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War Thunder fans leaked classified documents to get more realistic tanks

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Video games have long given rise to fights: throwing controllers, unsubstantiated accusations of cheating, insults hurled at mothers and even at dogs. But no one has ever released classified documents related to national security in a public forum to win an argument – until last year, twice. And again this year.

As of 2021, players of “War Thunder”, a popular free-to-play vehicular combat video game, have posted classified documents related to three tanks of British, French and Chinese origin three times in a dedicated online forum. gambling. . The publication of the documents was first reported by the UK Defense Journal, which wrote that a poster, who uploaded the manual to a British Challenger 2 tank, said he was motivated by a desire to get a developer “War Thunder” to make the tank more accurate in the game. Another poster, who claimed to be part of a French tank unit, uploaded a Leclerc S2 manual while participating in an online debate about speed rotation of its turret. The motives of the user who posted allegedly classified information about the Chinese DTC10-125 tank and piece of hardware were unclear.

All three posts have been removed by Gaijin Entertainment, the game’s main publisher and forum host.

Tank experts said the information in the documents was unlikely to be of much value to nations hostile to the respective three countries.

“I haven’t seen anything that would make me jump for joy,” said Steven Zaloga, senior analyst at the Teal Group, which has analyzed tanks for about 50 years and has published dozens of volumes on armored vehicles and military technology.

“Tank manuals will be classified at different levels even though a lot of the information they contain is not particularly sensitive,” Zaloga said, noting that both Leclerc and Challenger tanks were exported to foreign countries, thus broadening the number of people with access to such data.

“It came from a user manual, so it’s classified, but it’s distributed quite widely to anyone who uses the tank, supports it, or maintains it,” said Sonny Butterworth, senior land platforms analyst. at Janes, a defense intelligence company.

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Butterworth said that in the case of the Chinese tank, data related to what was shared on the forum has been online since at least 2018. He also pointed out that the US Army’s TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command) publishes similar information on public websites it hosts. , as well as documentation of the tactics of the foreign army. A lot of information, including hard data about the tanks as well as how countries like to use these tanks, is already public.

Zaloga said the only data point of potential interest to foreign militaries may be the alleged Chinese tank scatter data. Dispersion is an accuracy-related metric that tracks performance under varying environmental conditions. Yet, he said, such information is often released by governments and companies at international arms fairs, such as the IDEX in Abu Dhabi, to attract potential buyers. Many open source intelligence avenues also exist. A tank’s turret rotation speed, for example, could be estimated by simply watching a video of it on YouTube.

Both Butterworth and Zaloga said a blueprint or documents detailing specific armor materials or configurations would be most valuable for hostile notions.

“If the posts keep leaking, something seemingly innocuous could be very important to someone who knows what to look for,” Butterfield said.

Gaijin Entertainment founder Anton Yudintsev said his Budapest-based company aims to remove material that appears to be classified as quickly as possible. Forum moderators verify with historical consultants whether the information in question is considered classified; governments, Yudintsev said, have never confirmed the authenticity of classified documents specific to his company.

In the case of the Challenger tank, for example, Yudintsev said the British government simply told him that documents like the one shared on the forum remained classified.

“We keep explaining to users that there’s no point in giving us material that we can’t and don’t want to use, but we can probably do more to explain that,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely stop people from posting anything on the internet. We remove posts and permanently ban those who break the rules, so our users know they’re risking it all for essentially nothing.

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Yudintsev said Gaijin had not been contacted by the Chinese, British or French governments about the leaks. Spokespersons for the US Office of the Secretary of Defense, the US National Security Agency, the US Department of Justice and the UK Ministry of Defense all declined to comment. The French Embassy in the United States and the Chinese Embassy in the United States did not respond to multiple requests from the post office.

According to Barbara L. McQuade, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and professor at the University of Michigan Law School, similar posts on U.S. business forums or on U.S. armaments could raise concerns. thorny questions about liability, national security and the First Amendment. Gaijin is not subject to these same regulations since it is based in Hungary.

“If you have [classified information] and communicate it, you are in violation of the letter of the law,” McQuade said. Yet to be sued, “one must have an intent to harm the United States or provide a benefit to a foreign country,” she said of 18 U.S. Code § 794.

Under US law, McQuade said, forums like the “War Thunder” site could be protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which offers broad legal protections to “interactive computer service providers,” who are specifically not defined as publishers with respect to things that users post on their services.

Yudintsev said that neither he nor his team had foreseen this situation. They continue to be surprised by users who leak allegedly classified documents on their forums.

“We are happy that even military professionals like what we do,” Yudintsev said. “But breaking the law to win an online argument is too much. I would like to ask them all: please never do this!

“That’s the shocking aspect,” Butterworth said, concurring. “That someone would post a classified document online to win a video game argument.”