It’s been quite a year for whistleblowing website Wikileaks. Its latest info dump, a treasure trove of diplomatic cables spanning the world, has caused an international uproar. U.S. politicians like Hillary Clinton and New York Congressman Peter King (pictured) called the leak a threat to global security, with King going so far as calling for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act and for his site to be deemed a foreign terrorist organization.
Lil Wayne’s The Leak
Most musicians get upset when their albums leak to the Internet, but not Lil Wayne. When several tracks off his then upcoming album Tha Carter III surfaced on the Internet in 2007, the rapper responded by pushing back Carter’s release date and issuing the leaked tracks as their own separate album, appropriately titled The Leak. The album’s cover art even incorporated the phrase “Lil Wayne Approved.” At least someone in the music industry still has a sense of humor.
McChrystal’s War Plan
Eight months after taking office, President Obama ordered General Stanley McChrystal, his new commander in Afghanistan, to review the entire war. From McChrystal’s report, Obama learned that without more troops and a drastic change in strategy, the war would be lost. The only problem is, we all learned that too. Watergate legend Bob Woodward proved he still had it by penetrating yet another Administration, obtaining 66 pages of the report and posting them on the Washington Post website. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the President approved nearly all of McChrystal’s requests, proving that you can bring hope and change, but keeping a lid on it all is another challenge.
In selling the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Administration of George W. Bush made a lot of claims — that U.N. inspections weren’t working, that al-Qaeda had Iraqi links, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Most of these ended up not being true. One of the more suspect allegations voiced by President Bush was that Iraq had sought supplies of uranium from an African nation, understood to be the West African republic of Niger. This was refuted in the summer after U.S. troops had rolled into Baghdad by Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat who had been sent earlier to Niger to investigate rumored sales of yellowcake, a form of uranium powder. Not long afterward, right-wing commentator Robert Novak published a column outing Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative.
Leaking her identity to the press was no small act — it compromised her work with the agency and was seen as a slap on Wilson’s wrist for speaking out of turn. It also led many observers to believe that the White House had rushed to war using only the most politically expedient snippets of intelligence. An inquiry into the leaks went all the way to the upper echelons of the Bush brain trust — eventually, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, aide to Karl Rove, was found guilty in 2007 on counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements. President Bush commuted Libby’s 30-month prison sentence.
Sarah Palin’s E-Mails
We all like to assume our e-mail is private, but Sarah Palin learned the hard way that it’s not always the case. In September 2008, someone hacked into the then vice presidential candidate’s personal Yahoo! account, email@example.com, and posted some of her messages, her password and contact list to WikiLeaks. Though the messages quickly made their way around the Internet, the e-mails turned out to be little more than goofy family photos and a few letters to political colleagues.
The hacker was found to be 22-year-old David Kernell, the son of a Tennessee legislator (and Democrat). Kernell was found guilty on April 30, 2010, of obstruction of justice and unauthorized access to a computer, but was acquitted of the greater charge of wire fraud. He is due to be sentenced Sept. 24 and will likely face up to 21 months behind bars.
The Apache Helicopter Shooting
WikiLeaks has had a pretty notable year, starting with the airing in April of footage from July 2007 that showed a U.S. Apache helicopter shooting and killing Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen in Baghdad. Noor-Eldeen’s driver and 10 others were also killed after soldiers mistook his camera for a weapon and the men for insurgents. The Iraqi Journalists’ Union and the New York City–based Committee to Protect Journalists have called for an investigation into the actions of the troops on board the copter. While an early inquiry found no wrongdoing, U.S. military lawyers announced they would review the video once more, though no formal report has been released yet. The military whistle-blower responsible for releasing the classified video to WikiLeaks — 22-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning — was arrested in May and later charged with 12 counts of illegally transferring classified data onto his personal computer and then providing it to an unauthorized source. WikiLeaks has hired lawyers to defend Manning but claims they have not been allowed access to him.
The Pentagon Papers
On June 13, 1971, the New York Times ran the first of a nine-part series of excerpts from a classified study of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam completed by the Department of Defense. The papers were turned over to the Times by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who had surreptitiously photocopied them starting as early as 1969. U.S. Senator Mike Gravel, a Democrat, also entered 4,100 pages of the study — which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers — to the Senate record, thus making their later publication in book form constitutionally sound.
So what was in the Pentagon Papers? Oh, you know, just proof that the U.S. secretly bombed Cambodia and conducted coastal raids on North Vietnam, and that four Administrations — from Truman’s to Johnson’s — had deliberately lied to the public. Ellsberg was put on trial for theft and conspiracy under the Espionage Act of 1917, but a series of legal missteps and dubious evidence-gathering tactics led the judge to dismiss all charges.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Scandal
In 1848, news of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo — the document that would conclude the two-year Mexican-American War — was leaked to John Nugent, a reporter with the New York Herald. After its publication, an infuriated Senate had Nugent called in for questioning; the Irish-born journalist refused to disclose his source, saying only that the informant in question was not a member of the Senate. That didn’t seem to endear Nugent to any of his interrogators and he was kept under veritable house arrest in the Capitol building for a whole month.
But Nugent didn’t crack and the exasperated Senate released him, according to the institution’s own official history, on “the face-saving grounds of protecting his health.” He’d soon venture west and become editor of the San Francisco Herald. In 1858, Nugent was given a high-profile commission by then President James Buchanan to investigate developments in New Caledonia (now British Columbia). It was a fitting reward — evidence suggests it was Buchanan who, as Secretary of State, revealed the treaty’s terms to Nugent.
The WikiLeaks War Logs
On Oct. 22, Internet-based watchdog organization WikiLeaks posted 391,832 classified U.S. military documents on the war in Iraq, the largest such leak in history. As he did with the July release of 77,000 secret documents related to the war in Afghanistan, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange shared the documents with several newspapers — including the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel — in advance of making them public. Among the major revelations were many instances of the U.S. military deliberately ignoring detainee abuse by Iraqi allies and an increase of the civilian-casualty count by 15,000. The July Afghanistan papers consisted primarily of secret reports from troops in the field covering local intelligence and recounting clashes — including a number of missives that detailed civilian casualties at the hands of coalition forces. Another important (though not altogether surprising) revelation was that members of the U.S. military suspect what others have long assumed: that Pakistan’s military intelligence agency has secretly assisted the Afghan Taliban insurgency.
Watergate’s Deep Throat
After five men were arrested for breaking into and trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began their investigation into what would become the country’s biggest political scandal. Soon Watergate came to stand for far more than just the burglarized building and would lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Aiding Woodward and Bernstein as they connected the dots between the break-in and the White House was an informant whose identity remained a secret for a good 33 years. In 2005 — decades after the journalists won Pulitzers and All the President’s Men won Oscars — former deputy director of the FBI Mark Felt revealed that he was the mysterious “Deep Throat.”