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How Reporters Pulled Off the Panama Papers, the Biggest Leak in Whistleblower History

April 5, 2016

by andy greenberg : wired – excerpt

When Daniel Ellsberg photocopied and leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, those 7,000 pages of top secret Vietnam War documents represented what was then the biggest whistleblower leak in history—a couple dozen megabytes if it were contained in a modern text file. Almost four decades later, WikiLeaks in 2010 published Cablegate, a world-shaking, 1.73 gigabyte collection of classified State Department communications that was almost a hundred times bigger.

If there’s some Moore’s Law of Leaks, however, it seems to be exponential. Just five years have passed since WikiLeaks’ Cablegate coup, and now the world is grappling with a whistleblower megaleak on a scale never seen before: 2.6 terabytes, well over a thousandfold larger.

On Sunday, more than a hundred media outlets around the world, coordinated by the Washington, DC-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, released stories on the Panama Papers, a gargantuan collection of leaked documents exposing a widespread system of global tax evasion. The leak includes more than 4.8 million emails, 3 million database files, and 2.1 million PDFs from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that, according to analysis of the leaked documents, appears to specialize in creating shell companies that its clients have used to hide their assets.

“This is pretty much every document from this firm over a 40-year period,” ICIJ director Gerard Ryle told WIRED in a phone call, arguing that at “about 2,000 times larger than the WikiLeaks state department cables,” it’s indeed the biggest leak in history …

How You Coordinate History’s Biggest Leak

The Panama Papers leak began, according to ICIJ director Ryle, in late 2014, when an unknown source reached out to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which had reported previously on a smaller leak of Mossack Fonseca files to German government regulators. A Suddeutsche Zeitung reporter named Bastian Obermayer says that the source contacted him via encrypted chat, offering some sort of data intended “to make these crimes public.” But the source warned that his or her “life is in danger,” was only willing to communicate via encrypted channels, and refused to meet in person.

“More than you have ever seen,” the source responded, according to Obermayer… (more)

 

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