never use them in our work and that policy will never change. The development team does not even look at the contents of the documents, moderators just check if the information on the military vehicle or armament in question is still classified or not. If the answer is a yes, we delete everything ASAP,” continued Yudintsev.
For a while now, intelligence agencies have been made aware of the necessity to keep an eye on gaming communities.
The National Security Agency (NSA) was aggressively monitoring Xbox Live, Microsoft’s voice chat program, and has even sent actual operatives into the virtual world of Azeroth, the setting of the World of Warcraft video game series. This information was made available through a 2013 document leak by NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
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