The top British defense official has cast doubt on the veracity and impact of the recently leaked American intelligence documents, going further than US officials in questioning the contents of the hundreds of pages of classified intelligence.
“I know for a fact, having read what I’ve seen in the open source, that some of those assertions are untrue,” Ben Wallace, the UK’s Secretary of State for Defense, told journalists in Washington on Tuesday morning.
Asked about the impact on British intelligence gathering, Wallace responded: “Haven’t skipped a heartbeat.”
“I have seen in that leak a number of inaccuracies, significant inaccuracies, or manipulation of information,” he said. “My advice is don’t take it at face value. There are definitely things in there that I’ve seen that I know not to be true.”
While members of the US government from President Joe Biden to his top national security officials have repeatedly said they are taking the leak seriously, engaging with allies to smooth things over and referring to the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation, Wallace was more dismissive and said he wouldn’t “be the only one who would look at those reports and see they’re not entirely accurate.”
“We’re all vulnerable to whistleblowers, leakers, I wish it wasn’t so but we all are,” Wallace said. “I don’t like people leaking my things or anybody else’s things but fundamentally that is the price we pay for being a liberal, open democracy where we trust people.”
He declined to comment on specific subjects in the documents which range from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to American spying on allies like Israel and South Korea.
Wallace acknowledged that portions of the leaks, “might be a bit compromising, might be a bit difficult for a number of nations.”
“But if you’re Ukraine and you’re sitting there fighting the war, you’re used to disinformation, you’re used to leaks, you’re used to hacking attempts, you’re used to human espionage attempts, you’re used to assassination attempts.”
“Do I think it’s going to strengthen Russia? No. Is it going to weaken Ukraine? No,” he continued. “Do I think it’s damaged our relationship with the United States? Absolutely not.”
Wallace is in the US this week for meetings at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. Aside from a clearly doctored document that changed Russian and Ukrainian casualty numbers, American officials have largely not expressed doubt about the legitimacy of the leaked documents, most of which have “top secret” or “secret” headings.
Last week Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old airman with the Massachusetts Air National Guard was charged under the Espionage Act with unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information and unauthorized removal of classified information and defense materials in connection to the leak.
On Monday, the National Security Council’s John Kirby told reporters in a briefing that: “most of what has been released reflects incomplete snapshots in time and does not reflect the most up to date or latest assessments.”
He warned of “significant, perhaps even grave consequences for our national security” and urged reporters to use caution in their reporting but declined to answer a question from CNN about which documents the US believes were altered.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Monday that the Defense Department “continues to work around the clock to better understand the scope and scale of these leaks.”
Meetings between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and top Pentagon officials are happening daily, Singh said, to examine the impact and discuss mitigation efforts. She added that they continue to assess the documents that have appeared online and allowed that there could be more.