How the Technology of Leaks Changes History

Strangely, technology has made information leaks important political and cultural events.

To explain, the power of authoritarian states comes from governments’ ability to control the flow of information. For example, it was the Nazis’ ability to hide the true nature of their regime from ordinary Germans that kept Adolph Hitler in power. Similarly, it was the Communists’ ability to hide the truth that kept tyrants such as Mao and Stalin in power.

For example, Hitler could rely upon the loyalty of German soldiers because many of them did not know about the Holocaust or his lunatic plans for ethnic cleansing.

The Power of Leaks

In the modern world, technology allows anybody to transmit enormous amounts of information across the world. For example, anybody can post a blog or a video online. Moreover, you can use email or social media to send millions of documents around the globe in a few minutes or seconds.

For example, the Pandora Papers leak of financial data comprises 11.9 million files, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) estimates. Those files include 6.406 million documents, 2.938 million images, 1.206 million emails, 467,405 spreadsheets.

That information comprised 2.94 terabytes of data. To explain, a terabyte contains 1,024 gigabytes of data. Notably, an average hard drive, a device you can carry in your pocket, can store one terabyte of data. One terabyte contains as much data as 728,177 floppy disks or 1,498 compact discs (CDs), TechTarget estimates. Hence, I estimate, you would need 2.141 million floppy disks or 4,404 CDs to store the Pandora Papers.

To leak the Pandora Papers physically, a person would need a semi-trailer full of floppy discs or several semi trailers full of paper. Yet, you can carry the Pandora Papers in your pocket if they are on a hard drive.

Moreover, the ICJI distributed those files to over 600 journalists in 117 countries. The Pandora Papers investigation is only possible because of the internet. Hence, hundreds of media outlets in 117 countries are disseminating the Pandora Papers.

Ultimately, the Pandora Papers could expose the secrets of 130 billionaires, 330 politicians, 46 Russian oligarchs, 14 offshore service providers, and 35 national leaders. Hence, a massive leak of information that could change the world is now possible.

Why there were no Leaks in World War II

Modern information technology makes leaks a potentially earth-shattering phenomenon. For example, a “leak” of emails from the Democratic Party in 2016 helped make Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) President of the United States.

Predictably, such leaks are a recent phenomenon. Enormous leaks of information did not occur until the 1970s because of technology.

For example, during World War II, there were probably many people aware of damaging data about the powers involved. For instance, many Germans probably knew about the Wannsee Conference, and the planning for the Holocaust. I imagine the plans horrified many Germans, yet there was little they could do about them.

There was no internet or social media in 1942. Instead, to documents to another country, somebody had to go to the Post Office or the telegraph office. Since the German government controlled both the mails and telegraph, Nazi censors could easily intercept any leaked documents.

German media was out because it walls under the control of Doctor Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda ministry, so taking the documents to a reporter was out of the question. Goebbels was a more fanatical Nazi than Hitler.

 some bureaucrat had wanted to leak the minutes from the Wannsee Conference, he would have had to travel to Switzerland to publicize them. Hence, the bureaucrat would have had to travel by train, and take the risk of being caught by the Gestapo in many places.

Once in Switzerland, the leaker would have had to find a diplomat or journalist willing to publicize the plans. In the 1940s, centralized wire services transmitted “news” so the people who ran the wire services could kill any story.

Thus, a large scale leak about the Nazi Party would have been impossible in 1942. Notably, the Communist Party could hide the true nature of Stalin’s Soviet Union, and the deaths of 3.9 million people in the Holodomor famine in the Ukraine in 1932 and 1933. One way the Communists hid the Holodomor was with the help of newspaper editors who published Stalinist propaganda as “news.”

Technology enabled the Holdomor because Stalin’s NVKD could intercept anybody willing to tell the truth before they could publicize it. To explain, in 1932 or 1933, a journalist had to reach a news service, or a phone to transmit the story. Stalin’s thugs could hide information by shutting down media outlets, tapping phones, or killing journalists taking data to media outlets.

Intercepting a few journalists with Speed Graphic cameras and notepads is easy. Blocking tens of thousands of people with smartphones is harder. Yes, the Chinese Communist Party can censor or block the internet but there are still thousands of images that can get out.

A Brief History of Leaks

The modern history of leaks began in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers. The leaker was Daniel Ellsberg, a consultant at the Rand Corporation think tank.

Ellsberg used new a technology, a copying machine, to photocopy tens of thousands of documents that exposed the hypocrisy and duplicity of American policy in the Vietnam War. Fortunately, Ellsberg had a friend whose girlfriend owned an advertising agency with a Xerox copying machine, The Guardian reports. Ellsberg, and his 13-year-old son, made copies of thousands of classified documents that exposed the official narrative of the Vietnam War as a fraud.

Ellsberg changed history by providing The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other newspapers with the archival documentation formally only available to historians. A new technology, a Xerox machine, made Ellsberg’s leak possible. Just a decade earlier, such a leak was impossible because there were no Xerox machines.

Ellsberg’s leaking was crude and slow because he used paper documents. To explain, Ellsberg had to make copies and take them to a reporter. If Ellsberg had no acquaintance with a copier, there is a possibility the Pentagon Papers could have remained secret.

Ellsberg paid a terrible price for his leaks. President Richard M. Nixon (R-California) tried to destroy him with a conspiracy. Prosecutors charged Ellsberg with federal crimes and acquitted.

The Golden Age of Leaks

We entered what could be the golden ages of leaks in 2006 when gadfly Julian Assange launched WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is a website that posts leaked documents and other materials. Anybody can anonymously leak documents which are posted on the site without editing.

Wikileaks enabled some of the greatest leaks in history. For example, Edward Snowden’s release of enormous amounts of data about the National Security Administration’s (NSA) surveillance efforts and Chelsea Manning’s exposes of US State Department shenanigans.

Assange is paying a terrible price for leaking. He spent years hiding in Ecuador’s London embassy. Now Assange is in a British Maximum security prison in ill-health while fighting extradition to the United States. Federal prosecutors allege Assange committed espionage by posting classified documents on WikiLeaks.

Assange is paying a terrible price for leaking. He spent years hiding in Ecuador’s London embassy. Now Assange is in a British Maximum security prison in ill-health while fighting extradition to the United States. Federal prosecutors allege Assange committed espionage by posting classified documents on WikiLeaks.

Hypocritically, mainstream journalists who ignore Assange’s plight now adopt his methods. The Washington Post, for example, operates a tips page that accepts leaked documents by WhatsApp, Signal, Encrypted Email, and SecureDrop.

Similarly, The Post is one of many newspapers that participates in The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) one of Wikileaks chief competitors. Additionally, In addition, The Post regularly publishes material leaked to non-profit journalism organizations such as ProPublica.

The moral of the story is that leaking is fine as long as you leak to somebody with a journalism degree from an elite university who works at a mainstream media outlet. Meanwhile, Julian Assange could die in prison for the same behavior. Assange’s true crime is competing with the media, not espionage.

Tragically, Julian Assange has won the war he could die in. Notably, there seems to be a giant new leak each week. For example, The Intercept just published Facebook’s blacklist of Dangerous Individuals and Organizations whom it bans from posting.

Amusingly, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg is living his snide remark that “privacy is dead get used to it.” Facebook is now one of the biggest victims of the leak culture.

Notably, one of the leak tools The Washington Post uses is Facebook’s encrypted messenger app WhatsApp. Thus, Facebook operates the infrastructure that enables leaking.

Government efforts to punish leakers only seem to encourage more leaks. The US government’s idiotic war on Assange and WikiLeaks only drove the mainstream media to adopt its methods, for example.

Ironically, CIA operations against WikiLeaks and Assange are now the subject of leaks. There are even leak attorneys in Washington DC whose specialty is to protect leakers. Thus, leaking is now a lucrative business for journalists and attorneys, which will encourage more leaks.

Therefore, we live in the age of leaks. No organization’s secrets are safe. Technology enables leaks and destroys secrecy.