Previous big leaks of US state secrets

A key figure in the huge WikiLeaks release of memos was US soldier Chelsea Manning, who handed the website 700,000 of the classified documents.

With the arrest of a US airman over a major Pentagon documents leak, AFP looks back at previous cases of big breaches revealing state secrets.

– Pentagon Papers –

The landmark leak that has inspired Hollywood films took place in 1971, when The Washington Post published documents known as the Pentagon Papers, exposing the lies behind US involvement in the Vietnam War.

The Papers, leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, were a 7,000-page classified report which determined — contrary to the public assertions of US government officials — that the Vietnam conflict was unwinnable.

The New York Times had published excerpts until the US government under president Richard Nixon obtained a court injunction on national security grounds.

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The Washington Post stepped in, braving legal and financial peril to take up the torch.

The leak had massive repercussions in US politics, leading to the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon’s presidency a few years later.

– WikiLeaks: 10 million leaks –

The website founded by Australian Julian Assange, registered in 2006, first caught the world’s attention when it released manuals for US prison guards at Guantanamo Bay.

But its major coup came in 2010 when it worked with world media outlets including The New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde to publish millions of classified diplomatic cables.

In all more than 10 million leaked documents were published, to the dismay of politicians, governments and corporations.

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Hailed as a hero by supporters and reviled as a manipulator by critics, Assange was holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London from 2012 to 2017, to avoid extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.

Since 2019, the 51-year-old has been held at Belmarsh high security jail in London as he appeals against UK approval of his extradition to the US to face espionage charges.

– Chelsea Manning –

A key figure in the huge WikiLeaks release of memos was US soldier Chelsea Manning, who handed the website 700,000 of the classified documents.

The material in these ranged from graphic videos of US military assaults in Iraq and Afghanistan, to candid comments by heads of state.

Manning, then a male soldier known as Bradley, was arrested and in 2013 handed a 35-year prison sentence.

Former US president Barack Obama subsequently commuted the sentence and Manning was freed in 2017.

– Edward Snowden: NSA leaks –

US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 triggered one of the biggest intelligence leaks in US history.

Although he had received WikiLeaks’s backing, he did not use the group’s site to publish his leaks about the National Security Agency — turning instead to world newspapers.

The Guardian, along with The Washington Post, published information he provided about vast surveillance programmes run by the NSA to gather internet data and phone logs.

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Snowden fled the US to evade prosecution, going to Russia, which has granted him citizenship.

Seen as a civil liberties defender by some but hunted by Washington as a traitor, Snowden’s leak went on to spark reform of America’s massive espionage machine.

In 2015, lawmakers passed legislation known as the USA Freedom Act to roll back some of the sweeping powers the NSA had gained under the Patriot Act in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

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