Today's D Brief: Leads in leaker inquest; Putin’s new draft?; ISIS militants, captured; NSA talks AI; And a bit more.

U.S. officials are “getting close” to ferreting out the person who leaked classified documents related to the Ukraine war, which have been making headlines for the past week—more than a month after they’re believed to have first surfaced publicly on the videogame chat server Discord. 

One of the members of the Discord group described the alleged leak source in videotaped conversations with the Washington Post, which published the footage and related reporting Wednesday evening. After speaking with Bellingcat last week, the loquacious Discord member (who is a teenager) told the Post that the leaker is a male in his mid-20s who worked on a U.S. military base, and has been sharing similar documents with online “friends”—some teenagers, others foreigners—for the past several months. 

Nearly 300 leaked documents have been seen by the Post; and most of them have reportedly not been made public. The newspaper also says it has audio recordings of the alleged leak source speaking to group members. And in one video seen by the Post, the alleged leaker was filmed at a shooting range where he yelled a series of racial and antisemitic slurs into the camera before firing several times at a target. 

The Discord group had about two dozen mostly male members, all of them “united by their mutual love of guns, military gear, and God,” the Post reports. The leaker himself is described as “a young, charismatic gun enthusiast…searching for companionship amid the isolation of the pandemic.” He was described as a “bossy” young man who “loved shooting guns and racing cars.”

The leaker also reportedly ranted about “government overreach,” sharing his disdain toward the U.S. response to the Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho back in 1992, as well as the deadly Waco siege a year later, both of which are frequent touchstones for the American far-right militia movement. It may perhaps, then, be little surprise to learn he also allegedly viewed law enforcement and the U.S. intelligence community “as a sinister force that sought [to] suppress its citizens and keep them in the dark.” The teenager, too, shared many of those fears, describing how he’s afraid of what U.S. authorities might do to him when they learn his identity, including using “lethal force” to harm him in some nonspecific way—almost as though he thinks we’re all living in a Jason Bourne movie.

President Joe Biden reminded reporters Thursday in Dublin that there’s a “full-blown” investigation into the leak source ongoing, and it’s led by the Justice Department. “We’re getting close,” Biden said. “But I don’t have an answer” yet on exactly who the leaker is. In terms of what has been leaked so far, the president confessed, “I’m concerned that it happened, but there’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence” in the publicly available documents. The Associated Press has more from Biden’s visit to Ireland, here

Alleged revelations from the leaked documents include: Russia jamming U.S. smart bombs in Ukraine (Politico); peace talks aren’t expected this calendar year (Washington Post); and allegations Kremlin officials are engaged in “infighting” over Wagner mercenaries and convicts sent to Ukraine (Wall Street Journal).

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Could Putin Draft a Big New Conscript Army? Not Easily, Observers Say // Patrick Tucker: Efforts to streamline conscription can’t overcome political and training obstacles, they say.

NSA Pushes Eavesdropping Law, Hits TikTok, Braces for AI-Boosted Attacks // Lauren C. Williams: AI will help malicious actors “to be better or faster,” says the spy agency’s cybersecurity director.

Boeing Eyes Summer Flight Tests for Delayed Training Jet, Citing ‘Progress’ on Ejection-Seat Woes // Audrey Decker: The company says it’s almost ready to test-fly the Air Force’s T-7A Red Hawk, but lawmakers are impatient.

The NSA’s Brain Drain Has a Silver Lining // Evan Rosenfield: Agency leaders should use former employees to recruit new talent and cement public-private working relationships.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 2017, the U.S. military detonated its largest ever non-nuclear bomb—the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or “MOAB”—over alleged ISIS fighters at a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. The blast killed dozens of suspected militants, but was certainly no death blow to the group. In March, America’s top military commander for the Middle East told lawmakers he believes ISIS in Afghanistan will be able to attack targets outside of the country “in under six months”—that is, by September— “with little to no warning.” 

The U.S. military captured three suspected ISIS militants in eastern Syria during a helicopter raid late Saturday night.
Detained: Alleged ISIS “attack facilitator” Hudayfah al Yemeni, along with two of his “associates,” officials at the Tampa-based Central Command announced Wednesday.
“ISIS remains a threat to the region and beyond,” said CENTCOM spokesman Col. Joe Buccino. “The group retains the capability to conduct operations in Iraq and Syria with a desire to strike beyond the Middle East, and its vile ideology remains a threat,” he said.

And lastly: U.S. Army officials at Fort Campbell are holding a private memorial ceremony this afternoon for the nine soldiers who lost their lives in a helicopter accident on March 29 in western Kentucky. The activities will begin with a missing-soldier flyover over McGregor Park in downtown Clarksville, Tenn., at 11:45 a.m. ET. The memorial ceremony is slated to begin at 1 p.m. ET.
The nine soldiers who lost their lives include: 

  • Warrant Officer 1 Jeffery Barnes, 33, of Milton, Fla.;
  • Cpl. Emilie Marie Eve Bolanos, 23, of Austin, Texas;
  • Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary Esparza, 36, of Jackson, Mo;
  • Sgt. Isaac J. Gayo, 27, of Los Angeles, Calif.;
  • Staff Sgt. Joshua C. Gore, 25, of Morehead City, N.C.;
  • Warrant Officer 1 Aaron Healy, 32, of Cape Coral, Fla.;
  • Staff Sgt. Taylor Mitchell, 30, of Mountain Brook, Ala.;
  • Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rusten Smith, 32, of Rolla, Mo.;
  • and Sgt. David Solinas Jr, 23, of Oradell, N.J.