From the Hutchinson letters to the Pandora leaks, here are few major leaks in world history
In December 1772, the then serving Britain’s Postmaster General of the American colonies Benjamin Franklin anonymously received a packet of letters written to a British official by Thomas Hutchinson, who was the governor of Massachusetts.
In the letters, Hutchinson urged Britain to send additional troops to deter rebellious colonists in Boston. Franklin circulated the letters privately.
However, John Adams had them published in the Boston Gazette in 1773, leading to a scandal that forced Hutchinson to flee the country and fueled tensions that would lead to the revolutionary War.
In June 1971, The New York Times published a series of excerpts from a top-secret Department of Defense report about US involvement in Vietnam between 1945 and 1967.
Part of a study commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, known as Pentagon papers, revealed that four successive presidential administrations had deliberately misled Congress and the American public about the objectives and progress of the Vietnam War.
Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst who opposed the war and had photocopied and leaked the documents, was prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act. However, the judge later dismissed the charges.
In mid-1972, 5 men were arrested for breaking trying to bug Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel complex in Washington, DC.
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post were able to connect the break-in directly to Richard Nixon’s administration. This led to a series of Senate hearings and eventually to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Woodward and Bernstein relied on information from an anonymous informant, dubbed “Deep Throat.”
The identity of the man responsible for exposing the biggest political scandal in US history remained a secret for 33 years, until in 2005 the former FBI agent Mark Felt revealed himself as Deep Throat.
Oil-for-Food Programme was established by the United Nations in 1995 to allow Iraq to sell oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine, and other humanitarian needs.
Former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh had gone to Baghdad via Jordan as the head of the Congress delegation when the party was in the Opposition. His meeting was followed by a series of illegal oil allocations leading to eight million barrels under the oil-for-food programme made by Saddam Hussein's regime to Natwar and the Congress.
UN committee released a report on October 27, 2005, in which it accused nearly half of the 4,500 participating companies of paying kickbacks and illegal surcharges to win lucrative contracts.
The companies also allowed Saddam Hussein to pocket $1.8 billion at the expense of Iraqis suffering under UN economic sanctions. The commission’s lead investigator Paul Volcker, stated that it was UN mismanagement and failure of the world’s most powerful nations to end corruption.
In October 2010, WikiLeaks posted nearly 400,000 classified military documents about the Iraq War. WikiLeaks’ founder, the Australian journalist Julian Assange, shared the documents with the press, including the New York Times, Der Spiegel and the Guardian, beforehand.
The documents had the evidence that the US military deliberately ignored abuse of detainees by its Iraqi allies, and that there were 15,000 more civilian casualties than previously acknowledged.
Chelsea Manning who had served as a US Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, was later convicted under the espionage act for leaking the information. Sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment, she was pardoned by President Barack Obama in January 2017.
In April 2016, there was a leak of some 11.5 million files from the database of the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca, which is the world’s fourth-largest offshore law firm.
The files revealed personal financial information about thousands of wealthy individuals and public officials. The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, had obtained the files from an anonymous source, shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and the organisation passed them on to a large network of international news outlets, including BBC and the Guardian.
Queen Elizabeth II, Facebook, and Nike are among the prominent corporations and individuals named in the 13.4 million confidential documents termed as the “Paradise Papers.”
The documents were stolen from the offshore law firm Appleby and leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. They reveal around $10 trillion in offshore investments that were used to hide wealth and profit and avoid taxes.
Some of the papers were released into the public domain on November 5, 2017.
In October 2021, the Pandora papers were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). They show that over 130 billionaires and celebrities from Russia, the United States, India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and Mexico used shell companies and incognito bank accounts to buy secret assets and conduct secret financial transactions.
The King of Jordan, the Presidents of Ukraine, Kenya, and Ecuador, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair are all named in the Pandora Papers.
According to the report, over 300 Indians have been exposed as a result of the leaked papers, including individuals suspected of economic crimes, former members of Parliament, and those under investigation by law enforcement authorities.