The Thug Shaker Leaks

Until someone comes up with something better, I’m going to call the leaks of printed out briefing slide decks via social media, described in updated reporting from NYT, WaPo, and Politico, the “Thug Shaker Leaks,” after the Discord server via which, Bellingcat reports, the earliest known instances of the leaks were known to be disseminated.

Bellingcat spoke to members of a separate Discord community who claimed that other images had been posted earlier on yet another, since deleted, server often called “Thug Shaker Central” but which also had several other names at different times. Image files shown to Bellingcat detailed a further document in the same style and formatting of those posted in the WowMao server that was dated to January 13.


The Thug Shaker Central server was originally named after its original founder, one member of the server with the username “Vakhi” told Bellingcat. Server administrator duties then passed through various users before a new member took on the responsibility and it went through one of many name changes. Vakhi did not want to name this person but said they were the original source of the leaked documents. According to Vakhi, and two other users who spoke to Bellingcat but declined to be identified by their usernames, the files that were leaked onto WowMao are only the “tip of the iceberg” compared to the quantity of documents posted onto Thug Shaker Central.


However, Bellingcat was able to confirm that Vakhi and the other users who spoke to Bellingcat, as well as another who shared documents on the WowMao server, were part of the Thug Shaker server given that they shared member lists with Bellingcat which matched in key details.

Their accounts of the server’s general nature also independently coincided. The name of the Thug Shaker server frequently changed, sometimes to that of a racial slur, and had around 20 active users making up a tight-knit community, members said. Posts and channel listings show that the server’s users were interested in video games, music, Orthodox Christianity, and fandom for the popular YouTuber “Oxide”.

This server was not especially geopolitical in nature, although its users had a staunchly conservative stance on several issues, members told Bellingcat. Racial slurs and racist memes were shared widely.

The leaks first received wide attention last week after some copies were distributed on Twitter and altered versions started circulating on Telegram. Those initial discoveries pertained to Ukraine, but as yesterday’s reporting lays out, there are also documents showing our spying on Israel and South Korea and other partners (though some Israelis, like Yossi Melman, deem the claims about Mossad backing the anti-Netanyahu protests to be a clear sign of disinformation).

I have only reviewed one document and I’m not chasing down the dissemination pattern.

But I wanted to make a few comments. First, this is one of the most damaging theft-and-leak campaign targeting the US Intelligence Community since Julian Assange was arrested four years ago (though there have been campaigns targeting cops and other parts of the NatSec establishment). It feels similar to Assange-adjacent leaks — the kinds of document someone cultivated by claims of the Deep State might be induced to steal with little to no understanding of what they’re taking.

And Bellingcat’s description of the culture of the Discord servers — conservatives with an interest in Orthodox Christianity with a propensity to use racist slurs — sounds like the kind of people who might be cultivated in the wake of Donald Trump. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that DOJ has arrested at least five members of the military who retained access to highly classified documents after the insurrection, including a Navy Reservist who worked at NRO who will be sentenced this week in EDVA for possessing some silencers, and three Marines who had expanded their access to SIGINT after the attack. Perhaps for investigative reasons, DOJ seems to take longer to arrest such people. And those are just the guys who decided to participate in the insurrection. There must be far more where they came from, and their allegiance to Trump may lead them to deliberately undermine US support of Ukraine. To be clear: there’s no hint that any of the known Jan6 defendants used their access to classified information to leak damaging information. They are, however, ready examples of the kind of disgruntled service members who have access to incredibly sensitive intelligence.

I think it’s at least possible that the form of the leaks — pictures of folded up documents with identifiable objects in the background — may be the opposite of what people take them for: opportunistic theft by someone unskilled who just released them on a lark. I think it’s at least possible that the form of the release — images that obscure the flat face of the documents and have background noise. in them — may make it harder for the IC to find them by scan.

And perhaps some of the most salient points about the leaks came from Mick Ryan, who describes not just how much time it’ll take the IC to do damage assessments and try to find the leaker, but notes that this will undermine the trust that the Biden Administration has fostered with allies, particularly Ukraine. A key part of the success in Ukraine thus far has derived from increased intelligence sharing. And this will put a sharp halt to some of that.

So in addition to telling adversaries — the Russians, but also the Iranians and Chinese — about US sources and methods, it will have a detrimental effect on the trust that has been a key part of US support for Ukraine in the last 14 months.

72 replies
  1. Unabogie says:

    It has long perplexed me why some conservatives have such a visceral hatred of Ukraine. When Trump says Zelenskyy’s name, it drips with a level of derision that I save for the world’s monsters. But why does Trump hate him so much? Is it really only about Trump’s attempted shakedown that went wrong when people talked? I suppose that’s possible, and that it’s just a venal ego trip for Trump that the rest of Trump world feels required to parrot, but there’s something more here. Why did Trump attempt the shakedown in the first place? Clearly, he had already decided that helping to arm Ukraine against Russia wasn’t that important. And others in the GOP have largely thrown in with Putin. I’d like to understand why.

    • Richieboy says:

      Putin is an anti-democratic regressive authoritarian. A “strongman.” That’s the ideal for a lot of Republicans these days. That’s why.

    • wasD4v1d says:

      My 2c (inflation) is that Individual-1 made some kind of deal with Putin – deliver me Zelenskyy and cripple NATO and you get a Trump tower in Crimea. Keep in mind that the TO was propped up by laundered Russian money, and that Manafort had a key role in support of Putin’s puppet predecessor to Zelenskyy. And now Individual-1 is a client of MBS. That there are acolytes (agents) of individual-1ism deep in the deep state goes without saying. My guess there has been a slow purge but at this point I imagine this will escalate.

      • xbronx says:

        Your 2 cents is good enough for me. (See “the enemy of my friend/benefactor/handler is my enemy”) I’d also add good old-fashioned anti-Semitism to Trump’s reasoning. Even with Roy Cohn as his mentor and others of the Hebrew persuasion in TrumpWorld they all had their uses for him. None that I recall resigned in the wake of “good people (Nazis!?) on both sides”.

        • e.a. foster says:

          why dowa Trump hate Zelinsky. For one, Zelinsky is better looking, a better dancer, and someone who is invested in his country.
          It maybe some of the attitudes towards Ukrainians from back in the day and Trump is of that age where he would have been exposed to it. I can recall the names used in stead of Ukrainian when I was a kid. Some people never get beyond those attitudes.
          Also given his fandom of Putin, he wanted to make him happy. Ukraine was a country that for decades had “belonged” to russia. How dare that upstart defy Putin and for trump it might have been, if they defied Putin and him what was the world coming to. Zelinsky won the popularity contest. The other two prima donnas lost. They are sore loosers.

    • Thomas_H says:

      There’s plenty of evidence that there are members of the GOP that are chasing money dangled in front of them by Putin. I’m thinking about the hallway conference in the capital where GOP representatives, including Speaker Ryan and Rep. McCarthy, were discussing Dana Rorhbacher and trump being in the pocket of the Russians. Also, our own homegrown oligarchs interests coincide with those of Putin and his authoritarian regime.

      • Unabogie says:

        Perhaps? I guess you can look at Clarence Thomas to see an example of how mundane corruption looks in those circles. They don’t get paid in cash, they just get to live in luxury as “guests” of wealthy people and don’t want to give it up. But still, with Trump, this is deeply personal. I wonder if it’s as simple as Trump thinking that his “perfect call” with Zelenskyy was supposed to stay private and he blames the Ukrainian government for leaking the shakedown?

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Nothing with Trump is “deeply” personal. Everything is shallowly, transactionally personal; it is just his vast reserves of fear and anger that make it seem deep/personal. To wit: last week’s vilification of NY Judge Marchan, whom he had never heard of the week before but who suddenly became his deeply personal enemy along with his “Trump-hating” wife and daughter.

        • LeeNLP941 says:

          This description brings to mind that of the antagonist in one of CS Lewis’s novels: “… this creature was, by all human standards, inside out — its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart”, and “deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness… ?”

        • Rayne says:

          Trump knew Judge Merchan’s work well given the Weisselberg/Trump Org case was before Merchan 2021-2023.

    • wa_rickf says:

      Why did Trump try to shakedown
      Zelenskyy? Because he could.

      Trump has a peculiar relationship with Putin that the world has yet to understand is my guess about that relationship.

    • Phaedruses says:

      Volodymyr Zelenskyy basically told Donald trump NO, and there was little Donald Trump could do about it. That is an unforgivable sin in trump’s eyes.

      THEN Trump got in trouble here for it, even impeached over it: that is also unforgivable in trump’s eyes.

      Now Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen around the world as a Winston ChurchilI style figure for Ukraine, while Donald trump is seen by more and more people as a sore loser who broke the law to try to cheat and win.

      That burns his butt, which is why he HATES the President of Ukraine.

      Most conservatives have taken their lead about Ukraine and Zelenskyy from Trump since he was occupying the office of the presidency. many still do.

    • Steffan Blanco says:

      Why should we help? It is an European problem that the Europeans need to solve. They are not helping Ukraine and they are right there. We do not hate Ukrainians or Zelensky, even tho Ukraine was deeply corrupt and still is

      • Rayne says:

        Letting this comment through from a new commenter this once as an example.

        This: “even tho Ukraine was deeply corrupt and still is” is a Russian talking point. It was an excuse given in 2019, it was an excuse in 2022 for Russia’s assault on Ukraine.

        This: “They are not helping Ukraine and they are right there” is also a Russian talking point intended to sow distrust between NATO allies by spreading lies even as the EU and NATO are expanding and sending more materiel and other aid to Ukraine.

        It’s part of an influence operation which continues to rationalize Russia’s unjustified and unlawful war on Ukraine. Disseminated here in the U.S., this crap is part of an effort to undermine support for Ukraine among NATO allies whose treaty assures mutual security between members on both sides of the north Atlantic, including Europe.

        Rather unsurprising, though, that this bullshit would pop up in a thread under a post about U.S. intelligence leaked about Russia and Ukraine. Expect more of this and be prepared to address it head on — this is the second batch inside a 24-hour window.

        Welcome to emptywheel, Steffan. Now fuck all the way off.

  2. jaango1 says:

    Marcy, the notion that “The Thugs” having any political relevance, does not exist. But if they do exist (perhaps Assange), the onus will come to rest on the backbone, of our nation’s top 100 Blog Sites. Why?

    For many years now, and within a tad of precision, engaged Chicano politicians, called for Candidate Biden to establish the notion that a Saturday Morning Bloggers Conference and where these Top Bloggers would have the opportunity on a weekly basis, both to question and to receive salient answers and toward a rotation flux of the 13 Cabinet Secretaries or perhaps, on a 13 weekly rotation, annually.

    Consequently, our nation’s top 100 blogging sites, should address our national security and defense behaviors, directly from the mouth of today’s Big Opinion Puffery Compact. And yet, into this “background”, it’s been the Chicano voices that are the leading challengers for “opening up” our Democracy into a far better future, given that the quo among the news outlets demonstrate an ever-expanding behavior for news ratings and within their appropriate revenue expectations. Thusly, our nation’s 20,000 credential-derived journalists, are today’s national shame.

    • P J Evans says:

      This probably makes sense to you, and might even be relevant somewhere, but it comes across mostly as word salad.

      • bmaz says:

        I like Jaango, but this is the typical and relentless focus he has: Problem is, everything is NOT Chicano. We are all in this together. Trying to separate things that way is gross. Especially on Easter. Jaango, you really need to stop with this. You have been asked before.

        • jaango1 says:

          Permit me to “add-on” Bmaz since we are both from Arizona. And thusly, the Governor is now a Democrat; the Secretary of State is now a Democrat; and the Attorney General is now a Democrat. Consequently Spanish-speaking voters are reliable voters in favor of the “democratic” brand. And yet unrecognized in all this political salience is the Spanish-speakers were staunch “progressive” voters.

          And needless to say, but I will, in ten years, demographics will be moving the democratic alliance from once “moderate” and subsequently into the “progressive” column. Thusly, Biden’s “moderate” behavior of today and throughout the next six years, as President, will be recalled as the Era of the X-Files.

        • bmaz says:

          Yes, but the “blueing” of AZ is not just due to Hispanics, it is more general than that. That is not the sole lens through which to look at everything. Important, but not the only thing. Hispanics have been a key, but not the only key, in AZ since I was a kid. We are in this all together.

        • earthworm says:

          “We are in this all together.”
          exactly — seems to be something minimized and forgotten by the emergence of identity politics.

    • ExRacerX says:

      Although the sentences in this post generally use correct word order, the punctuation could cause confusion. For example: Commas are never needed between the subject and the verb (“…the notion…does not/..Chicago politicians…called for…”).

  3. Richard Turnbull says:

    How do I cancel the subscription? I do not see any way to navigate through this to do that, thanks!
    I am waiting for this to be moderated, thanks!

    • bmaz says:

      Hi. Do you have evidence of any subscription? Why are you abandoning ship, because two out of the only three people here who possibly could, told you on or about April 3-4 to not slam us with DDOS in a thread?

      Are you going to leave these friendly confines altogether, or just pull back what you purport to be a subscription?

      Either way, not sure what you need, but Happy Easter, and will be happy to try to help.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      If you really want to leave, you would – without a sound or the cost of a nickle.

    • theartistvvv says:

      Click on the “support” button above, and then the “pay by check” button.

      Send US$125 to the listed address with a memo line note saying, “cancel”.

      Pretty sure the excellent moderation is without further charge to you.

  4. David F. Snyder says:

    Good thread by the Major General.

    Seems like the Trumpists heard their Master’s call in Waco — lots of shadows of McVeigh in these (figurative) large “bombs” lobbed at the federal government lately.

  5. WilliamOckham says:

    I think it’s at least possible that the form of the release — images that obscure the flat face of the documents and have background noise. in them — may make it harder for the IC to find them by scan.

    I think this is unlikely or at least, ineffective. I’ve used Microsoft’s public AI text recognition endpoint. That kind of stuff does not phase it at all. Beyond the obvious masking of PDF metadata of the original files, I’m not sure what the point of photographing the documents was. If I had done something like that, I would have put fake geolocation data and fake timestamps in digital photographs. That didn’t happen in this case, AFAICT.

  6. Tsawyer8 says:

    I seem to be missing the lede. Aren’t these released documents evidence that our leaders were planning this proxy war before the Russian aggressors forced us unwillingly to get involved. Since the executive branch has taken over the power to enter wars without a legislative branch declaration of war, our nation has entered the Vietnamese war for colonial liberation, the Iraqi war to oust the Hassein family and whatever the 25 year war in Afghanistan was.
    These leaks help us understand what the noise is all about.

      • Rayne says:

        Okay, this is an inversion of poking the cactus. Not often I see this gambit, better pop some corn for this one.

      • Tsawyer8 says:

        Since we may all be dead tomorrow if this proxy war in Ukraine gets any hotter we owe it to ourselves to examine the policy very closely. The intelligence leak is being presented exactly as the government wants, as some sort of strategic risk for our military, but it calls into question the stated reason for the action.
        The last war that was properly declared by Congress was WWII. None of the wars in my lifetime were so declared. If Congress zealously preserved its constitutional role, it might have debated and even refused to enter Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait Iraq, Afganistan, and now Ukraine.
        Bad as the Russians are acting, they do have valid national security concerns. The Russians seemed to have made a deal about NATO remaining in western Europe, and not pealing off former allies to move the border closer to mother Russia. How would the US react if Russian forces were stationed in Cuba? Oh wait, we know.
        I hated to see Russia invade Ukraine for all the reasons we were presented. But I was also concerned about whether they would be worse off after their cities were destroyed and the Russian occupiers had lost thousands of comrades in the invasion. I also question whether their freedom from oppression was worth risking the survival of civilization as we continue to poke the bear with the second largest nuclear stockpile.
        I hope to start a discussion that goes beyond the natural tendency to back the feisty underdog.
        What is the risk of annihilation? Are we arming and traing a new nazi movement?
        Is the recently corrupt Ukraine government siphoning off billions?

        • Rayne says:

          None of the wars in my lifetime were so declared.” This is really a stunning piece of ignorance as was your previous comment. It may explain, though, why the application of U.S. military happens so often if many Americans do not understand their own history.

          1964 – Gulf of Tonkin joint resolution authorized the use of military force in Vietnam

          2001 – Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 targeting those responsible for 9/11 including Al Qaeda in Afghanistan

          2002 – Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 targeting Saddam Hussein for multiple trumped-up reasons

          If you don’t understand how these authorizations happened — and they did, it’s public record — then you have a serious gap in your personal knowledge or your grip on reality. These kinds of authorizations don’t happen overnight since they require considerable Congressional consensus; future authorizations which are not in the best interest of the U.S. and/or allies can’t be stopped if people with shoddy understanding don’t know how these past AUMF happened.

          As for this: “I hated to see Russia invade Ukraine for all the reasons we were presented. But” You could stop before the But before continuing your fucking apologia for the butcher of Bucha, and for your anti-democratic frothing. The only people who should have a say in what happens in Ukraine for the Ukrainian people is Ukraine.

          You could have stopped before “Bad as the Russians are acting, they do have valid national security concerns” because Russia did NOT have valid national security concerns. If they did they could have and should have fulfilled their part of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum; they could have avoided shooting down MH17 passenger aircraft in 2014 or illegally occupying Crimea. But Putin is the mob boss of a petro state and recognizing international laws and treaties isn’t convenient.

          I can’t even with the bullshit in your last two sentences. Russia’s sending their own Nazis to Ukraine and committing war crimes but you’re going to pump Russian disinfo into comments here? Get the fuck out.

        • Matt___B says:

          By far. It was like a relay race – France starts the war, bogs down, and hands it to us. Who knows what would have happened had Kennedy not been assassinated. He was keeping it a low boil.

    • Phaedruses says:

      The war in Ukraine started in 2014. It went cold for years until after the 2019 election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy Putin saw no other way to gain control of Ukraine except for invasion.

      Putin could NOT allow a western style open and growing middle class style country on the border of his kleptocracy, especially one that is as intermingled by personal/family relationships as Ukraine is.

      If Putin does not stop Ukraine’s open style democracy, with an improving standard of living, from being seen by many in Russia; he faced the very real possibility his days were numbered.

      Russia has been a colonial empire since before Columbus sailed to America. Czar, communist politburo, what ever you might call the government of Russia today, their strategy and tactics remain the same, expand Russia at the expense of whom ever exists on their borders.

  7. Troutwaxer says:

    “And Bellingcat’s description of the culture of the Discord servers — conservatives with an interest in Orthodox Christianity with a propensity to use racist slurs…”

    You might say “that particular Discord server…” The Discord servers I’m on don’t involve Orthodox Xtians who use racist slurs.

  8. RodMunch says:

    WashPost interviewed one of the Discord group’s members. The leaker is gonna be wearing bracelets before Memorial Day.

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