Information leaks and data breaches have been happening for centuries, and although it looks different now, wars have been and lost because of confidentiality issues. Take the story of King Leonidas of Sparta for example; had it not been for the traitor showing the Persians the herder’s path, Xerxes would have probably lost the war. Today, these data breaches have the power to topple businesses and destroy governments. Let’s take a look at the most shocking information leaks in our history.
1. Operation Mincemeat
Glydwr Martin, a Welsh homeless man, became one of the most important people in the Second World War. After his death, his body was recovered and he was given a new identity – Major William Martin, then given fake credentials along with “top secret documents” before being dropped off the coast of southern Spain under the guise of being an air crash victim. He was discovered a few hours later and the documents found their way into the hands of German intelligence. The papers suggested that the Allied Forces would attack Greece, but the true target was a now unguarded Sicily. It allowed the Allies to get a hold on Italy which eventually led to their victory in World War II. The details of Operation Mincemeat were kept private until 1996.
2. The Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project – plans to develop the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II, was one of the most highly classified plans in US history, but in 1945 when President Truman told foreign leaders that America’s first tests were successful, Premier Josef Stalin met with his scientist to discuss Russia’s prospects of creating their own. The Allies had a significant lead in the race, but luckily for Stalin, there were scientists willing to leak information to the Soviets. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist, and at least eight others who worked with the British and American teams on the project gave the Germans so much information that it only took them four years before they could begin testing. The Soviets eventually passed their rivals when they constructed the Tsar Bomba, which led to a deadlock.
3. The Watergate Scandal
Richard Nixon’s presidency was one of the most scandalous in US history and in a failed effort to prevent future leaks, following the Pentagon Papers, the president set up a secret group of individuals known as the “White House Plumbers”. Their job was to identify threats to Nixon’s re-election and discredit them by any means necessary. Around the same time, Nixon’s administration formed a Committee for Re-election of the President (CRP) who used illegal methods to increase the odds of Nixon keeping the presidency. After members of the CRP broke into the Democratic headquarters, the FBI launched an investigation which Nixon attempted to block. It was brought to the court and two former White House employees, one being Nixon’s assistant, provided important information about secret tapes which Nixon refused to release. The tapes were eventually released in 1974 with 18.5 minutes of footage missing. The president resigned making him the first and only to do so, to date.
In 2010, the world was shocked when over 400,000 U.S. Army field reports were published on WikiLeaks. The reports detailed numerous cases of uninvestigated accounts of torture and worse, done by both US and UK soldiers during their invasion of Iraq from 2004 to 2009. It also revealed that the military groups lied about the lives lost during the campaign. The leak was immediately condemned by The Pentagon, and they claimed that it gave the enemy insight into their military procedures. The information was published by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange based on information provided by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Both Assange and Manning are in jail and WikiLeaks is still the largest leak of military information in history.
5. NSA Leak
In May of 2013, Edward Snowden, a former CIA technical assistant revealed that he was going to leak information to the United Kingdom’s The Guardian newspaper about surveillance techniques used by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden revealed that the NSA used metadata acquired from phone and internet companies to spy not only on its citizens, but also politicians in both allied and enemy countries. The US charged Snowden with espionage and revoked his passport before he flew to Russia. Russia granted him asylum and in 2020, the Russian government granted him permanent residency.
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