Defense Secretary Tightens Classified Information Controls After Ukraine War Documents Leak

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
July 5, 2023US News
Defense Secretary Tightens Classified Information Controls After Ukraine War Documents Leak
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on April 7, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has issued new instructions for how military personnel and contractors are allowed to handle classified information after sensitive military planning documents were recently leaked online.

On Friday, Mr. Austin issued a memo (pdf) providing military components, supporting agencies, and contractors with new instructions for how to handle classified national security information (CNSI). Among the changes Mr. Austin ordered were for the heads of various Department of Defense (DoD) components to ensure all their personnel with access to classified information are properly documented and that various security protocols are being followed.

In one portion of his memo, Mr. Austin ordered heads of DoD components that are not part of the Intelligence Community (IC) must “validate the continuing need for their personnel to have access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and ensure personnel who require such access have a valid SCI non-disclosure agreement on file.” The defense secretary also instructed that DoD component heads make sure to document all Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs) and Special Access Program Facilities (SAPFs), which are two different facilities used for handling classified information.

The security crackdown was triggered after several documents with classified markings appeared online this Spring, providing a glimpse of U.S. military plans and assessments of the ongoing fighting between Ukraine and Russia. Leak investigators eventually linked the publication of these sensitive documents to 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, a low-level information technology specialist with the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

Mr. Teixeira was arrested on April 13 and charged with the unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information in violation of the Espionage Act. He is currently facing criminal prosecution.

On April 14, after Mr. Teixeira’s arrest, the DoD initiated a 45-day review of its security programs, policies, and procedures. That 45-day review period ended last week.

“This review found that the overwhelming majority of DoD personnel with access to CNSI are trustworthy and that all DoD Components demonstrate a broad commitment to security,” Mr. Austin wrote. “However, the review identified areas where we can and must improve accountability measures to prevent the compromise of CNSI, to include addressing insider threats.”

In addition to documenting which DoD personnel have access to classified information and accounting for all SCIFs and SAPFs, Mr. Austin directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ronald S. Moultrie and the Defense Security Enterprise Executive Committee to develop a “centralized tracking system” to document areas for storing classified information and to establish greater accountability for people with access to those classified settings. Mr. Austin also ordered further controls on personal or portable electronic devices within classified settings, including “electronic device detection systems and mitigation measures in all DoD SCIFs and SAPFs.”

The Ukraine War Documents Leak

The Ukraine war documents that appeared online earlier this year included

Photos of printed copies of the documents, which bore “secret” and “top secret” stamps, were posted online. One document described the various types of military equipment sent to Ukraine by the United States and its allies and partners, along with timelines for training Ukrainian troops to use those weapons systems and possible timelines for a “spring offensive,” a possible reference to an offensive that Ukrainian forces are currently undertaking that was only rumored at the time of the leaks.

Another document describes casualty assessments and equipment losses on the Ukrainian and Russian sides of the war. One document describes the locations of Ukrainian and Russian forces on the battlefield, while another describes the location of U.S. military units throughout the rest of Europe. Yet another document appeared to describe the rates at which Ukrainian forces have expended munitions for weapons like the HIMARS rocket artillery system.

Mr. Teixeira allegedly posted the documents on the online messaging app Discord, before they began to circulate on other websites.

The exact number of classified documents that were leaked is unclear.

Mr. Teixeira’s military unit—the 102nd Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts—faced a shakeup after he was charged with the leak. Several of the unit leaders were suspended from their commands, and the unit’s intelligence duties were reassigned to other Air Force units.

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