Associates of the Russian mercenary team Wagner Group planned to visit the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti to look for possible government contracts that could help them fight local gangs, according to leaked US classified documents.
The account of the Wagner Group’s alleged interest in Haiti, just 800 miles south of Florida, is one of several references to mercenaries in the trove of Defense Department documents that have surfaced online in recent weeks. Another document refers to the friction between the mercenary group, led by a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Russian army.
The Biden administration says the documents appear to include highly classified material. It is unclear how the documents found their way into a private online chat room in March. A senior official said that while the documents appear real, they may have been doctored.
NBC News has obtained more than 50 of the documents. Many appear to be briefing slides prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military and refer to information collected from a variety of US intelligence agencies.
In late February, Wagner Group representatives had plans to “discreetly travel to Haiti to assess the potential for Haitian government contracts to fight local gangs,” according to one of the documents, which cited police reports.
Units of the Wagner Group are playing a leading role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, recruiting convicts from prisons for bloody ground assaults around Bakhmut.
In Africa, the Wagner Group has been deployed in the Central African Republic and Mali. But the leaked document suggests it had ambitions to extend its reach much closer to the United States, off the southern US coast in Haiti.
Haiti has been in a chaotic spiral in recent years, with heavily armed gangs exercising control of the capital.
Another document, citing signals intelligence, said Russian defense officials were considering how to respond to claims by Wagner’s owner Yevgeny Prighozin, an ex-convict and Putin ally, that the Defense Ministry was not providing enough ammunition to its troops in Ukraine. Prighozin had accused the defense officials of treason for withholding weapons. Defense officials proposed doubling the ammunition supplied to Wagner and making a public statement. Prighozin later publicly boasted that he had gotten away with it.
US intelligence agencies have refused to comment on the details in the documents. The FBI launched an investigation into the leak and the Pentagon launched a review to assess the potential harm caused by the disclosure.
NBC News cannot independently confirm the details described in the documents.
The Russian embassy has not responded to requests for comment on the intelligence reports in the documents.
According to another leaked document, Wagner’s staff allegedly met with Turkish contacts in February to purchase weapons and equipment from Turkey for the company’s operations in Ukraine and Mali. NBC News previously reported that the documents showed the Wagner Group was seeking weapons from Turkey, a member of the NATO alliance.
The documents also allege that Wagner planned to resume recruiting convicts for units deployed in Ukraine.
The embassies of Haiti, Mali and Turkey did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
phil mccausland contributed.