With the recent announcements and revelations caused by whistleblower, Edward Snowden, people can’t stop talking about leaks and conspiracies. Snowden, a former CIA employee working as a contractor for the NSA (National Security Agency) disclosed details of a classified NSA surveillance program that affected almost all Americans. What this means in laymen’s terms, is the American government is collecting data on Americans from their phone and internet usage and storing that data in massive databases for later use. Snowden felt what the government was doing was wrong, and exposed their actions for everyone to see.
While this was certainly a shocking revelation, looking back through the history books, we can see that our country has been rife with scandals, controversies and conspiracies for decades. While not everyone is in agreement with what Snowden did, people are very interested as to what will happen to this famous whistleblower.
While we can’t predict the future, we can take a look back at the five biggest leaks in American history.
1. WatergateProbably the most famous leak in our country’s history, Watergate remains the standard that most other leaks are compared to. In 1972, five men broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel located in Washington, D.C.
These men, who were linked to Richard Nixon, installed illegal wiretaps and recording devices in an attempt to uncover top secret information. The men were caught in the act and arrested, but it wasn’t until later that the full story of what really happened surfaced.
Later in the year, the Washington Post exposed the Nixon administration’s involvement with the five men, proving they were operating under the orders of the Nixon Administration. This eventually lead to Nixon’s resignation, the first, and still only resignation of a president in US history.
The bulk of the info came from whistleblower, W. Mark Felt, a former FBI agent better known as “Deep Throat”. Despite keeping his real identity anonymous for over 30 years, Felt finally came forward in 2005, revealing publicly that he was in fact, Deep Throat.
2. The Pentagon PapersJust a year before the infamous Watergate scandal, another storm was brewing within the government. In June of 1971, the New York Times published a top-secret report from the Department of Defense regarding the country’s involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Known only as the “Pentagon Papers”, this report showed how the Johnson administration had misled both Congress and the general public about the causes of the Vietnam War as well as how it was progressing.
The report was leaked to the New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg, a former analyst for the Defense Department who was then working for the RAND Corp. The publication of these papers kicked the anti-war sentiment in America into overdrive and reminded the public not to put their faith 100% into what the government says. Nixon tried but failed at stopping further publication of the papers.
Ellsberg later admitted his involvement in the leak and was charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 among other charges such as theft and conspiracy. Later, in 1973, all charges against Ellsberg were eventually dismissed.
3. Iraq War Documents Leak (WikiLeaks)Funnily enough, one of the biggest leaks on the US Military didn’t come from the US at all, but instead from Australia. WikiLeaks, an Australian owned web presence disclosed a collection of 391,832 United States Army field reports known as the Iraq War Logs in October of 2010. These reports spanned from 2004 to 2009 and reported 66,081 civilian deaths, out of the 109,000 recorded deaths. This added 15,000 civilian deaths to the official count, and raised the total body count to 150,000 with about 80% being the deaths of civilians.
The US government swiftly enacted a ban, keeping all unauthorized federal government employees from accessing the documents which were publicly available on WikiLeaks. Several government agencies also motioned to prosecute WikiLeaks, although their hopes to prosecute went nowhere when former prosecutors said doing so would prove to be too difficult.
Currently, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is holed up in an Ecuadorean Embassy in London, fighting extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning regarding sex-crime allegations – allegations which Assange vehemently denies. Assange and many of his supporters believe that an extradition to Sweden would be the first step for the U.S. government to bring him to the US.
4. Plame AffairIn July of 2003, a case of leaked identity meant the end of a career for one CIA agent. The New York Times released an Op-Ed from former US diplomat Joseph Wilson that took question with the reasons President George W. Bush’s administration gave for invading Iraq earlier that year.
Wilson stated that the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy enriched uranium yellowcake in Niger in 2002, were unsubstantiated. Less than a week later, the Washington Post wrote an article that was critical of Wilson and even named his wife, Valerie Plame, as an agency operative.
Wilson, infuriated, accused the White House of leaking Plame’s identity as payback for his Op-Ed. This prompted President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other administration officials and journalists to be interviewed by Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Reporter for the New York Times, Judith Miller conducted interviews in the leak, but never wrote about it and refused to testify. She was then held in contempt of court and then jailed at a federal detention center. She was then released when Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Cheney, signed a waiver granting her permission to speak.
Libby was later convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to government investigators. Libby was sentenced to prison time, but his sentence was later reduced by George W. Bush.
5. ClimateGateObviously named after the famous Watergate scandal, ClimateGate took place in 2009, when hackers released thousands of emails and documents from the University of East Anglia in the UK. These documents were evidence of scientists suppressing the publication of research that undermined the very existence of global warming.
Later, an investigation revealed no foul play or illegal activity, but more steam was added to the ongoing debate about global warming. Many people believed this leak showed that global warming was a conspiracy among scientists, while the source of the documents said they were taken out of context.
As a response, the scientific community released statements claiming the planet’s average surface temperature was rising as a reaction to normal human activities.
How many of these scandals and leaks can you remember personally? These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to US leaks, but hopefully they serve as a constant reminder of the dangers of unquestioning loyalty to those who hold power.
The real question that remains is, if you had access to top-secret government information that you thought the public should know, would you blow your whistle too?