In 1967, then U.S. secretary of defense Robert McNamara created a special group of investigators to write the history of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. What the Pentagon chief never imagined was that this history, full of lies involving four presidents — from Harry Truman to Lyndon B. Johnson — would come to light.
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a young historian who was part of the “task force” in charge of fabricating a glorious feat in the history of U.S. imperialism, copied some 7,000 pages of those scandalous military files and sent copies to the Washington Post and the New York Times, which published them under the protection of the First Amendment.
The publication of the so-called Pentagon Papers had an electrifying effect on the anti-war movement, which had been developing in the context of a generalized weariness with an increasingly unpopular war. The U.S. defeat in Vietnam was still four years away, but the Pentagon Papers undoubtedly marked a turning point.
More than 50 years later, in an interview with Ellsberg conducted by the New York Times in March, the journalist asks him, almost prophetically, why there had not been more “Dan Ellsbergs,” considering that hundreds or perhaps thousands of people have access to documents proving the actions of the imperialist U.S. state — actions that are at odds with the morals of the average citizen.
There are just a few exceptions, including Chelsea Manning, who leaked thousands of documents on the atrocities committed by the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — including the Abu Ghraib tortures — as part of Afghan and Iraq War Logs published by WikiLeaks. And a few years later, Edward Snowden published documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, which among other things showed how U.S. imperialism spied not only on enemies but also on allies, including German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ellsberg could not answer with certainty why more people aren’t willing to disclose classified materials, though he cited fears of imprisonment — a consequence faced by both Assange and Manning after WikiLeaks. This enigma, however, seems to recently have been resolved by reality: a new massive leak of classified Pentagon documents has occurred, mainly about the war in Ukraine. The leak was aided by the speed and anonymity of the internet and social media.
Known as the Discord Leaks, these photographed documents began circulating on Discord, Twitter, Telegram, 4chan, and other platforms in February, although the leak became a calamity for the Biden administration only in April. The level of secrecy is varied, ranging from some less sensitive to superclassified documents that carry the “Top Secret” or “NOFORN” stamp (i.e., they cannot be shown or released to foreign nationals).
The New York Times reported on April 13 that the leaks came from Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard and “leader” of the small group chat of gamers where the leaks originated.
After denying the leak, the Biden administration went into damage control mode. Although the official narrative is to downplay the harm and insist that some documents have been adulterated to “benefit Russia,” the truth is that the U.S. government’s level of concern is an admission that the leak contains largely authentic information on the prospects of the war in Ukraine, generated during late February and early March for the Pentagon, the CIA, the National Security Agency, and other state agencies. This is why U.S. officials are already talking about national security being at risk.
The documents contain information on the U.S. military command’s assessment of the war’s progress, which, to a large extent, as is often the case with intelligence information, confirms what was already practically in plain sight.
To Ukrainian president Zelenskyy’s disappointment, and in contrast to the warmongering public discourse that “Ukraine can win,” the documents express deep concern about the weakness of the Ukrainian army and its ability to cope with a new Russian offensive. Among other things, Ukraine’s air defense capabilities are expected to be depleted by May.
The Kremlin found the files “interesting,” although blogs and chat channels of the most warmongering and Putin-sympathizing groups suspect that it may be a U.S. “disinformation campaign.”
Perhaps one of the most revealing elements is the extent to which U.S. intelligence has infiltrated the upper echelons of Russia’s military and, perhaps, political power. Among the files is information on Russian positions that enabled successful military attacks by the Ukrainian military, as well as military planning discussions between Russian intelligence services (the dreaded GRU) with the Wagner Group, a private Russian militia.
The leaked files also include reports on conversations of world leaders that the U.S. spied on with satellite technology, such as Russia’s negotiation with Egypt and Turkey (the latter a NATO member) for the purchase of weapons, drones, and ammunition, as well as intelligence reports on both enemies — such as Iran and North Korea — and allies, ranging from Britain and Canada to South Korea and Israel.
As for the character of the war, the leak adds nothing new: it is a reactionary war. The Ukrainian side under Zelenskyy’s command is completely directed by NATO, in particular the United States, which is using it as a proxy war to weaken Russia, rebuild its leadership, and enlist its allies for an eventual confrontation with China. But the limits of this policy have also become evident. While Putin seeks at least to restore his status as a “great power” at the service of the Russian oligarchs, the alliance between Russia and China opposes U.S. hegemony, but only in order to defend a “multipolar” imperialist order.
It remains unclear how big the leak is, especially if, in addition to the war in Ukraine, it includes other issues such as military plans with respect to China, at a time of maximum tension over Taiwan. But even if no new files appear, the damage to U.S. power is the leak itself, which exposes the fault lines of the imperialist state.
Originally published in Spanish on April 11 in La Izquierda Diario.
Translation by Otto Fors