Report: New York Times Accidentally Publishes Identities of Russian Soldiers Critical of Putin

'This metadata error is a regrettable and entirely avoidable cockup on the part of the New York Times'

Russian conscripts in November / Getty Images
January 12, 2023

The New York Times accidentally published identifying information about Russian soldiers who spoke out against President Vladimir Putin, putting the soldiers at risk of reprisal by the Kremlin.

Phone numbers of soldiers and their relatives appeared in the metadata of a September article in which Russian troops criticized Putin and the Ukraine war, Vice News's tech site, Motherboardreported. The information remained in the article until January, when the newspaper scrubbed the data.

One soldier said, "Putin is a fool," while another called the Russian president "gravely mistaken." Several voiced concerns about killing civilians.

The Times's oversight could cause the soldiers to face government retaliation, Motherboard reported:

"This metadata error is a regrettable and entirely avoidable cockup on the part of the New York Times," Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University/SAIS, told Motherboard in an online chat. "The Times says it spent almost two months on translating the recordings—well, it should have spent another 20 minutes on scrubbing the metadata."

Motherboard found the Times website included not only the numbers of apparent soldiers on these calls, but also the alleged family members back home. That included the number that placed the call, the number that received it, and apparent notes from Times's fact checkers on the caller's identities.

"Exposing the phone number of the families of Russian troops is exposing those family members to risks," Rid added.

The Times said that it has "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, the Times's director of external communications, said.