The man responsible for the leak of hundreds of classified Pentagon documents is reported to be a young, racist gun enthusiast who worked on a military base, and who was seeking to impress two dozen fellow members of an internet chat group.
The Washington Post interviewed a teenage member of the group, who described the man, referred to by the initials “OG”, from their online correspondence, and shared photographs and videos. The Post also viewed a video of a man identified as OG at a shooting range with a large rifle.
“He yells a series of racial and antisemitic slurs into the camera, then fires several rounds at a target,” the report said. OG told fellow members of the same internet group that he worked on a military base, which was not named in the report, where his job involved viewing large amounts of classified information.
The leaked documents have laid bare secrets about Ukraine’s preparations for a spring counter-offensive, US spying on allies such as Ukraine, South Korea and Israel, and the tensions between Washington and allied capitals over arming Kyiv.
There is increasing evidence that the leak was not an intelligence operation by a state actor aiming to discredit the US, but more likely the consequence of a Pentagon policy of granting top secret security clearances to huge numbers of service members, civilians and contractors. The number of employees and contractors in the entire US government with top secret clearance is about 1.25 million.
OG appears to have acted as a leader on a server originally set up in 2020 on the Discord messaging platform by a small group of gun enthusiasts and gamers. The group went by several names, but most often it was known as Thug Shaker Central. Starting last year, OG is reported to have posted the documents on a channel on the server he named “Bear vs Pig”, a reference to the Ukraine war but also a viral video showing pigs fighting off a black bear.
According to the teenage member of the group interviewed by the Post, OG “had a dark view of the government”, portraying the government, and particularly law enforcement and the intelligence agencies, as a repressive force. He ranted about “government overreach”.
The Post said details were confirmed anonymously by other members of the group, and that it had viewed a total 300 photographs of classified documents, three times the number previously thought to be circulating.
The origins of the leaks on Thug Shaker Central was first reported on Sunday by the Bellingcat investigative journalism group, which also interviewed the same member, who is under 18.
However, the Washington Post said the teen member, who had been in touch with OG “in the past few days” had yet to be interviewed by any federal law enforcement officials by the time of publication on Wednesday night, even though the justice department began a criminal investigation and an FBI manhunt was launched at the beginning of the week. The defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, has vowed to “turn over every rock” in pursuit of the leaker.
OG’s current whereabouts are unknown. The teenage group member told the Post he “seemed very confused and lost as to what to do”.
“He’s fully aware of what’s happening and what the consequences may be,” he said. “He’s just not sure on how to go about solving this situation … He seems pretty distraught about it.”
In his final message to his fellow group members, OG told them to “keep low and delete any information that could possibly relate to him”, including any copies of the classified documents.
Russia has so far offered a muted response to the leaks. The deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, suggested on Wednesday that the leak might be a US disinformation ploy. “Since the US is a party to the conflict and is essentially waging a hybrid war against us, it is possible that such techniques are being used to deceive their opponent, the Russian Federation,” Ryabkov told Russian news agencies.
The Ukrainian government is assessing the possible damage from the disclosures. The files give details of 12 newly formed brigades, equipped with western battle tanks and armoured vehicles, which are likely to lead the assault against dug-in Russian positions. “For sure, people are not happy,” one official admitted on Wednesday. “Ukraine was criticised last year for not being a trustworthy partner. At the beginning of the invasion, we weren’t provided with weapons because of this lack of trust. We lost a lot of territory and people as a result. This perception was wrong. And now this leakage happens from the US side.”
It was too early to say whether the leak would affect planning for Ukraine’s counter-offensive, now at an advanced stage, the official indicated. The attack is widely expected to take place in the south of the country, and possibly in the east as well. Ukraine’s goal is to break the land corridor connecting Crimea with Donetsk province and to evict the Russians from the occupied city of Melitopol and the port of Berdiansk.