It's all about the leaks.

The US media corps following President Biden on his trip to Ireland this week are on the hunt for a Presidential reaction to the leaking of hundreds of pages of apparently highly classified intelligence material on a chat platform for video game enthusiasts.

The leak has sparked an FBI manhunt for what appears to be a man who works on a US military base and has access to classified intelligence products intended for senior military commanders and politicians.

Just as when the Taoiseach is on official business overseas and Irish newsdesks want his response to domestic news, not reportage of the trip, so too do the US newsdesks want the big domestic story, not the foreign jolly. The trip casualty in this case is the trip to Ireland.

So, when President Biden visited President Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin today, the US journalists there wanted to know about the leaks. Asked if he would give an update on the investigations by the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, the President replied:

Mr Biden spoke to reporters during his visit to Áras an Uachtaráin

"I can't right now – there is a full-blown investigation going on right now, as you know, with the intelligence community and the Justice Department. And we're getting close – I don't have an answer..."

Asked how concerned he is about the leaks he said "I’m not concerned about the leak; I’m concerned that it happened, but there is nothing contemporaneous that I am aware of that is in it".

Earlier in a Dublin Hotel that is serving as the on-the-road HQ of the White House press corps, the President’s spokesperson, Karine Jean-Pierre, fielded questions about the leaks.

"Look, we are certainly reviewing the national security implications of the disclosure, and to mitigate the impact the release of these documents have on US national security and also on our allies and partners as well", she said.

"This is something that we are taking very seriously. There is an ongoing investigation. DOD has taken steps to restrict access to these documents, and I definitely don't want to get ahead of what's currently happening."

Asked if the President thinks the Pentagon needs to reassess how it monitors social media (including the kind of discussion forums used by gamers), or even the activities of its own employees on these platforms, Ms Jean-Pierre said:

"This is something for the intelligence community; they have conversations, clearly, at that – at that level. I don't want to get ahead of that.

"And, you know, I just want to be very careful here. We do believe that social media companies have a responsibility to their users and to the country to manage the private sector infrastructure that they create and now operate," Ms Jean-Pierre said.

"So, we do believe that they have a responsibility. We normally urge companies to avoid facilitating the circulation of material detrimental to public safety and national security. But any further conversations or how changes are going to happen as it relates to that, I'm certainly not going to speak to that here".

Revelatory material disclosed

The material disclosed so far from the video gamers’ chat platform is revelatory – if real – of the widespread nature of US intelligence gathering, including surveillance of international organisations and friendly governments.

A large part of the material relates to the war in Ukraine, including apparent internal planning documents from the GRU (Russian military intelligence) and the Wagner Group, the private army that is fighting in Ukraine for the Kremlin.

But it also makes revelations about the state of Ukrainian air defences, suggesting the Ukrainians will run out of air defence missiles in late May.

A particularly embarrassing revelation is the claim that the Egyptian government has done a deal to supply Russia with 40,000 battlefield rockets, artillery shells and powder – this despite the fact that Egypt is a key partner of the US in the Middle East and has received billions of dollars in military aid.

Other posts claim the FSB, the Russian successor to the KGB, has infiltrated the control computers of a Canadian gas pipeline and could cause explosions in the network (something the Canadians deny), and there are suggestions that the US has been spying on the International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN body, in order to find information on the Iranian nuclear programme.

A Ukrainian soldier watching the skies close to the frontline at Bakhmut

A report in the leaked material of an incident last September, when a Russian plane tried to shoot down a British RAF aircraft near Crimea, prompted a denial from the White House today that the topic was raised in the conversation between President Biden and UK Prime Minster Rishi Sunak in Belfast yesterday:

"I know you had asked specifically about the Prime Minister and the President's meeting yesterday. It did not come up, the leaks – the leaked document, in that conversation. So I can confirm that for all of you", said Karine Jean-Pierre.

Major scoop

This morning the Washington Post delivered a major scoop on the story of the leaks, running an interview it had done with one of the 25 or 30 people who had access to the original postings of the intelligence material on Discord, an online chat platform popular with gamers.

Describing himself as a friend of the leaker – known to the group as "OG" – the Washington Post’s source described him as "a smart person. He knew what he was doing when he posted these documents, or course. These weren’t accidental leaks of any kind", he said.

The newspaper described OG as a "young, charismatic gun enthusiast", who had shared the classified material with a group of like-minded enthusiasts who had formed the group during the pandemic in a search for companionship.

According to the source, OG wrote up notes of what he had seen whilst working in a military base and passed on the information to the group to keep them up to date on world affairs and secretive government operations – apparently believing that sharing such information would help members of the group protect themselves from the troubled world around them.

Discord is a social media and chat platform popular among gamers

Later OG started taking photographs of documents and posting them to the group. These photos were later re-posted in another forum by a member of the Discord group (which went by the name "Thug Shaker), and it was this re-posting that led to the discovery of the leaks, and the start of the manhunt, (although the original Discord forum contains Russian and Ukrainian nationals).

The re-posting by a teenage member of Thug Shaker began in late February, and were copied over to a Minecraft-related site on 4 March – about a month before the US authorities discovered the leak, which came about when Russian Telegram and 4Chan users began reposting material. OG, the Washington Post reports, had stopped posting material to his own group in mid-March.

The Post’s source says he knows the identity of the leaker and the base he works on, but says he will not disclose the information to the authorities until either OG is captured or flees the United States.

He claims to have been in touch with OG in the past few days – even as the manhunt was starting – and describes his friend as "distraught", aware of the consequences of his actions, but not sure of how to resolve the situation.

The source said OG is "definitely not" a whistleblower, and he denied he was working for Russian or Ukrainian interests.

Behind the scenes, US-allied and friendly governments – from Israel to South Korea to Ukraine – are getting high-level briefings from US officials to repair the damage. Expect more questions on this one any time US reporters get close to the President in Ireland – or anywhere else.