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The feds are reportedly probing a former U.S. Navy non-commissioned officer who’s accused of overseeing a prominent Russian propaganda account that made leaked documents from the Pentagon go viral this month.
Sarah Bils, 37, was unmasked this weekend as being behind the online persona “Donbass Devushka”—which roughly translates to “Donbass Girl”—despite her being a New Jersey native who lives in Washington state.
Two U.S. defense officials told United States Naval Institute News that Bils is now being probed for potentially sharing four classified docs—allegedly leaked initially by Massachusetts Air Guardsman Jack Teixeira, who was arrested last week—to Donbass Devushka’s 65,000-plus followers on Telegram.
Exact details on the probe—and potential charges for Bils—have not been released.
A Navy biography for Bils says she was an aviation electronics technician who worked out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state until November 2022. Speaking from her home, she admitted to The Wall Street Journal that she’s partially behind the Donbass Devushka network, which describes itself on its social media pages—including Twitter, Telegram and YouTube—as engaging in “Russian–style information warfare.”
But Bils told the paper she’s just one of 15 people “all over the world” with access to the propaganda accounts, maintaining that she wasn’t the administrator who posted the classified U.S. intel. Instead, she claims she was the admin who eventually deleted the posts.
The leaked docs quickly went viral in Russia after they were posted by Donbass Devushka on April 5, the Journal reported, with “several large Russian social-media accounts” picking up the documents and reposting. The channel’s posts with the classified documents remained online for days.
“Some very interesting potential intel,” the Telegram channel for Donbass Devushka posted with screenshots of the documents. “The authenticity cannot be confirmed but looks to be very damning nato information.”
It was the virality of this post that alerted U.S. authorities that classified intel was compromised. Previously, Teixeira, 21, had been posting other classified documents to a private Discord channel for months but the docs never went public, group members told The Washington Post.
Bils said she never used her position in the Navy to leak classified intel and that she didn’t work with Teixeira, telling the Journal, “I obviously know the gravity of top-secret classified materials. We didn’t leak them.”
The military and Justice Department have not made a public statement about Bils and her alleged role in amplifying the leak. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Journal that the military has ordered a review of intelligence access, accountability, and control procedures to nix future leakers.
Teixeira has been charged with unauthorized detention and transmission of national defense information and unauthorized removal of classified information and defense materials. The feds allege that he shared classified information on social media starting in December.
Members of Teixeira’s Discord channel told the Post that he shared screenshots of battlefield conditions in Ukraine, highly classified satellite images of the aftermath of Russian missile strikes, and vivid details on troop movements within Ukraine.
The Donbass Devushka network has basked in the aftermath of this month’s leaks—gaining thousands of new followers. Those new to its multiple social media pages were met with posts advertising pro-Russia merchandise and a promise that proceeds would go to the mercenary Wagner Group and the Russian military.
The Journal reported that Bils was honorably discharged from the military in November after a “significant demotion.” Bils told reporters that she’d left the Navy because she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that she has “some” Russian heritage.
On a podcast that shares the same name as her popular Telegram channel, Bils spoke with a “slight Russian accent,” the Journal reported—an accent other outlets have described as being “phony.” She also posed as being a woman from the Donbas region of Ukraine, one of the bloodiest areas of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
Bils told the Journal her old gig gave her clearance to view top-secret information but that she no longer has that access.
“I don’t even know the authenticity of the documents or what they say,” she told the Journal about the leaked intel shared on her page. “I am not very well versed in reading documents like that.”
The Irish Times