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The Pentagon is openly acknowledging that US surveillance and intelligence capability continue to supply Ukrainian forces with critical real-time information of great relevance to their ongoing war against Russia.
However, for understandable security reasons, likely related to not wanting to reveal sources and methods of intelligence gathering, the Pentagon did not elaborate upon the nature of much of the intelligence provided.
Responding to questions about a New York Times report suggesting the US is providing targeting specifics and location intelligence about Russian leaders, Pentagon leaders emphasized that Ukrainians themselves operate a robust intelligence gathering operation and cooperate with a number of key Western allies, including the US. Specifically, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was clear that the US does not “target” Russian leaders for Ukraine.
“We provide battlefield intelligence. Do not provide intel on senior leader locations or participate in targeting. They have capable intel capabilities of their own. Ukraine combines what they get from us, others and themselves then they make their own decisions and take their own actions,” Kirby said.
Beyond that statement, the Pentagon said very little, citing obvious security concerns related to the need to protect the intelligence gathering process. Separately, DoD has acknowledged providing Ukraine with a number of critical intelligence gathering resources to include hand-launched mini-drones and Navy Unmanned Surface Vessels to protect the Ukrainian coastline along the Black Sea.
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As part of the overall equation, NATO and the US certainly also operate surveillance assets outside of Ukraine with the high-fidelity sensors, datalinks and cameras capable of gathering and disseminating critical navigational and force position data to Ukraine. This likely proves quite useful detail regarding Russian troop movements, supply lines and avenues of approach.
“We do provide them useful timely intelligence that allows them to make decisions to better defend themselves against this invasion. We share relevant and timely information and intelligence. It is not just the US other partners share information with them. They have robust capability on their own,” Kirby said.
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Providing exact location details or targeting specifics related to individuals such as Russian generals may not fall within the realm of what’s called SIGINT, or signals intelligence, and therefore be outside of the scope of what the Pentagon is providing. It would likely be quite difficult to identify the exact whereabouts related to one individual moving among thousands of forces merely using drone data links, video surveillance or overhead aircraft sensors, unless a general “area” of some kind were identified.
However, precision “targeting” of Russian leaders for Ukraine is something the Pentagon clearly says it is “not” doing. Surveillance data provided by US or NATO assets would potentially be merged with other sources of non-US provided intelligence information of relevance to Ukraine, which is likely why Kirby emphasized that Ukraine has various methods of intelligence gathering and entirely performs its own analysis and makes its own decisions regarding how to act upon intelligence information.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.