With whistleblowing website WikiLeaks posting over 92,000 Afghan military logs, we dust off the history books and come up with five famous leaks and whistleblowers of our own.
Jim Duffy (1990)
We’ll start close to home. In 1982, Garret Fitzgerald’s government lost a Dáil vote on its budget, forcing the Taoiseach to go to Áras an Úachtaran and ask President Patrick Hillery to dissolve the Dáil.
The Fianna Fáil opposition, led by Charles Haughey, had just won the budget vote and fancied their chances at forming a government without needing an election. So they called the Áras eight times and tried to get Hillery – himself a Fianna Fáil man – to decline the request.
FitzGerald, who was in the Áras when the opposition had been making their calls, felt the opposition’s attempts to bully the President were out of order and wasn’t happy – and held a grudge that would come back to haunt Fianna Fáil.
Eight years later, the then-Táiniste Brian Lenihan was running for the Áras himself, and appeared on RTÉ’s Questions and Answers alongside, among others, FitzGerald, who decided to raise the issue once more.
Lenihan completely denied having any part in the phone calls (he hadn’t “any hand, act or part”) – but a UCD postgraduate student, Jim Duffy, had interviewed Lenihan on the record only a few months previously as part of an interview thesis.
The Irish Times had published details of his thesis, including Lenihan’s admission that he himself had called the Áras, and when Duffy ultimately released the tapes of his interview, Lenihan’s campaign disintegrated. He lost 18 points overnight, and a sure thing because an also-ran when Mary Robinson won the presidency.
Hans-Peter Martin (2004)
The headstrong Martin, an Austrian journalist, turned his hand to politics in 1999 when he ran – successfully – for the European Parliament, but his relationship with the Social Democratic Party went sour quickly and he became a maverick independent.
In 2004 Martin noticed that some of his MEP colleagues were showing up to work, signing the register of attendance, and then promptly turning around and leaving the buildings. Suspecting a rat, he started to investigate what they were up to.
Eventually he went to German TV and proved that the MEPs had been showing up to sign the register merely to claim parliamentary expenses. There was uproar – and rumours abounded, in response, that Martin was over-claiming for his meal expenses.
The rumours were later proven untrue, and Martin’s revelations led to the expenses system being totally reformed. Martin himself re-ran for parliament under his own list – and won two seats. In 2009, having opted to decline Libertas’s invitation to join them, he won three.
Lil Wayne’s The Leak (2007)
In a completely different sphere, rapper Lil Wayne was pretty annoyed when most of his album Tha Carter III was leaked on the internet long before it was even finished.
But recognising the clear appetite for his material and sensing a way to turn the leak to his advantage, the sly Wayne (real name Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr) decided to collect the songs floating around the internet and make his own mixtape. He called it (ingeniously): The Leak.
The leaked Leak ultimately resulted in Tha Carter III – in its completed form - selling a million copies in its first week and going three-times platinum in the US after topping the Billboard album chart. Nice work.
Deep Throat (1970s)
In 1972, offices belonging to the Democratic Party’s National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel complex were broken into. The five men convicted of it, on investigation, were all discovered to be linked to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign as US President.
Naturally, the FBI began to investigate – as did the press. But people began to notice that two Washington Post reporters covering the story had a lot of the same details that that the FBI were uncovering. Ultimately the two reporters broke information that led to the full scandal being disclosed and with President Nixon having to resign.
When they wrote a book on the subject afterwards, the reporters – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – said their information came from an anonymous FBI agent who they called ‘Deep Throat’.
Ultimately in 2005 Deep Throat was on his deathbed and wanted to clear his conscience. He revealed himself as William Mark Felt, then aged 91, who had been the Associate Director of the FBI.
Felt knew that the Republican party had been playing dirty in its tactics to get Nixon re-elected – and caused what to date is the only Presidential resignation.
Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers (1971)
Remarkably, Watergate broke only a couple of years after what had then been the most substantial leak of modern American times.
In 1969, a military analyst named Daniel Ellsberg began to photocopy a classified study of the American involvement in Vietnam, as had been prepared by the Department of Defence. Two years later, when he was done, he handed it over to the New York Times who published it in nine parts. They became known as the ‘Pentagon Papers’.
The papers showed that the US had – without ever admitting it – been bombing Cambodia and raiding the coast of North Vietnam, and that the administrations of four American presidents – from Harry S Truman, right after World War 2, up to Lyndon Johnson in the 1960’s – had lied to the public about its military affairs.
In 1996 the New York Times said the papers Ellsberg had supplied “”demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.”