A lengthy War Thunder forums discussion about the history and performance of the F-16 Fighting Falcon has resulted in—you guessed it!—yet another public leak of restricted military intel.
This latest incident is actually a little different from all the previous leaks of classified intel on the War Thunder forums, which is pretty funny when you think about it: This happens often enough that we can refer to "all the other times these guys committed acts of treason" and be 100% serious about it.
In case you'd forgotten, or missed it altogether the first time around, here are the other cases where someone decided to make a point by revealing classified military secrets in a videogame forum:
- War Thunder fan says tank is inaccurate, leaks classified military documents to prove it
- War Thunder fan leaks classified military documents to win an argument about tanks—again
- More classified military intel gets posted to War Thunder forums, because that's just what happens now
Those previous leaks were about armor, whereas this latest one is about the F-16, a single-engine multirole fighter developed by General Dynamics and adopted by the US Air Force in the 1970s. It's an older plane, but remains in active service with the USAF and in the air forces of numerous other nations.
The long conversation about the F-16, which has been running since mid-2022, is about what you'd expect, full of technical jargon and strongly held opinions. It got a bit more exciting earlier this week, though, when spacenavy90 wrote (opens in new tab), "Interesting thing I found during my research. During early AMRAAM testing you can see how F-16A would equip the AIM-120 and use TWS on the non-MFD stores control panel 'SCP'."
"Interesting" is certainly one word for it, and it seemed harmless enough on the surface. But as noted by Aerotime (opens in new tab), spacenavy90 attached a document to prove his assertions, and that's where it all went wrong.
The document immediately raised eyebrows: The first response asked about its "restriction status," and while spacenavy90 asserted that the information was allowed because of its age, others noted that even if the doc had been declassified, it still bears "distribution statements" limiting how and with whom it can be shared—and, surprise, the War Thunder forums is not in the listed of approved recipients.
It's funny—I'm sorry, but it is—but at the same time we have to acknowledge that this sort of thing is really no laughing matter. Even though the crime is clearly unintentional, the potential ramifications are serious, and something that communities like War Thunder's have to keep in mind.
"The penalty for a conviction of unauthorized disclosure includes up to 10 years in prison , a large fine, or both," forum user Ziggy1989 wrote. "Unauthorized transmissions of restricted data is nothing to joke about. When we post data without proper vetting, the poster is not only at risk, but the game publisher itself. Open to litigation, fines etc. Hope [the] moderators are vigilant moving forward. It’s quite the responsibility."
After some back-and-forth, spacenavy90 said the material in question had been removed. "I have already spoken with [forum admin] Smin1080p via PM last night on this the issue of restricted information that was posted last night and the offending restricted content has been already been removed," they wrote. "In the future I will be more careful about what technical information I post. Hopefully we can put this issue behind us."
In a statement send to PC Gamer, Gaijin Entertainment confirmed that it removed the posts, and reminded everyone—again—that sharing classified or restricted military information isn't allowed.
"A user posted some information on AMRAAM missiles for F-16," the studio said. "As far as we know, these documents are considered export restricted and are not meant to be shared or used by unauthorized people. We always delete posts containing classified or restricted information from our forum as soon as possible. We forbid our users to share documents like this on our platforms. We remind our users again and again that it’s both illegal and pointless, so they should never do that. We never use documents like this in our work.
"So, we deleted the posts. The documents themselves were in fact posted via links to a third-party Discord server, so they were never actually uploaded to our own servers. In any case, we made sure that those links are not available to the visitors of our forum or our employees."