In December of 2006, WikiLeaks leaked its first document – an order for the assassination of multiple Somali government officials. The staff of WikiLeaks was unsure if the document’s authenticity, but they published it with a disclaimer, hoping that readers would assist with vetting and analyzing the leaked document. Since then, WikiLeaks has released tens, if not hundreds, millions of classified documents, of which a large fraction have been covered and reported on by major news outlets. Despite their meteoric rise to prominence, WikiLeaks was neither the first, nor is the only source of Leaks.
Leaks Prior to WikiLeaks
The Hutchinson Letters – 1772
The Hutchinson Letters were arguably the first documents leaked in American History. The letters were written by Thomas Hutchinson, the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, and were anonymously given to Benjamin Franklin. In the letters Hutchinson was requesting for an increased British presence in the American colonies to assist with increased unrest and riots. The letters managed to get into the hands of the Boston Gazette, were published, and were shortly used in to support the cause for the American Revolution.
Watergate – 1972 through 1974
On June 17, 1972 five men broke into the headquarters for the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Complex and were subsequently arrested. Leaked information recorded by hidden microphones in the President’s office and further investigation of the break-in revealed that they were being funded by the Committee to Re-elect the President and that president Nixon knew of the ordered burglary. Two years later, facing impeachment and likely conviction, Nixon resigned.
The Pentagon Papers – 1971
Officially titled the United States-Vietnam Relations, the Pentagon Papers were a set of top-secret reports that documented the United States’ motivation for involvement in Vietnam. Among many other things, the papers revealed that President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration had lied to both the public and Congress about America reasons for the war in Vietnam.
Iran-Contra Affair – 1985 through 1987
During the Reagan administration it was leaked that administration officials attempted to sell arms to Iran and use the resulting income to fund the Contras in an attempt to destabilize the Nicaraguan government. The only issue was that there was a trade embargo against Iran and that Congress had prohibited funding of the Contras. A few convictions came out of the affair, though most of the court proceedings were just smoke and mirrors. Many of the indicted officials were later reinstated during the Bush administration.
Information Leaked by WikiLeaks
Climategate – 2009
In November of 2009 an email server at UEA’s Climatic Research Unit was compromised, and thousands of emails and files were leaked. WikiLeaks did not originally leak the data, although it was one of the most prominent hosts of the leaked data. Nine different committees reviewed the leaked data, and found that no wrongdoing had occurred.
Collateral Murder – 2010
On the fifth of April 2010, WikiLeaks released a classified video taken from an Apache helicopter showing the killing of ten Iraqi citizens and two Reuters news staff. This was the first leak that brought WikiLeaks into the public spotlight, but did not have much political impact.
The Afghan War Diary – 2010
From January 2004 to December 2009, 91,731 documents were leaked to WikiLeaks. These documents were made available to three news organizations, who released reports on the same day that 75,000 of the original documents were released. The war logs provided a complete, unbiased history of the War in Afghanistan, but had little impact on the climate surrounding the war.
The Iraq War Logs – 2010
The largest leak ever, consisting of 400,000 documents, provided a snapshot of the Iraq War – the civilian deaths, the detainees, the torture, terrorism, and al Quaeda. Despite the size of the leak and the amount of information contained, this leak did not have much of an impact on perceptions of the war.
Cablegate - 2010
On November 28, 2010 WikiLeaks began releasing classified United States diplomatic cables. These documents are continuing to be released and are available to anyone for viewing. Most of the cables were merely embarrassing to the US government, although some provided accounts of corruption, prohibited investments, and unscrupulous political pressures. These documents have had a fair amount of political impact, which is discussed in another section.
The Guantanamo Bay Files - 2011
Approximately 800 documents were leaked by WikiLeaks in early 2011. These documents tell the stories of the 774 persons being detained at Guantanamo Bay. Although these documents provide a large amount of insight into how the American intelligence system works, they have not had much political or social impact.
The above Leaks are some of the more noteworthy Leaks with which WikiLeaks was involved. By no means is it intended to be complete or comprehensive. What follows is a list of smaller Leaks that received less attention. This list is not intended to be comprehensive either. For a comprehensive list, please visit WikiLeaks, or the Wikipedia entry on WikiLeaks.
- The Somali Assassination Order – 2006
- The Standard Operating Procedures for Guantanamo Bay – 2007
- The Secret Bibles of Scientology – 2008
- Sarah Palin’s Yahoo Mail Account – 2008
- The BNP Membership List – 2009
- Congressional Research Service Reports – 2009
- Internet Blacklists from Various Countries – 2009
- Toxic Shame: The Dumping of Toxic Waste in Africa – 2009
- 9/11 Pager Transmissions – 2009