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Pentagon chief seeks to stem discord with allies over document leaks

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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sought Friday to tamp down any discord between the U.S. and its allies over the massive U.S. leak of classified documents, as he met with defense leaders from around the globe to coordinate additional military aid to Ukraine.

Acknowledging that the other nations have closely followed the issue, Austin hit the subject head on in his opening remarks to start the meeting. The move underscored the gravity of the situation, since many of the documents distributed online revealed details on the status of the war in Ukraine and the ongoing delivery of weapons and other equipment to Ukrainian forces in battle — intelligence matters the other defense officials are keenly involved in.

“I take this issue very seriously,” Austin said at the start of the daylong session at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “And we will continue to work closely and respectfully with our deeply valued allies and partners. “

Austin said he’d spoken to allies and partners about the matter, and “I’ve been struck by your solidarity and your commitment to reject efforts to divide us. And we will not let anything fracture our unity.”

The meeting marks the one-year anniversary of the creation by Austin of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. This is the 11th time the defense leaders have met to coordinate aid to the invaded country. They have vowed to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian forces for as long as it takes. But the document leaks pose a multi-pronged concern.

Some allies in the room may be more wary about sharing intelligence and other information with the U.S,. fearing it might spill out to the public. Others may worry that the U.S. will clamp down on its own dissemination of intelligence involving the war, leaving them less informed.

The unease comes at a crucial time. Ukrainian leaders are gearing up for the launch of a spring counteroffensive to try and take back territory gained by the Russians, hoping to give Kyiv a stronger position if the warring sides try to negotiate peace.

So far, Austin and others have insisted that the intelligence leak hasn’t driven a wedge between the U.S. and its allies and partners. But the stunning breach exposing closely held intelligence has sparked international concern and raised fresh questions about America’s ability to safeguard its secrets.

Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, has been charged under the Espionage Act with unauthorized retention and transmission of classified national defense information. He served as an information technology specialist and held a top secret security clearance, which gave him access to highly classified programs.

Teixeira, 21, is accused of sharing highly classified military documents about Russia’s war in Ukraine and other top national security issues in a chat room on Discord, a social media platform that started as a hangout for gamers.

U.S. Air Force leaders said earlier this week that they were investigating how a lone airman could access and distribute possibly hundreds of highly classified documents. The Air Force has also taken away the intelligence mission from the Air National Guard 102nd Intelligence Wing based in Cape Cod, where Teixeira served, pending further review.