From Consortium News
"Hacking" and "leaking" can be either good or bad depending on the motives behind the disclosures and your political perspective. Generally speaking, democracy benefits from transparency and from having a more fully informed citizenry.
But "leaks" can also be used to punish dissidents or to enflame public passions in favor of war or against some vulnerable minority group. Indeed, "leaks" can paradoxically be used to advance cover-ups by punishing people who tried to expose the truth.
An example of that sort of "leak" occurred during George W. Bush's presidency when his subordinates "leaked" derogatory information about former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had offended the White House by exposing a key falsehood used to justify the Iraq War, that Iraq had been seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger.
To discredit and punish Wilson, Bush's aides disclosed through "leaks" that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA officer as a way to suggest that Wilson's investigation was a junket, not a serious inquiry.
In other words, to discredit an attempt to honestly inform the American people about a false pretext for war, the Bush administration released classified information that was intended to undercut Wilson's reputation and which destroyed his wife's CIA career. The so-called Plamegate Affair sent a warning to other government officials who might be inclined to challenge the case for war in Iraq that -- if you dare do so -- you will pay a price. That "leak" was really part of a cover-up.
Still, as commonly understood, public-spirited "leaks" seek to expose the lies and the propaganda that are often used to justify war. Perhaps the most famous "leak" occurred during the Vietnam War when former senior Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg photocopied a top secret historical analysis known as the Pentagon Papers and, in 1971, began distributing copies to major news organizations.
Thus, Ellsberg exposed decades of lies that the U.S. government had used to pull the American people into the conflict. The Pentagon Papers led more Americans to oppose the war and hastened its end although President Nixon and other war supporters denounced Ellsberg as a traitor and unsuccessfully sought to prosecute him.
Some "leaks" have been even more controversial. In 1975, former CIA agent Philip Agee published Inside the Company: CIA Diary that exposed covert CIA operations in Latin America. Patrick Breslin of the Washington Post described the book this way: "Agee has provided the most complete description yet of what the CIA does abroad. In entry after numbing entry, U.S. foreign policy in Latin America is pictured as a web of deceit, hypocrisy and corruption."
Agee identified corrupt politicians plus American and foreign CIA operatives throughout Latin America, thus reducing the CIA's powers to manipulate America's neighbors to the south.
In 1984, John Stockwell, former CIA director of the Angola Task Force, published In Search of Enemies, documenting how the CIA trained, armed and otherwise funded a "rebel" group to wage war in Angola ultimately leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Stockwell described how the CIA spread disinformation as part of an "information war."
For example, when Cuban soldiers came to assist the Angolans against a South African invasion, Stockwell's team invented a false report that Cuban soldiers were raping Angolan women. Stockwell described how the false story was planted in a small foreign newspaper before being republished all over the West. By detailing that sort of dirty trick, Stockwell's expose' made it more difficult for the CIA to run such "black propaganda" for a while.
In 2010, Pvt. Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning leaked files revealing war crimes and government deceptions related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Manning copied war logs, including videos, and passed the files to WikiLeaks. One of the videos, entitled "Collateral Murder," showed U.S. soldiers in an Apache helicopter attacking and killing two Reuters journalists along with other civilians on the streets of Baghdad. Other of Manning's "leaked" documents revealed manipulations and schemes carried out by the U.S. State Department around the world.
Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, standing up for Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning.
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