A major leak of top secret Pentagon documents that has shaken Washington and aired disputed claims British special forces are operating in Ukraine was shared on an obscure online meme group run by a 20-year-old university student living in the UK.
He said a moderator on his Discord chat group called the End of Wow Mao Zone ‘shared 30 plus leaked documents concerning the Russia-Ukraine war’ on March 1 and one month later he was unwittingly at the centre of the scandal.
In an interview with the New York Times, wow_mao said he spent ‘little time’ on the Discord server and mostly focused on his YouTube channel where he has about 250,000 subscribers.
He declined to share his real name to the outlet but said he is British and Filipino and was living in the UK. He said that the documents being leaked on his server was ‘hilarious.’
Do you know the true identity of wow_mao? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
YouTuber wow_mao, who was thrust onto the international stage after classified Pentagon papers were leaked on a Discord server he hosts, has said that the ‘US government should fear these losers’
‘It was just spread onto the nicheiest [sic], nerdiest parts of the internet,’ he said. ‘That’s the kind of people who would find these documents — losers. That’s who the U.S. government really has to fear.’
A lack of respect for the government was cited as why the documents were most likely leaked, wow_mao telling the outlet: ‘They’ll always find it funny to mock them and cut under them in some sort of way.’
The leak includes claims that 50 members of the UK’s special forces have operated in Ukraine, prompting the UK Ministry of Defence to warn against taking allegations contained in the documents ‘at face value’.
Britain has the largest contingent of special forces on Ukrainian soil, alongside more than a dozen operators each from fellow NATO states Latvia, France and the US, according to a document dated March 23.
In response, the Ministry of Defence posted on Twitter: ‘The widely reported leak of alleged classified US information has demonstrated a serious level of inaccuracy.’
What is the encrypted app Discord?
Discord is a messaging service which is invite-only and encrypted – meaning data is concealed by being converted into code.
The platform can only be accessed with a log-in and password with chat groups known as ‘servers’ – of which many remain small and exclusive.
Any Discord user is able to start a server for free and invite their friends.
There are also larger, more open communities, which usually focus on specific topics such as popular games like Minecraft and Fortnite.
The app estimates it is being used worldwide by tens of millions aged 13+.
Discord says the server is: ‘A place where they can be themselves and spend time with other people who share their interests and hobbies’.
Some of the supposedly classified documents leaked online appear to have been doctored, according to Pentagon spokesperson Chris Meagher.
But US defence officials have been adamant a leak had taken place, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowing to ‘investigate and turn over every rock until we find the source of this and the extent of it’.
Users investigating the leak on the server revealed moderator Lucca had been behind the leak. The origins of the documents reported earlier by Bellingcat who said they later spread to other sites such as the imageboard 4Chan before appearing on Telegram, Twitter and then major media publishers around the world in recent days.
The New York Times reported that a Twitter account using the name ‘MrLucca,’ who used the same profile photo of Lucca on Discord, said that he’d sourced the documents from yet another Discord server.
‘Found some info from a now banned server and passed it on,’ the user wrote, according to screenshots of the conversation obtained by the outlet. The Twitter and Discord accounts have since been deleted.
In a video posted in the wake of the leak to YouTube, wow_mao said: ‘Hey guys Filipino YouTube celebrity here, guess who just got an article on Forbes. Me. But not for the best reasons. If you don’t know what’s going on right now let me give you a quick rundown.’
‘On the first of march a mod on my Discord server shared 30 plus leaked documents concerning the Russia-Ukraine war and one month later my name is showing up on news sites such as Forbes, the Telegraph, and the Washington Post.’
The niche internet star refuted being the centre of the leak instead suggesting that it probably came from another server. He also refused to divulge the name of the moderator who first published the documents in the group.
‘I won’t name who this moderator is since they’re probably getting a lot of s**t right now and you don’t need me to tell you how bad it is to leak secret War documents. I completely denounce this,’ he said with the caption ‘even if you think it’s funny.’
Images circulating online reveal clues that point to the leaker’s identity. This picture shows an English-language instruction manual for a hunting scope in the background
Ukraine’s air defences could be depleted within weeks – making the country vulnerable to Russia President Vladimir Putin’s fighter jets, newly leaked Pentagon documents suggests
‘From what I understand its nowhere near as bad to share already leaked private documents as it is to do the actual leaking and from what I know this moderator found the documents from another discord server. Either from a Minecraft server where they were talking about maps, or I’m not kidding here, a server called thug shaker central.
‘So, uh, yeah, we’re definitely not at the centre of this leak. But my server was how a lot of people saw those documents for the first time. I should mention that my Discord server has never been perfect, hell, its very much been the opposite.’
The 20-year-old goes on to say he can see the humor in ‘sharing private military secrets among your internet friends’ but cautioned away from doing so.
‘I can sort of understand how sharing big private military secrets could be a funny thing to do among your internet friends, but come on, take care of yourself and stay away from doing stuff like this,’ he said.
‘Despite my server being a small part of this massive leak, it hasn’t stopped reporters bringing up my name while trying to trail back where these leaks came from.
‘I’m just a road block the CIA had to go through in the trail to find whoever actually leaked that stuff.
‘I’m a s**t posting internet micro celebrity and I’d like to keep it that way, he said with the caption ‘everything I said was speculation and a joke and parody and satire and I’m mentally unwell.’
The top secret documents leaked online contained classified information on Ukraine’s counter-offensive plans.
These are two of the leaked documents which have been shared by the New York Times
This document appears to show the state of Ukraine’s air defences in February and in May, when it is anticipated they’ll be badly depleted
They set out concerns on how Kyiv‘s armed forces are running short on some weapons, the location of Ukrainian air defences, and the extent to which the Biden administration spies on friends and foes alike.
The documents, which have been circulated for weeks on social media, also touch on Israel’s Mossad spy agency, China, the Middle East and Africa.
The leak covers such a wide range of topics, prompting experts to suggest that the main source could be an American.
‘The focus now is on this being a US leak, as many of the documents were only in US hands,’ Michael Mulroy, an ex-senior Pentagon official, told Reuters.
Kyiv-based security analyst James Rushton said that ‘the Russians are clearly the main beneficiaries’ from the leak.
‘It’s a major embarrassment to the US, and it comes at a critical time as Ukraine is preparing to launch their long-awaited Spring counteroffensive,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘Kyiv was already cautious about sharing their operational plans with Washington; this will likely further damage intelligence sharing between Ukraine and Western partners at a crucial moment,’ he added.
US officials have not ruled out pro-Russian elements behind the leak, although the investigation by the Justice Department is still in its early stages.
It is the most serious intelligence security breach in the United States since WikiLeaks obtained some 700,000 documents, videos and diplomatic cables in 2013.
The Ukraine leaks are a series of photographs of presentations and files printed on A4 paper, folded twice, perhaps to be smuggled out of a secure area.
Investigators will be looking at clues seen in the margins of the photos that could help unmask the leaker.
They include Gorilla glue, shoes, and an English-language instruction manual for a GlassHawk HD spotting scope traditionally used for hunting.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed suggestions that Moscow had orchestrated the release of such highly confidential information.
‘There is, in fact, a tendency to always blame everything on Russia.
‘It is, in general, a disease,’ Peskov, Putin’s long-serving propagandist, said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed suggestions that Moscow had orchestrated the release of such highly confidential information
The intelligence breach could have a drastic impact upon the landscape of the conflict in Ukraine. Biden seen pictured meeting Ukrainian President Zelensky in February 2023
A villager is seen near a destroyed car during heavy fighting at the front line of Bakhmut and Chasiv Yar, in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine in April 2023
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, claimed the leak was ‘to divert attention from the actual preparation for the next stage of the war.’
Another aide to the Ukrainian leader told CNN that Ukraine’s military had already changed their counter-offensive plans as a result.
In a statement on Sunday, the Pentagon said it was reviewing the validity of the photographed documents that ‘appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material.’
US officials told the Washington Post that some documents appeared to have been manipulated, but many were consistent with CIA World Intelligence Review reports that are shared at high levels within the White House, Pentagon and State Department.
Defence analysts say any breach of internal classified US documents would be both damaging and potentially embarrassing.
In addition, the leak would prove valuable to Moscow by showing how deeply US intelligence has penetrated parts of the Russian military apparatus.
Officials are looking at what motivations a U.S. official or a group of officials would have in leaking such sensitive information, said one of the officials who spoke to Reuters.
The official said investigators were looking at four or five theories, from a disgruntled employee to an insider threat who actively wanted to undermine U.S. national security interests.
The U.S. has devoted most of its considerable spying resources to hindering Putin’s efforts and helping Ukraine.
But its spies have also been eavesdropping on allies, including Ukraine, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Israel.
The Times reported that the U.S. is spying on Ukraine in the hopes of getting a clearer picture of its military strategies and helping maximize the effectiveness of its army against Putin.
The documents – while up to several months old – offer detailed insights into which Russian intelligence agencies have been most compromised, and clues as to how the United States has gleaned so much secret Kremlin information
Leaked documents suggest the U.S. knows more about Putin’s war operations than Zelensky’s, which raises questions over the $200 billion in military aid that has been sent to Ukraine
The document leak indicates that the US has been spying on Ukrainian allied officials. Pictured: A Ukrainian serviceman in training exercises in Donetsk
That comes despite the Biden administration stumping up more than $77 billion in aid to the war-torn country since the full-scale invasion began last year.
Those figures have been compiled by the German think-tank the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
US cash has been credited for helping the country successfully hold-off Russian advances far longer than anyone thought necessary.
And while support for funding Ukraine continues to have bipartisan support, news that US officials are often in the dark could raise questions over the sheer amount of resources the White House continues to send to Eastern Europe.
The 100 pages of documents, at least some believed to be accurate, were leaked on a Discord server earlier this year.
They’ve triggered panic at the Pentagon, and a huge effort to work out where the leak is coming from.
Ukraine has suggested they’re not real, but Pentagon officials are said to be treating them as genuine, exposing another schism between the US and its costly ally.
They also appear to show that the intelligence services have been compromised as some reports contain daily real-time warnings on the timing and targets of Moscow’s strikes – which has enabled the U.S. to warn their Ukrainian counterparts.
The documents – up to several months old – offer detailed insights into which Russian intelligence agencies have been most compromised, and clues as to how the United States has gleaned so much secret Kremlin information.