A news leak is the unsanctioned release of confidential information
to news media
. It can also be the premature publication of information by a news outlet, of information that it has agreed not to release before a specified time, in violation of a news embargo
Leaks are often made by employees of an organization who happened to have access to interesting information but who are not officially authorized to disclose it to the press
. They may believe that doing so is in the public interest
due to the need for speedy publication, because it otherwise would not have been able to be made public, or to rally opinion to their side of an internal debate. This type of leak is common; as former White House advisor Sidney Souers
advised a young scholar in 1957, "there are no leaks in Washington, only plants."
On the other hand, leaks can sometimes be made simply as self-promotion, to elevate the leaker as a person of importance. Leaks can be intentional or unintentional. A leaker may be doing the journalist a personal favor (possibly in exchange for future cooperation), or simply wishes to disseminate secret information in order to affect the news. The latter type of leak is often made anonymously.
Sometimes partial information is released to the media off the record
in advance of a press release to "prepare" the press or the public for the official announcement. This may also be intended to allow journalists more time to prepare more extensive coverage, which can then be published immediately after the official release. This technique is designed to maximize the impact of the announcement. It might be considered an element of political 'spin
', or news management
Some people who leak information to the media are seeking to manipulate coverage. Cloaking information in secrecy may make it seem more valuable to journalists, and anonymity reduces the ability of others to cross-check or discredit the information.
Some leaks are made in the open; for example, politicians who (whether inadvertently or otherwise) disclose classified
or confidential information while speaking to the press.
Leaks can have strong consequences. President Richard M. Nixon
was enraged by the existence of leaks, and according to his former staffer William Safire
, that rage coupled with the president's lifelong disdain of the press set the environment that led to Nixon's downfall. Most immediately, fear of further leaks after the Pentagon Papers
were published in 1971, such as of the Secret Bombing of Cambodia
, led to the formation of the "White House Plumbers
" unit (so named because they wanted to fix leaks), which conducted the break-in that led to the Watergate scandal
and Nixon's eventual resignation in 1974.
There are many reasons why information might be leaked. Some of these include:
s and policy makers
may wish to judge the reaction of the public to their plans before committing (a trial balloon
). Leaked information may be plausibly denied
without blame for proposed unpopular measures affecting their perpetrators.
*People with access to confidential information may find it to their advantage to make it public, without themselves appearing to be responsible for publishing the information. For example, information which will embarrass political opponents, or cause damage to national security, may be leaked.
*People privy to secret information about matters which they consider to be morally
wrong or against the public interest
— often referred to as "whistleblower
s" — may leak the information.
*People may be enticed to expose secret information for other self-serving motives, such as financial gain.
*The Panama Papers
, confidential documents leaked on 3 April 2016 regarding
offshore tax havens
*The Paradise Papers
, confidential documents leaked on 5 November 2017 regarding offshore tax havens
*The FinCEN Files
collection of FinCEN
documents brought to the public's attention in September 2020.
*Leaks to the press were commonly made by both sides of the U.S. government's internal debate during August 1949–January 1950 regarding whether to proceed with development of the hydrogen bomb
*The Pentagon Papers
, a top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Made public on the front page of the ''New York Times
'' in 1971.
*A source known as Deep Throat
, later identified as FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt
, leaked information related to the Watergate scandal
to ''The Washington Post
'' reporter Bob Woodward.
*Columnist Robert Novak
published a leak, outing CIA agent Valerie Plame
*As reported in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture
, the CIA deliberately planted false stories with the media to mislead the public, while claiming the stories were leaked.
*The United States diplomatic cables leak
of November 2010 in which the organisation WikiLeaks
began releasing details of 251,287 US diplomatic cables provided to them by Chelsea Manning
*The NSA leaks
in June 2013, in which NSA
employee Edward Snowden
leaked secret documents exposing the American PRISM
and the British Tempora
, clandestine espionage programs.
*The Vault 7
leaks of March 2017 in which the CIA
employee Joshua Adam Schulte leaked secret documents exposing the capabilities of the CIA to perform electronic surveillance and cyber warfare.
*Spies for Peace
, a group of British anti-war activists associated with CND
and the Committee of 100
who publicised government preparations for rule after a nuclear war. In 1963 they broke into a secret government bunker where they photographed and copied documents. They published this information in a pamphlet, ''Danger! Official Secret RSG-6''. Four thousand copies were sent to the national press, politicians and peace movement activists.
*The NSA leaks
in June 2013, in which NSA
employee Edward Snowden
leaked secret documents exposing the British Tempora
and the American PRISM
clandestine espionage programs.
, an Israeli nuclear technician who revealed details of Israel's nuclear weapons program
to the British press in 1986.
leaked classified documents from the Israeli Defense Force
in 2008, which suggested the Israeli military had been engaged in extrajudicial killing
*At the time of the Spanish coup of July 1936
, the takeover of the Spanish Republican Navy
by coup leaders failed mainly because the messages calling for a coup against the Spanish Republic were not sent in code
, as would have been the norm, from Ciudad Lineal
to the senior officers commanding the ships. Navy radiotelegrapher
Benjamin Balboa took credit for the news leak.La Flota Es Roja
Books and references
*Blair Jr., Clay, ''Silent Victory: The US Submarine War against Japan'', Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001
*Lanning, Michael Lee (Lt. Col.), ''Senseless Secrets: The Failures of U.S. Military Intelligence from George Washington to the Present'', Carol Publishing Group, 1995
Category:Political campaign techniques