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28 Dec, 2016 08:11

What the hack? The leaks that shaped 2016

What the hack? The leaks that shaped 2016

The past 12 months could be defined as the year of leaks, with hackers and whistleblowers revealing a massive trove of information, affecting entities around the world.

The effects of 2016's leaks range from allegedly swaying the results of the US elections to exposing the inner workings of governments over decades.


The Democratic National Committee emails were released by WikiLeaks on July 22, days before the party’s national convention selected Hillary Clinton as its presidential nominee. Romanian hacker Guccifer 2.0 took the credit.

The leaks consisted of more than 19,000 emails from DNC staff dated between January 2015 and May 2016. In November, WikiLeaks released an additional 8,263 emails from the DNC.

The emails exposed the supposedly neutral DNC of being biased against Bernie Sanders and strategizing with the Clinton campaign team, vindicating those who accused the Democratic establishment of tilting the scales against Sanders. Ultimately, it proved too little too late as Clinton clinched the nomination days later.

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned on July 23 amid outrage from more progressive elements of the Democratic party.  

Russia has been accused of being behind the hack, although WikiLeaks has stated the information did not come from a state actor. Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, a WikiLeaks insider, said he personally picked up the documents from the leaker.


The emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta were released by WikiLeaks in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, sparking more allegations of Russian collusion, with Clinton’s team directly accusing RT of having direct involvement in the hack.

READ MORE: Clinton campaign yet again distracts from Podesta revelations with misinformation about RT

The Podesta emails were released in daily batches from early October until November 9 and featured a barrage of emails dating back as far as 2007. Podesta, who owns the think-tank Center for American Progress, was Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and counselor to Barack Obama during their presidencies.

The massive leak contained insight into the Clinton Foundation, Bill Clinton’s speeches, and the “holy grail of journalism” - Hillary Clinton’s secret Wall Street speeches.

As well as revealing the inner workings of the Clinton campaign, perhaps the most interesting aspects were ample evidence of the campaign’s close relationship with the press. Emails included prominent journalists seeking story approval from the campaign, as well as offering detailed advice to the Clinton camp.

It was also exposed that DNC interim chair Donna Brazile leaked debate questions to the campaign, which she received through her work with CNN.

Creating much embarrassment for Clinton advisers was the disparaging language used by aides to describe political rivals, the press and even the Clintons.

The emails also showed Obama was aware that Clinton used a private email server. Emails from Obama’s own election in 2008 revealed Citigroup’s influence in choosing Obama’s cabinet before he was elected.

READ MORE: WikiLeaks emails shows Citigroup’s major role in shaping Obama administration’s cabinet 


The DC Leaks website was set up in June 2016 and began releasing emails of high-level government and military figures in the US, including 300 from Republicans such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and information on more than 200 Democratic lawmakers.

The website was said to be run by “American hacktivists,” although the US say it was the work of Russians, Guccifer 2.0 and Fancy Bear.  

The site leaked emails from former NATO commander General Philip Breedlove in July, which showed Breedlove wanted to escalate tensions with Russia over the Ukrainian conflict.

In August, the website published more than 2,500 emails connected to billionaire philanthropist George Soros and his organizations, including the Open Society Foundation, dating from 2008-2016.

The documents included details on World Bank, migrants and European elections as well as the strategies and activities of a number of Soros’ organizations.

It revealed the extent of the Hungarian-American‘s influence in global politics, including his continued efforts to influence Malaysia’s elections.  

Minutes from a 2015 Malaysia Program meeting read, “Malaysia Program needs to build on the election-related work and have a clear focus on working towards the next elections expected to be held by 2018.”

Other emails include Soros advising then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on how to handle unrest in Albania in January 2011. Days later, Clinton had sent a mediator to the region, as recommended by Soros.

Soros also pumped millions into promote Arab-Israeli rights and fueled the protests in Ferguson in 2014. He was revealed as being a large funder of the Center for American Progress, Podesta’s think tank, and Media Matters.

Panama Papers

Described as "biggest leak in the history," the Panama Papers episode saw more than 11.5 million files from the offshore firm Mossack Fonseca released in April, thanks to an anonymous source who worked with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

READ MORE: Panama Papers: German paper publishes ‘biggest leak in history’ on corruption 

The Papers gave an insight "into a world that can only exist in the shadows" and detailed the inner workings of wealthy offshore account holders and exposed the Panama-based bank’s powerful customers across the globe. The bank functions in tax havens such as Cyprus, Switzerland, and the British Virgin Islands.

The files included the names of 12 current and former world leaders, as well as 128 other politicians and public officials from different countries.

The father of former British Prime Minister David Cameron was exposed as having an account in the offshore tax haven, while Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign following the leaks.

READ MORE: Panama Papers whistleblower speaks out on income inequality & corruption 

WikiLeaks Yemen

In November, WikiLeaks released a trove of 500 documents from the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. Ranging from 2009 to March 2015, the documents included Clinton’s time as secretary as state in the lead up to the war's escalation.

The Yemen documents contain correspondence relating to the Office for Military Cooperation (OMC) within the embassy and provide a clear portrait of the US’s role in arming and training Yemeni forces and an enthusiasm for selling “shiny new toys” to the Yemeni government.

Aircraft, patrol boats, weapons, and biometric systems were among the goodies passed to Yemen, amounting to about $147 million.

A 2014 slide showed the US was aware of the risk that its $99 million counterterrorism aviation support had the “capability [of] being used to intercede against Houthi Rebels or Southern Secessionists, or for other purposes counter to US interests.”

Plans to fund 20 to 25 Yemeni students to attend US military academies, including the National Defense University, which they describe as “a very effective return on investment in terms of partnering and advancing US diplomatic or policy goals,” is also outlined.

Clinton’s State Department Emails

Throughout the year, emails from Clinton’s private email server she used as secretary of state were released through freedom of information lawsuits filed by the conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch and VICE News journalist Jason Leopold.

In March, WikiLeaks dumped more than 30,000 emails from the private server, dating from June 2010 to August 2014.

The releases exposed the extent of the ties between the Clinton Foundation and global politics, as well as how Clinton discussed dealing with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2010.

Clinton is quoted as asking: "Can't we just drone this guy?" 

READ MORE: ‘Clever-cyber thief to a convicted criminal’: Huma Abedin & Clinton discuss Assange in emails 

NSA Program Leak

A group of hackers known as the Shadow Brokers leaked computer exploits used by the NSA in August and auctioned the information online.

The leak exposed the NSA’s vulnerability and raised questions about its exploitation of tech companies’ security vulnerabilities, which leave the public at risk.

The Shadow Brokers stole the data from the Equation Group, who are said to be operated by the NSA.

The leak detailed how security agencies can intercept web requests and redirect browsers to an NSA server which would then infect targets with malware, allowing them to be intercepted.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that the leak appeared to be real. The Intercept also confirmed this, using never-before-seen documents from the Snowden archive to verify.  

The hackers auctioned the exploits for 1 million bitcoins, or $695 million dollars. In October, it was revealed that an NSA contractor was “secretly” arrested in August on suspicion of leaking malware used by the NSA.

READ MORE: Snowden 2.0: NSA contractor arrested for stealing malware