Discord Server Ukraine Leak: Shared Classified Information about Ukraine’s Military Facilities

Avatar img-thumbnail img-circle

in News

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

Discord is an online communication platform that allows text, voice and video communication between different users. The platform is primarily designed for gamers, but is used by everyone to communicate in group chats. Discord is a platform that is free to use and can be used from a browser, desktop computer or mobile devices. What differentiates Discord from social networks like Facebook or Twitter is that the platform is decentralized. Communities/groups are organized in public or private servers. Over 200 million users connect to different servers and communicate with each other. Communication can be text, voice or video call. Discord has many additional features such as assigning different roles to users in servers, creating channels, live screen sharing, file sharing and many more.

Most of the channels that are created on Discord are focused on a gaming, but Midjourney and OpenAI also have their own channels. The AI channels are actually the largest non-gaming channels on the platform.

dramatic plot twist

What probably no one expected was that the largest platform for communication between gamers, would be the source of the largest leak of secret documents from the US government in recent times. The documents were released in early April, but the sharing of top-secret documents began in December 2022.

Who Posted Secret Discord Docs?

The documents were shared on a private Discord server by 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts National Guard. He created the “Thug Shaker Central” server together with several like-minded people in 2020. They were united by their interest in firearms, military equipment and God. Access was limited, and the group could only be accessed by invitation. In the beginning, they had a dozen members. From the start, Teixeira was the unproclaimed leader of the group, says a minor member of the group who spoke to the Washington Post.

Most of the time, the group has been a refuge for members during the pandemic. Here they shared memes, offensive jokes, watched movies together, joked and even prayed. This changed a bit earlier this year, when Teixeira, known to server members as OG, began sharing state secrets. In the beginning, he transcribed entire documents and shared the text in the group. Members generally did not consider the content they were reading to be strictly confidential. In fact, most of the members did not even read the content. During this period the server had about 25 active members from Europe, Asia and South America with access to the channel.

In the posts, “OG” wrote that his documents are from the military base where he works. During the employment, he spent part of his time in a safe location, where he was not allowed to bring his phone or any electronic device. The shared documents came with a full explanation of some of the terms used.

Late last year, irritated, OG sent a message to all members of the server. He spent almost an hour each day writing these long and exhaustive posts, often adding notes and explanations about things that we ordinary citizens would not understand. His “students” were more interested in YouTube videos about military equipment. He was annoyed and reposted on several occasions that if there are no interactions with the posts, he will stop posting them.

Almost at the same time, he changed his tactics. Instead of a transcription, Teixeira started sharing photos of the original documents. Although this was faster, it was also more dangerous. Objects and furniture could be seen in the background of the photos… Even so, most of the server members did not believe that they were real, legitimate documents.

What’s in the shared documents?

The transcribed documents released by Teixeira contain several sensitive topics. Only people who have undergone months of background checks should have been authorized to see them. There are top secret reports on the movements of senior political leaders and tactical updates of military forces. Geopolitical analysis. A look at foreign governments’ efforts to interfere in US elections. Everything you can think of was in the documents, says the Washington Post’s source.

Some of the documents contain a detailed account of the situation on the front in Ukraine; Satellite images of missile attacks on energy facilities in Ukraine. Other documents show close-up images of Chinese spy balloons or potential trajectories of nuclear missiles from North Korea to the United States.

The documents were taken down

For the duration of the winter, Teixeira was sharing documents on the server, and they were all kept secret. This lasted until the end of February, when a teenager first published the documents on another server. Some of these documents contained data on Ukraine’s defense capabilities, and they showed how deep the US could “see” into the Russian military command. Still, no one believed that the documents were real.

“Nobody believed they were real. It’s stupid to post government documents to Discord, you know? Luka (server member and probably the first to post the docs outside the group) was saying: Hey guys, look at this funny stuff I found on a server. It turned out to be not as funny as we thought,” says “Kralj”, a Serbian student who is a moderator on one of the servers Luka is a member of.

In a matter of days, on March 4th, 10 documents were published on the “Minecraft Earth Map” Discord server. This is a more popular server with about 8,500 members, so the secret documents suddenly became available to thousands of users.

However, US officials will not find out about this for another month.

Discord Server Ukraine Leak
Minecraft Earth Map – Source: Bellingcat https://www.bellingcat.com/news/2023/04/09/from-discord-to-4chan-the-improbable-journey-of-a-us-defence-leak/

On April 5th, documents about the situation in Ukraine appeared on Telegram and 4chan. Some of the pictures had the numbers of the victims changed so that the pictures could be used for propaganda. It was only after this that the Pentagon noticed the documents and started an investigation. The investigation ended with the discovery and arrest of Teixeira. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has subpoenaed Discord for the identity of the account’s user. The shared data from the platform revealed both the identity and the address.

Earlier, the server where the documents were originally released was discovered by the research group Bellingcat, and the New York Times successfully compared the table from the photos of the documents to the table in the Teixeira family’s family kitchen. For this, Teixeira can be sentenced to 15 years in prison, due to the publication of confidential documents.

Against Discord’s terms of use, but…

In fact, as Discord makes clear, nothing that happened with the sharing of these documents is in compliance with the rules of use of the platform. The Terms of Use prohibit any misuse of the Platform for criminal activity. This includes the sharing of confidential documents.

However, just recognizing these documents is a challenge for Discord.

“Confidential military intelligence documents present a significant, complex challenge to Discord, as well as other online platforms – only an authorized government official can determine whether a document is classified, unclassified, or even authentic.” Currently, there is no structured process for the government to communicate its stand on platforms like Discord.”

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments