The United States has one of the most advanced Intelligence Communities in the world. Even so, some classified documents stored by US intelligence have occasionally leaked to the public and other governments, much to the dismay of the authorities. Dating back to, say, the early 1900s, there have been hundreds of leaks that the government have both denied and accepted. Today’s post will cover some of US history’s most famous intelligence leaks.

1. Edward Snowden and the NSA Leaks

It’s impossible to talk about US intelligence leaks without mentioning Edward Snowden. In 2013, Snowden, a US computer contractor for the National Security Agency, leaked classified information that the US government was collecting information about its citizens. The NSA was launched after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to collect data on potential threats. Snowden also went on to leak intelligence of how the US has bugged several embassies and European Union offices.

He also informed the world about other countries like Australia and the UK, which were also secretly collecting their residents’ data. After leaking this information, Edward sought refuge in Russia and was charged by the US government for stealing information. As expected, the whistleblower received a fair share of criticism and praise from American residents.

2. Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

A military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to the New York Times. These papers were part of a top-secret defense study on the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War. Initially, there were a lot of rumors and speculations regarding the matter, so the leaks cleared the air somehow.

Daniel made copies of this report and shared it with the media, which had a field day with the government. In the Pentagon Papers, several presidents, including John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman, were implicated for the roles they played in fueling conflict in Vietnam. This began a court battle between the US government and the media. The press was granted freedom to publish the Pentagon Papers.

3. Ukraine War Leak

One of the most recent intelligence leaks in the US pertains to the Russian-Ukraine war. Classified documents from NATO have shown that the US and other Western countries are in support of Ukraine and highlight claims of arms aid to the Ukrainian troops.

It also touches on the US spying on both Russian and Ukrainian leaders to keep track of the war. According to the leaks, the US is monitoring Russian troops with the aid of satellites. There have been rumors that these leaks might have been altered.

4. Robert Hanssen and the Soviet Union

Robert Hanssen worked in the FBI as a Russian spy for 25 years. During that period, he leaked valuable information to the Soviet Union, specifically about the Cold War. He made $1.4 million in cash and diamonds worth thousands of dollars for selling intelligence. Some of the leaks associated with Robert Hanssen include information about the US nuclear weapons and military plans.

During the mid-1980s, the authorities started looking into Robert, leading to his arrest in 2001 while he was trying to hand out sensitive information to Russian sources in Virginia. He was charged with espionage and sentenced to fifteen consecutive life sentences. Robert Hanssen died in 2023 while still at the Colorado Penitentiary.

5. Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and the Iraq War Logs

In 2010, a US soldier, Chelsea Manning, approached Wikileaks, which was run by Julian Assange. Manning shared classified logs about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which shocked the world. The leaks showed that 66,000 civilians had been killed in the war, and these figures were not made public.

Those numbers were very high, considering that it was 60% of the casualties from the entire war. More leaks from Chelsea revealed that prisoners at Abu Gharib were being abused and mistreated. One of the logs contained a video of a US Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad, 2 of whom were journalists.

After leaking these classified details, Manning was sentenced to 35 years. However, she only served seven years before being pardoned by President Obama, who ended the war in 2011. These leaks weren’t just from Manning but also from other soldiers still on the ground, further boosting their credibility.

6. Reality Winner and The Intercept

After the 2016 presidential elections, a former US Air Force and NSA member, Reality Winner, leaked intelligence to the Intercept news media outlet. Reality Winner shared information about Russia’s interference in the 2016 United States general elections, something that Trump had openly disregarded. Reality Winner was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison.

7. Colonel George Trofimoff and the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union is always looking for cracks within the US government and has been successful numerous times. Arrested in 2000, George Trofimoff is the highest-ranking service member ever to be accused of leaking sensitive data to the Soviet Union. George joined the army in 1948 and was turned by the Soviet Union in 1969 while in Germany. He retired without people even suspecting him of espionage. However, the law eventually caught up with him.

8. Trump and the Location of US Nuclear Submarines

In 2017, President Donald Trump, in a phone call with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, shared the location of two US nuclear submarines that were positioned on the coast of North Korea. This was at a time when Trump was anticipating a major conflict with North Korea.

Even though Trump did this as a threat, it was a significant leak because assailants could have planned a sneak attack on the submarines. In the Navy, the location of a war submarine is highly confidential information.

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Last Update: May 28, 2024