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.
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.
3. 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.
2. 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.”
1. 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.