War Thunder fans leaked confidential documents to get more realistic tanks

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Video games have long led to fights: controllers thrown, unfounded accusations of treason, insults hurled at mothers and even dogs. But no one has ever leaked confidential national security documents into a public forum to win an argument, until last year, twice. And then again this year.

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

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

Tank experts said the information in the documents was likely not of great value to nations hostile to their respective three countries.

“I didn’t see anything to jump up and down,” said Steven Zaloga, senior analyst at the Teal Group, who has been analyzing tanks for nearly 50 years and has published dozens of volumes on armored vehicles and military technology.

“The tank manuals will be classified at various levels even if a lot of the information contained in it is not particularly sensitive,” said Zaloga, noting that the Leclerc and Challenger tanks were both exported to foreign countries, thus expanding the number of people. with search data access.

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

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Butterworth said that in the case of the Chinese tank, the data relating to what was shared on the forum had 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 that hosts, as well as documentation of foreign army tactics. Much information, including factual data on tanks and how countries like to use them, is already public.

Zaloga said the only data point of potential interest to the foreign military may be the alleged Chinese tank dispersal data. Dispersion is an accuracy metric that tracks performance under varying environmental conditions. However, she said, such information is often released by governments and companies at international arms exhibitions, such as IDEX in Abu Dhabi, as a way to entice potential buyers. There are also many avenues of open source intelligence. The rotation speed of a tank’s turret, for example, can be estimated simply by watching a video on YouTube.

Butterworth and Zaloga have both argued that a design, or documents detailing specific armor materials or configurations, would be of great value to hostile notions.

“If publications keep leaking, something that seems harmless might be important enough for someone who knows what to look for,” Butterfield said.

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

“We continually explain to users that it is useless to provide us with documents that we cannot and will not use, but we can probably do more to explain it,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is no way to completely stop people from posting something on the Internet. We delete posts and permanently ban those who break the rules, so our users know they risk everything essentially for nothing. “

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Yudintsev said Gaijin has not been contacted by the Chinese, British or French governments in connection with these leaks. Spokespeople for the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, the US National Security Agency, the US Department of Justice and the UK Department 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 for mail.

According to Barbara L. McQuade, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, similar posts on U.S. corporate or U.S. armaments forums could raise thorny questions of accountability, national security. and the first amendment. Gaijin is not subject to these same regulations as it is based in Hungary.

“If you have [classified information] and communicate it, you are violating the letter of the law, “McQuade said. However, to be prosecuted,” there is a requirement that you have the intention of harming the United States or providing an advantage to a foreign country, “he said. about 18 US Code § 794.

Under US law, McQuade said, forums such as the “War Thunder” site could be protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides extensive legal protections for “interactive computer service providers”, which are not specifically defined. as publishers when it comes to the things users post on their services.

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

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

“This is the shocking aspect,” Butterworth said, agreeing. “Someone post a classified document online to win an argument about a video game.”