Top 10 Government Leaks
VOICE OVER: Callum Janes
WRITTEN BY: Callum Janes
These government leaks shocked the world. For this list, we'll be looking at the most infamous, impactful times information was leaked about government officials or programs. Our countdown includes Guantanamo Bay Files, Panama Papers, Iraq War Documents, and more!
Top 10 Government Leaks
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Government Leaks.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most infamous, impactful times information was leaked about government officials or programs.
What information would YOU like to see leaked? Sound off in the comments!
#10: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Government leaks aren’t a recent thing, people have been snitching for the longest time! Towards the end of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, the country's officials secretly met to negotiate peace. However, that peace treaty didn’t stay secret for very long. John Nugent, a reporter for the New York Herald, leaked the drafted document to the public, sending shockwaves throughout the U.S. Nugent was detained and interrogated but never revealed his source. There were several amendments being suggested to the document before this leak, but the sudden press caused the house to quickly ratify it.
#9: Swiss Leaks
If we have to pay taxes, so should everyone else! That’s what makes this revelation so frustrating. In 2015, French computer analyst Hervé Falciani leaked info from the Swiss subsidiary of British multinational bank HSBC, revealing a massive tax evasion scheme. It implicated thousands of clients, including prominent figures and organizations from multiple countries, who were hoarding billions of dollars in offshore tax-havens. The bank reportedly tried to suppress the story in the media, with some success. Citizens from the UK, US, Switzerland, Venezuela, and France were among the biggest perpetrators. HSBC was taken to trial in France, but agreed to pay a few hundred million, and the case was dropped.
#8: Guantanamo Bay Files
In 2011, Wikileaks and several news outlets began publishing secret documents about detainees in Guantanamo Bay. They revealed that the US held 150 innocent men for years, without charges. One detainee was a journalist and cameraman for Al Jazeera, who was locked up for six years before his release. Many prisoners were subject to brutal abuse and suffered from depression and other mental illnesses. Out of 780 detainees, only 220 were considered to be dangerous extremists; 380 were low-ranking guerillas. Commentators noted that media outlets reacted very differently, with US outlets like CNN tending to downplay the negative revelations.
#7: Operation Mincemeat
This was the one time on this list where governments wanted information leaked. During World War II, the Allies wanted to mislead their enemies about the upcoming 1943 invasion of Sicily. So the British concocted a plan. British Intelligence obtained the body of a homeless man who died of rat poison, dressed him as an officer, and planted a fake correspondence suggesting the Allies intended to invade Greece and Sardinia instead of Sicily. They left the body in the ocean off the coast of Spain. The Axis powers fell for it, and moved reinforcements to Greece and Sardinia, allowing the Allies to liberate Sicily.
#6: Pentagon Papers
From 1945 to 1967, the US was engaged in the controversial Vietnam War. Public opinion only got worse when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers. Not only did it disclose the US’ involvement in secret operations in the region, including the rise and overthrow of South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, but it also exposed the intention of the war. It wasn’t to help a “friend”, by creating an independent South Vietnam, but to “contain China”. This led the New York Times to accuse President Johnson of having lied to the public and Congress. While Ellsburg was charged, the charges were dropped after it was discovered the Nixon administration commissioned illegal actions to discredit him.
#5: The Tiananmen Papers
Back in 1989, Chinese students came together to protest, calling for greater accountability, freedom of speech and of the press, and democratic reforms. At one point, over one million people assembled in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The government sent in hundreds of thousands of troops, who fired on protesters, killing somewhere between several hundred to several thousand. In 2001, a book that compiled alleged documents from Chinese officials was published, purporting to reveal the divisions within the Chinese Community Party at the time. However, there is considerable debate over the authenticity of the documents. The Chinese government’s solution has been to ban the book outright.
#4: Global Surveillance Disclosures
It’s hard to dismiss paranoia when it turns out your own country is spying on you. In 2013, NSA contractor Edward Snowden released highly classified information to several media outlets. The documents revealed a global surveillance program led by the US and its allies, dedicated to mass collecting emails, text messages, phone calls, and more. The data is obtained through commercial partners, the infiltration of computer networks, and even by just sucking it right out of undersea fiber-optic cables. In the US, the revelation that the NSA was spying on ordinary American citizens shocked the public. Ever wonder if someone is sitting in a cubicle looking at your private messages and pictures? Well, it’s not impossible!
#3: Panama Papers
These offshore banks must be raking in a fortune doing people’s shady finances. In 2016, 11.5 million documents were leaked from Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca by an unknown whistleblower. They revealed how Mossack Fonseca had set up thousands of shell companies that allowed wealthy people around the world to commit fraud and evade taxes and international sanctions. Many high-ranking officials were implicated, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who subsequently resigned. The following year, the water got even hotter for people and corporations taking advantage of tax havens, with the leak of 13.4 million more documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers.
If spying on their own citizens wasn’t enough, turns out the US was spying on United Nations leaders as well! In November 2010, WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic messages into the public domain. They’d been obtained from soldier and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The cables showed the US and Britain gathering intel and eavesdropping on Secretary General Kofi Annan and others. Several unflattering private discussions and appraisals were revealed too. The leak also highlighted corruption in Tunisia, and may have provided one of the many sparks that led to the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring.
#1: Iraq War Documents
In July 2010, Wikileaks published the Afghan War documents, which detailed atrocities and failures from the war in Afghanistan. A few months later, an even bigger leak of documents was released about the Iraq War; both came from Manning. The Iraq War documents revealed human rights abuses, support for insurgent forces, and data that increased the Iraq Body Count project’s death toll to 150,000 - 80% of them civilians. They also included footage of a US helicopter crew celebrating as they gunned down men, some of whom were armed, but who turned out to be civilians, including two journalists. The crew then fired on a van and building - leading to more civilian casualties. It was the biggest leak in US military history, and sent shockwaves throughout the world.