In October 2021, the largest amount of leaked information made its way onto the internet. It revealed the hidden secrets of tax evasion and owners of offshore accounts. These owners are the wealthy and elite, including adored celebrities, from around the world. They are the Pandora Papers. They gave a different look, a bright insight, into corporate secrecy.
The Pandora Papers might be the largest amount of leaked information, but it is not the only leak that brought a changed viewpoint to the world.
This is a focus on the biggest information leaks in history. Many occurred in the United States (U.S.), branching out to show how other countries are involved. However, there are some cases that explain the reason behind citizens’ shaken faith in their governments.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
On May 13th, 1846, there came a territorial dispute over Texas.
The U.S. Congress voted in favor of President James Polk to declare war on Mexico for Texas. Thus, the Mexican-American War began.
In September 1849, the Mexican army fell, along with Mexico City. The Mexican government surrendered, resulting in the beginning of peace negotiations.
The war officially ended on February 2nd, 1948, with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
John Nugent Leaked the Treaty
The Irish-born American journalist managed to not only leak information on the treaty, but the entire treaty.
He published the entire document in the New York Herald, the publication he worked for. At the time of its leak, the U.S. Senate did not approve the treaty. Therefore, it was not signed.
The infuriated Senate called Nugent in for questioning. They wanted to know his source. Nugenet, however, refused to give a name. For one month, the Senate kept Nugent under house arrest in the Capitol building. They continuously questioned him.
Although he refused to name his source, Nugent reassured them that the informant was not a member of the Senate.
In that one month, Nugent did not give in. The Senate released him on ‘the face-saving grounds of protecting his health’.
In 1858, U.S. President James Buchanan gave Nugent a high-profile commission to investigate the developments in new Caledonia (now British Columbia).
When the treaty leaked, Buchanan was Secretary of State. This suggests that he was Nugent’s source in retrieving the documents.
As a result of the leak, it showed the hidden relationship between the media and politicians.
Soviet Spies Leak Atomic Secrets
The Manhattan Project was the most highly classified and highly secured program made by the U.S. government. The aim was to develop the first atomic bomb during World War II (WWII). The security ensured the project’s secrecy from Germany and Japan.
During the Manhattan Project’s duration, the Soviet Union recruited spies. These spies knew of the atomic plans developed by the scientists involved. The scientists had not even shared the information with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (F.B.I.) yet.
Although the Soviet Union was an ally to the United Kingdom (U.K.) and U.S., it remained a repressive dictatorship. In the coming years, they obtained the potential to be a combatable foe.
The Soviet spies infiltrated Los Almos and several other locations in the U.S. To Russia, they sent critical information on the U.S.’s development of the atomic bomb. As a result, it sped up the Soviet Union’s own development of the Soviet bomb.
Additionally, this made the arms race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. an equal one.
Moreover, the leaked information led to the execution of two Americans. Both denied their involvement in the leak till their deaths.
It is unclear how much information leaked to Russia, or how many Soviet spies were involved.
On the coast of Huelva in southern Spain, locals discovered a floating, decomposing corpse. The corpse identified as Major William Martin, a British Royal Marine. With Major Martin, handcuffed to his wrist, was a black attaché case.
When the Nazis learned of the case, they did all they could to gain access. Spain remained neutral during WWII. However, the majority of its army was pro-German. The Nazis found a Spanish officer to help them.
In addition to Major Martion’s personal belongings, the Nazis found a letter from military authorities in London. Its recipient was a senior British officer in Tunisia.
In the letter, it stated the preparation of the Allied armies to cross the Mediterranean from their North American positions. They planned to attack German-led Greece and Sardinia.
An intelligence coup in the Nazi spy network allowed German troops to transfer. In other words, they left France and made their way to Greece ahead of a believed Allied invasion.
While the Nazis prepared for an impending Allied invasion, the Allies focused on a different plan of attack.
The body found along the Spanish coast, and the information found with it, was part of a deceptive plan. Planned by two British Intelligence officers, the deceased man was a Welsh tramp from a London morgue. All information on him, as well as the clothes he wore, were part of the hoax. In other words, there never was a Major William Martin.
Upon the discovery of the body, British authorities began their ‘frantic’ attempts to get the case and its contents. At the same time, they knew the Nazis would obtain it first.
On July 10th, 1943, while the Nazi troops headed for Greece, 160 000 Allied troops invaded Sicily. They saved thousands of Allied soldiers. In addition to the lives saved, the Allied invasion aided in the downfall of Benito Mussolini.
According to the U.S., Operation Mincemeat was one of the most successful wartime deceptions.
The Pentagon Papers
The Pentagon Papers were a top-secret Department of Defense (D.o.D) study. It focused on the U.S. political and military involved in the Vietnam War from 1945 to 1967.
Analysts took classified information from archives of the D.o.D, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.).
Completed in 1969 in 47 volumes, the study concluded with 3000 pages of narrative and 4000 pages of supporting documents.
Ellsberg was a U.S. Marine Corps officer from 1954 to 1957.
He served as a strategic analyst at the Rand Corporation and the D.o.D.
While working on the Pentagon Papers, he began to believe the Vietnam War was un-winnable. As well, he believed the information in the Pentagon Papers should be made public to American citizens.
He approached members of Congress. However, they did nothing. Then, he turned to the New York Times.
The Revelations from the Information
The contents of the Pentagon Papers were kept secret from the public throughout the war.
Firstly, they stated the unreported development of America’s part in the Vietnam War.
Secondly, it uncovered the lies told by multiple presidents and presidential administrators about the war.
Thirdly, it brought a more in-depth look at America’s actions in the Vietnam War, such as the coastal raids and Marine Corps attacks. The mainstream media were unaware of these actions.
All in all, it proved the government misled the public.
American troops withdrew from Vietnam. This, however, led to more questions about whether the war was justified.
In the end, the New York Times published a few of the Pentagon Papers in June 1971. The Washington Post published the next few. Both publications and Ellsberg faced criminal charges.
The Supreme Court, however, allowed for further publication of the Pentagon Papers.
The Watergate Scandal and the Nixon Tapes
In 1972, America faced a confusing time. Not only was the U.S. unfavorably involved in the Vietnam War, but President Richard Nixon ran for re-election.
The Watergate Scandal
In May 1972, members of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, also known as C.R.E.E.P., broke into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate Headquarters. They stole copies of top-secret documents and bugged the office phones.
However, the wiretaps failed to work.
On June 15th, 1972, five burglars returned to Watergate with a new microphone.
A security guard noticed the tape over several door locks. He called the police, who apprehended the burglars.
Upon their apprehension, police found that the burglars had no clear connection with the President. Subsequestion, suspicions grew when, among their belongings, were White House phone numbers of the re-election committee.
In August 1972, President Nixon gave a speech. He swore that he and his White House staff were not involved in the break-in at Watergate. The voters believed him, leading to a landslide victory for the Republican Party.
The Nixon Tapes
Days after the break-in at Watergate, President Nixon arranged for tens of thousands of dollars, ‘hush money’, for the burglars. As well, with his presidential aides, he planned to have the C.I.A. impede on the F.B.I.’s investigation of the crime.
Therefore, not only was this an obstruction of justice, but an abuse of presidential power.
Later, seven conspirators were indicted on the charges. After urged by Nixon’s aides, five of the conspirators pleaded guilty to avoid a trial. The remaining two were convicted in January 1973.
However, despite all done, many remained skeptical of a larger scheme afoot. Among those skeptics were Washington Post journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and the trial judge, John Sirica.
‘Deep Throat’, an anonymous whistle-blower, provided the journalists with key information. After making the information known, Nixon’s aides testified about the President’s crimes.
Moreover, they testified that, due to his paranoia, the president secretly taped every conversation taken in the Oval Office.
Nixon did all he could to hide the tapes.
In July 1974, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes. Nixon also faced impeachment for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up, and several violations of the Constitution.
On August 5th, 1974, Nixon released the tapes. They provided undeniable proof of his part in the Watergate crimes.
Three days later, Nixon resigned and left office the following day.
Since then, these events changed the way Americans viewed their government leaders.
The Iraq War Logs
In 2010, on Wikileaks, leaked documents spread uncovered information about the Iraq War.
This is the largest classified military leak in history. There are 391 832 reports documenting the war and the U.S. occupation in Iraq, from January 1st, 2004, to December 31st, 2009. These reports were told by soldiers in the U.S. army.
According to reports, there were 109 032 deaths in Iraq:
- 66 081 were ‘civilians’.
- 23 984 were the ‘enemy’, labeled as insurgents.
- 15 196 were the ‘host nation’, the Iraqi governmental forces.
- 3771 were ‘friendly’, or coalition forces.
Most of the deaths (60%) were civilian deaths. Therefore, 31 civilians died every day in that six-year period.
Julian Assange created Wikileaks in 2006. The purpose of the website was to analyse and publish censored or restricted official information related to war, spying, and corruption.
The leaked information gave details on the Iraqi civilians’ deaths, the abuse of war prisoners, and Iran’s involvement in the war.
Contrary to most posts, this information was not analyzed or assembled before being published.
According to Assange, Wikileaks made the information public to reveal the truth about the conflict.
Edward Snowden and the N.S.A.
Edward Snowden was a former systems administrator for the C.I.A. After the C.I.A., he worked in private intelligence for Dell. From there, he took positions in the National Security Agency (N.S.A.) in Japan, and then the N.S.A. in Hawaii.
During his time in the N.S.A., Snowden began downloading secret documents. It is unclear as to when he started.
Those documents dealt with U.S. intelligence activities and partnerships with foreign allies. The documents described the U.S. intelligence agencies spying on personal communications of foreign leaders, including U.S. allies. As well, the documents contained information on the N.S.A’s capability to tap undersea fiber optic cables.
Another example of the leaked documents involved British cyber spies. In 2012, they showed their U.S. partners how they monitor YouTube in real time. While doing so, they collected I.P. addresses from the videos watched, as well as user information for analysis.
Around the same time of the documents publishing, they were already able to do so on Facebook and Twitter.
In 2013, the documents leaked to The Guardian, Washington Post, and were sent to a documentary filmmaker.
The documents revealed the government’s national security practice set after 9/11. U.S. citizens, unaware of these practices, were furious.
Snowden started his sole motive. He wanted to inform the public of what was being done in their name and against it. Some see him as a traitor for disclosing American secrets. Others, however, call him a patriot for exposing violations of the Constitution.
The Dark Side of the Kremlin
In 2019, ‘hacktivists’ leaked information, in the tens of thousands, consisting of Russian emails and documents. The nature and analysis of the information received the name ‘The Dark Side of the Kremlin’.
The Distributed Denial of Secrets (D.D.o.Secrets), a ‘ transparency collective’, published the leaked information. They stated that they aimed to ensure the information became available for those that needed it.
The emails and documents belonged to senior Russian political and religious figures, oligarchs, and the military.
The documents and emails mention how the government starts criminal investigations against opposition or journalists out of thin air.
Above all, the documents confirmed what many suspected: Russia seeking to control its citizens. Among the information was how the Russian government controls the media. They spread their messages through members of Parliament and loyal T.V. channels and newspapers.
Additionally, the documents mention Russia’s influence in the Ukraine. They show Russia’s material support for Ukraine and its financial control of separatist leaders. It goes further with ‘Operation Troy’. Russia planned to create a land bridge to Crimea. The Russian forces were to dress as Ukranian nationalists to take over the southern regions of the Ukraine.
The Pandora Papers
The Pandora Papers were over 12 million documents. The leaked information revealed the hidden, unethical, and/or corrupt dealings of the wealthy and elite all over the world. These include prominent leaders, politicians, corporate executives, celebrities, and billionaires.
The leak was given the name ‘Pandora’ for the Pandora’s box of investigations and lawsuits to come.
Till this day, it is the largest amount of data ever to be leaked.
The documents showed offshore interests and activities, along with tax sheltering schemes.
In 1997, an American journalist, Charles Lewis, founded the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (I.C.I.J.). It is a non-profit newsroom and network of journalists based in Washington D.C.
It investigates issues beyond national frontiers, such as cross-border crimes and corruption, while holding the powerful accountable.
The Pandroa Papers started as an investigation by I.C.I.J. in 2019. It grew to where it involved 600 journalists in 117 countries and territories.
Along with obtaining close to 12 million financial records, the I.C.I.J. gathered 2.94 terabytes of confidential information from 14 offshore services. The records span across five decades, the most created between 1996 and 2020. In addition to the financial information, it included the information of 29 000 beneficial owners, owners of offshore assets.
Owning an offshore company is legal.
However, the concern lies with those of illegal means and what they could be hiding. Experts say these companies may cover illicit money flows, enabling bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, terrorism financing, as well as human rights abuses, such as human trafficking.
Through every bit of leaked information over the years, greater insights are given into the actions of the most influential people in the world. It shows how these actions can affect their country and the global economy.
The Pandora Papers brought an end to the abuse of corporate secrecy. Additionally, leaders hesitant to take action now need to act. Many look to the governments of the countries involved. They look to governments to implement policies and strategies to end the excessive, illegal use of offshore accounts.
Nothing so diminishes a democracy as secrecy.