The New York Times accidentally published the phone numbers of Russian soldiers critical of Vladimir Putin in the metadata of a September 2022 exposé, Motherboard reports.
The article at issue, “‘Putin Is a Fool’: Intercepted Calls Reveal Russian Army in Disarray,” features Russian soldiers speaking candidly about Russia’s failings in the war on Ukraine and offering the sort of sharp criticism of president Vladimir Putin that’s rarely heard in public for fear of reprisals.
“He wants to take Kyiv. But there’s no way we can do it,” one soldier said in the calls that form the basis of the piece, which were intercepted by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.
Another soldier says Putin is “gravely mistaken” about how he describes the war.
Metadata containing phone numbers appearing to belong to the soldiers, and the individuals who were speaking to them, reportedly remained on the New York Times site for months, only being fully removed once alerted by Motherboard.
“Before publication, we worked to remove identifying information from the story. We later learned that some buried metadata was live on the site and took prompt steps to remove it,” Charlie Stadtlander, director of external newsroom communications told the outlet.
Being linked to criticisms of the war in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin is a dangerous thing in Russia.
In December, prominent Russian opposition figure Ilya Yashin was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison for his critique of the war effort.
Thousands of people have been prosecuted under new laws that make it illegal to spread “fake news” about the Ukraine invasion or “defame” the Russian army or its leaders, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
As the New York Times itself has reported, Ukraine has targeted groups of Russian soldiers by using their cell phone activity to determine their location, leading to lethal missile strikes, including an attack this month that killed dozens of Russian soldiers.
The Russian government has also acknowledged the risk of leaked phone information.
“It is already clear that the main reason of what took place included the massive use, contrary to the ban, of personal mobile phones in the range of enemy weapons,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement after the January strike, admitting the phone data let the Ukrainians “determine the coordinates of the location of military service members to inflict a rocket strike.”