By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 11, 2023) -- Inside the Defense Department, an effort is underway now to look at the scope and scale of the distribution on social media platforms of what appears to be classified Defense Department information.
Last week, Defense Department officials briefed Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III about a collection of images found circulating on various social media websites that appear to be -- but are not yet confirmed to be -- of classified documents, some related to Ukraine- and Russia-related operations.
"A Pentagon team continues to review and assess the veracity of the photographed documents that are circulating on social media sites, and that appear in some cases to contain sensitive and highly classified material," said Chris Meagher, the assistant to the secretary of defense for Public Affairs, during an online discussion with members of the media.
The imagery shows documents that appear to be in a format similar to those which might be used to provide updates to senior defense officials regarding various military operations, Meagher told reporters.
"Some of these images appear to have been altered," Meagher said. "We've been in close touch with the White House and with interagency partners on this issue. And an interagency effort has been stood up, with a focus on assessing the impact these photographed documents could potentially have on U.S. national security and on our allies and partners."
Now the department is looking internally at what was distributed, how much was distributed and the impact of that distribution, Meagher said.
"We're still investigating how this happened, as well as the scope of the issue," he said. "There have been steps to take a closer look at how this type of information is distributed and to whom. We're also still trying to assess what might be out there."
Since the department became aware of the unauthorized disclosure of information, Meagher said officials have been talking with U.S. allies and partners about what happened. Officials have also informed national security committees and Congress.
Additionally, he said, an effort is underway to determine who might have leaked the information, how they did it and why -- though that effort is not being undertaken by the department itself. Instead, the matter has been referred to the Department of Justice, which has opened a criminal investigation.
"The Department of Defense's highest priority is the defense of our nation and our national security," Meagher said. "The secretary and Department of Defense and the United States government take this apparent unauthorized disclosure extremely seriously, and this is a top priority for us."