News leak

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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.[1]


Sutter's Mill, 1851. First Discovery of Gold in California, January 19, 1848.
James Marshall's discovery of gold in the South Fork of the American River at Sutter's mill on January 24, 1848, started the great rush of Argonauts to California. Marshall and Captain John Sutter tried their best to keep the discovery of gold quiet until the construction of Sutter's mill was completed, well knowing that the workmen would desert their jobs and turn to digging gold. The news leaked out, and the stampede began.

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."[2]

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]


There are many reasons why information might be leaked. Some of these include:

  • Politicians 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 "whistleblowers" — may leak the information.
  • People may be enticed to expose secret information for other self-serving motives, such as financial gain.



United States[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

  • 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.




See also[edit]

Books and references[edit]

  • 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


  1. ^ Jones, David A. U.S. Media and Elections in Flux: Dynamics and Strategies. Routledge, 2016, p. 57
  2. ^ a b Young, Ken; Schilling, Warner R. (2019). Super Bomb: Organizational Conflict and the Development of the Hydrogen Bomb. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. pp. 55–56, 154.
  3. ^ News Leaks Remain Divisive, But Libby Case has Little Impact. Leaks Seen as Motivated More by Personal Than Political Reasons. Pew Research Center, April 5, 2007
  4. ^ Safire, William (1977). Before the Fall: An Insider View of the Pre-Watergate White House (Paperback, with new introduction ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 376–379.
  5. ^ a b LaFeber, Walter (1989). The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad Since 1750. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 601, 609.
  6. ^ Mazzetti, Mark (December 9, 2014). "Senate Torture Report Condemns C.I.A. Interrogation Program". The New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  7. ^ Johnson, Loch K.; Aldrich, Richard J.; Moran, Christopher; Barrett, David M.; Hastedt, Glenn; Jervis, Robert; Krieger, Wolfgang; McDermott, Rose; Omand, David (2014-08-08). "AnINSSpecial Forum: Implications of the Snowden Leaks" (PDF). Intelligence and National Security. 29 (6): 793–810. doi:10.1080/02684527.2014.946242. ISSN 0268-4527. S2CID 154484939.
  8. ^ Greenberg, Andy (2017-03-07). "How the CIA Can Hack Your Phone, PC, and TV (Says WikiLeaks)". WIRED.
  9. ^ "Who Is Joshua Adam Schulte? Former CIA Employee Charged Over Vault 7 Leak". Newsweek. 19 June 2018.
  10. ^ La Flota Es Roja
  11. ^ "China Estimates Covid Surge Is Infecting 37 Million People a Day". Bloomberg. 23 December 2022.
  12. ^ "Leaked notes from Chinese health officials estimate 250 million Covid-19 infections in December: Reports". 24 December 2022.
  13. ^ "China estimates 250mn people have caught Covid in 20 days". Financial Times. 25 December 2022.
  14. ^ "Exposed: China's Operating Manuals For Mass Internment And Arrest By Algorithm". ICIJ. 2019-11-24. Archived from the original on 2019-11-26. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  15. ^ "Data leak reveals how China 'brainwashes' Uighurs in prison camps". BBC. 2019-11-24. Archived from the original on 2019-11-26. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  16. ^ 省储备局认真学习贯彻落实《关于当前意识形态领域情况的通报》 Archived 15 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine,湖南机关党建, 16 May 2013
  17. ^ 西藏广电局召开传达学习有关文件精神会议 Archived 15 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine,中国西藏之声网, 9 May 2013