Society seems to be springing a leak. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was arraigned Thursday on charges of leaking official U.S. diplomatic correspondence that ended up on WikiLeaks. The Vatican is atwitter over news leaks that seem to signal a power struggle among the church's hierarchy. Leaks (or purported leaks) about what's in iPad 3 have kept Apple on people's minds for months. Australia is captivated by a leaked video of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cursing and throwing a temper tantrum. Here are 10 facts that hold water:
1 Lewis "Scooter" Libby leaked badly but wrote well. The chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney divulged the fact that Valerie Plame, wife of a White House critic, worked for the CIA. Libby went to jail for perjury, but his sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush. Also jailed was New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who refused to identify Libby as a source. When Libby freed Miller from her pledge, he wrote vividly, "You went to jail in the summer. It is fall now. … Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work — and life."
2 Some key pieces of evidence against Bradley Manning are purported copies of his online chats with former hacker Adrian Lamo. According to the chats, Manning erased Lady Gaga songs from CD-RWs and loaded them up with secret U.S. communications. One alleged Manning entry: "listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga's 'Telephone' while exfiltratrating (sic) possibly the largest data spillage in american history."
3 "Loose lips might sink ships" was a World War II slogan to remind citizens back home and soldiers in the theater to keep their mouths shut to avoid inadvertent leaks. The pamphlet given to soldiers included warnings like this: "A harmful letter can be nullified by censorship; loose talk is direct delivery to the enemy."
4 One of the least known yet most amazing leaks in history occurred in Boston on Jan. 15, 1919. A huge steel tank gave way, unleashing more than 2 million gallons of molasses that covered two city blocks, killing 21 people and injuring 150.
5 "The Family Jewels" was the nickname of a secret CIA report detailing the unsavory and illegal activities of the U.S. spy agency in the 1950s and '60s, including domestic spying and foreign assassination plots. Its leak led to President Gerald Ford's executive order in 1976 banning political assassinations.
6 The Nixon White House formed a shadowy group called the Plumbers to prevent news leaks. But instead, an illegal break-in by the Plumbers inspired a source nicknamed Deep Throat to help The Washington Post. Three decades later, Deep Throat was identified as FBI No. 2 man Mark Felt. Before that, speculation pointed to a dozen or more people, including Pat Buchanan, Henry Kissinger, President George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Gen. Alexander Haig, Sen. Lowell Weicker, Diane Sawyer and even comedian Ben Stein.
7 The famous children's story about the little Dutch boy who plugs a leaking dike with his finger is really more of an American tale. Author Mary Mapes Dodge included it in her best-selling "Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates" in 1865, popularizing a story that had been around in England and America since at least 1850. While there are statues in the Netherlands that try to capitalize on the tale, the story is much more famous in the United States. Trivia buffs take note: The boy at the dike is unnamed or the "Hero of Harlaam," not Hans Brinker.
8 Space flight is notoriously unforgiving. The space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 that killed seven astronauts was caused by a leak. An O-ring failed to seal properly, allowing pressurized hot gas to escape. And in 1971, three cosmonauts aboard the Soyuz 11 died after a then-record 24 days in space when their spacecraft's airtight hatch proved to be not so airtight. The men, who weren't wearing spacesuits, were found dead in their seats when the capsule was opened on Earth.
9 When the development of an atomic bomb was top secret, a comic strip called "The Science of Superman" caused FBI agents to worry about a leak in the Manhattan Project. The comic ran in April 1945 — four months before the bomb was a public fact. It featured a professor testing the powers of Superman and explaining: "The strange object before you is the cyclotron, popularly known as an 'atom smasher.'" The FBI tried to persuade DC Comics to pull the strip, but most newspapers had already delivered it. Apparently, the leak was unintentional. The comic's ghostwriter said he had read the word "cyclotron" in Popular Mechanics magazine 10 years earlier.
10 The massive oil leak at the Deepwater Horizon well in 2010 allowed many strange terms to spill into the language: The failure of a "blowout preventer" was blamed for the disaster. Officials considered using a "top hat," tried a "junk shot" and a "top kill," and finally succeeded with a "containment cap."
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the newspaper's weekend editor.
Sources: "FBI 100 Years: An Unofficial History" by Henry M. Holden; "Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919" by Stephen Puleo; "Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations" by Richard C.S. Trahair; "Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency" by W. Thomas Smith Jr.; npr.org; theweek.com; thespeedingbullet.com; eyewitnesstohistory.com; The Australian; Encyclopedia Mythica; Chicago Tribune archives and news servicesCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times