Political Leaks: An American Tradition

ByABC News via logo
April 23, 2006, 11:26 AM

April 23, 2006 — -- The firing this week of a veteran CIA analyst for disclosing confidential information is just the latest reminder that leaking government secrets can be a dangerous and risky game.

After all, leaking has been around as long as the nation itself.

In 1794, George Washington was outraged when Alexander Hamilton released details of a treaty negotiation.

Benjamin Franklin lost his job as postmaster after he leaked private letters to reveal political leanings of colonial leaders -- letters that helped fan the flames of the Revolution.

"Leaks have been around since Jefferson was complaining about newspapers and what they were doing to him," said Howard Kurtz, media critic for The Washington Post. "The difference now is you have so many more media outlets and a 24-hour digital world [so] that the leak can instantly go around the globe. You don't have to wait for the newspaper to be delivered on horseback."

Not that there was any shortage of horseback riding leakers in the old days. In fact, you might say it was the "midnight ride" of Paul Revere and his unauthorized disclosure of British troop movements back in 1775 that led to the birth of our nation.

Since then, our leaders have relied on leaks as an essential political tool, with everyone from Honest Abe Lincoln to FDR, Dwight Eisenhower and JFK.

Perhaps the greatest purveyor -- and victim -- of leaks in presidential history was Richard Nixon. Nixon-era leaks included the Pentagon Papers and revelations on Watergate.