Earlier this week, we covered the bizarre but sadly believable news that the military secrets leak every major newspaper is currently focused on may have been promulgated through a Minecraft server. As we noted at the time, while a lot of the classified info turned out to be fake or already public, other parts appeared to be legitimate and potentially damaging, such as details about US-“friendly” countries being approached to provide Russia with weapons against Ukraine.
The Washington Post has a follow-up to the story that traces the leaks back to their origin, a different Discord server (Thug Shaker Central, and yes, the racist overtone in the name was intentional), which was essentially a small international edgelord channel catering to a group of disaffected young men. According to WAPO’s teenage source, the ringleader – WAPO calls him OG – began regularly injecting classified information and dossiers into the channel in late 2022, demanding his followers read them to be better informed (and beset by misguided conspiracy theories). It took until February 2023 for one of the users to leak his info into another Discord channel, and then a few days later it hit the Minecraft Earth Map Discord as part of an argument, and here we are, with a federal manhunt underway for “OG.” [See update below.]
We probably wouldn’t have picked up the story again, since it’s well beyond gamer Discord and Minecraft at this stage, but for the fact that both WAPO and separate comments from Minecraft-owner Microsoft have argued that gamers are being specifically targeted in espionage ops.
“For years, U.S. counterintelligence officials have eyed gaming platforms as a magnet for spies,” WAPO says. “Russian intelligence operatives have been suspected of befriending gamers who they believe work for intelligence agencies and encouraging them to divulge classified information, a senior U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.”
Speaking at the Semafor World Economy Summit, Microsoft president Brad Smith acknowledged that Microsoft itself had come to the same conclusion and even pointed specifically to Russian operatives for this and other actions.
“For the last several months, our digital threat analysis team has been identifying efforts by the Russians to basically penetrate gaming communities… And we’ve been advising governments about this. It’s [Russian private military corporation] The Wagner Group, it’s Russian intelligence, and they’re using this as a place to get information into circulation. […] That’s what happened here. It included the Discord channel around Minecraft, it included others of these [communities]. […] It just happens [games communities are] a good place for them to get the information into circulation, and ultimately journalists find it.”
So yeah, rule number one of the internet is that people aren’t always who they say they are, and if someone in your Discord full of disaffected youth starts leaking intel docs, it may be time to move on.