Edward Snowden is stuck in Moscow facing espionage charges if he gets anywhere he could be extradited to the US.
Julian Assange, the head of Wiki-Leaks is still in the Bolivian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, and, he fears, from there to the US.
But when the Panama Papers came out, the media and politicians focused on the contents, not the leaker. I don't hear cries for him to be in prison.
There are differences, to be sure. Manning and Snowden exposed US secrets. Manning as an employee of the US and Snowden working for a US contractor. Yet Snowden's leaks have led to worldwide outrage about US data collection and changes in the law to provide more protections. The Wiki-Leaks have proven embarrassing, but despite early claims about risking the lives of US military, I have been unable to find evidence this has happened.
And now we have the Panama Papers. Leaked by someone who has recently identified himself as John Doe. Instead of calling for John Doe to be punished, we see headlines like this:
OK, I get it that these papers weren't leaked from secret government files, but rather from a private law firm practicing out of Panama.
But economic espionage is a big deal. From the New York Times:
"The private sector spent $665 million on data loss prevention last year, according to the technology research firm Gartner, with a 15 percent increase expected this year. On the legislative front, Congress strengthened penalties for those convicted under the Economic Espionage Act, raising the maximum fine for individuals convicted to $5 million from $500,000. And in terms of law enforcement, the F.B.I. lists digital crime, including intrusions that result in trade secret theft, as its third priority, just behind terrorism and counterintelligence. The agency reported a 60 percent increase in trade secret investigations from 2009 through 2013." [emphasis added]Is Obama ignoring the cyber theft of data from a private company because the information that was stolen was important for the public good? After all, that's the argument that Wiki-Leaks and Edward Snowden make. They didn't do to help a foreign country. They didn't do it for money. They did it because they thought something terribly wrong was going on.
Just like John Doe did with the Panama Papers.
Or is it because the Wiki-Leaks and Snowden leak were embarrassing to the President - both because security was so bad and because the information leaked was embarrassing and revealed that the American public was being lied to as well as being spied on massively?
But the Panama Papers are different because they help to support a point that Obama has been making about American companies avoiding taxes through off shore tax havens?
I keep mentioning John Doe. I was looking at Panama Papers yesterday and discovered that the person who leaked them has posted very recently his reasons for doing that and for taking the name John Doe. Here are some excerpts from "John Doe's Manifesto."
He begins by identifying his critical issue: world wide income inequality. And even though people are talking about it, it hasn't really been adequately dealt with and there are many questions.
"The Panama Papers provide a compelling answer to these questions: massive, pervasive corruption. And it’s not a coincidence that the answer comes from a law firm. More than just a cog in the machine of “wealth management,” Mossack Fonseca used its influence to write and bend laws worldwide to favour the interests of criminals over a period of decades. . .
Shell companies are often associated with the crime of tax evasion, but the Panama Papers show beyond a shadow of a doubt that although shell companies are not illegal by definition, they are used to carry out a wide array of serious crimes that go beyond evading taxes. I decided to expose Mossack Fonseca because I thought its founders, employees and clients should have to answer for their roles in these crimes, only some of which have come to light thus far. It will take years, possibly decades, for the full extent of the firm’s sordid acts to become known."He's pleased that the Panama Papers seem to have now started a serious debate on the topic.
He introduces himself.
"For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have.Now, some have claimed the CIA is behind this leak. If true that would help explain why this was so handy for Obama to use in his speech on off-shore tax havens. Is John Doe's manifesto released now intended by the real leaker to counter those rumors? Or is it the CIA's way of denying the rumors? There's nothing in the manifesto that suggests how John Doe knew about all this and had access to it all. He does point out, by way of justifying this fuzziness about his identity, that there are a lot of people who would like to see the leaker dead and I don't doubt that.
My viewpoint is entirely my own, as was my decision to share the documents with Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), not for any specific political purpose, but simply because I understood enough about their contents to realize the scale of the injustices they described.[For those who do not speak German - most people, I'd guess - Süddeutsche Zeitung means, literally, South German Newspaper.]
He goes on to say that he's hoping that a lot of prosecutions will result from these revelations. (There were some resignations by people like the Prime Minister of Iceland and the head of a Chilean anti-corruption agency when the leak was first made public.)
The prevailing media narrative thus far has focused on the scandal of what is legal and allowed in this system. What is allowed is indeed scandalous and must be changed. But we must not lose sight of another important fact: the law firm, its founders, and employees actually did knowingly violate myriad laws worldwide, repeatedly. Publicly they plead ignorance, but the documents show detailed knowledge and deliberate wrongdoing. At the very least we already know that Mossack personally perjured himself before a federal court in Nevada, and we also know that his information technology staff attempted to cover up the underlying lies. They should all be prosecuted accordingly with no special treatment.
In the end, thousands of prosecutions could stem from the Panama Papers, if only law enforcement could access and evaluate the actual documents. ICIJ and its partner publications have rightly stated that they will not provide them to law enforcement agencies. I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able. "Besides prosecution of wrongdoers, he wants immunity for whistleblowers.
"Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop. Until governments codify legal protections for whistleblowers into law, enforcement agencies will simply have to depend on their own resources or on-going global media coverage for documents.
In the meantime, I call on the European Commission, the British Parliament, the United States Congress, and all nations to take swift action not only to protect whistleblowers, but to put an end to the global abuse of corporate registers."He wants campaign reform in the US.
"It is an open secret that in the United States, elected representatives spend the majority of their time fundraising. Tax evasion cannot possibly be fixed while elected officials are pleading for money from the very elites who have the strongest incentives to avoid taxes relative to any other segment of the population. These unsavoury political practices have come full circle and they are irreconcilable. Reform of America’s broken campaign finance system cannot wait."Then he lists all the players he think have failed.
Governments have failed (and he cites a number of examples including:
"Jennifer Shasky Calvery, the director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at the United States Treasury, just announced her resignation to work instead for HSBC, one of the most notorious banks on the planet (not coincidentally headquartered in London). And so the familiar swish of America’s revolving door echoes amidst deafening global silence from thousands of yet-to-be-discovered ultimate beneficial owners who are likely praying that her replacement is equally spineless.
Banks, financial regulators and tax authorities have failed. . .
Hopelessly backward and inefficient courts have failed. . ."The media have failed.
"The sad truth is that among the most prominent and capable media organizations in the world there was not a single one interested in reporting on the story [Panama Papers.] Even Wikileaks didn’t answer its tip line repeatedly.
But most of all, the legal profession has failed. . ."
We live in interesting times. There's a lot of interesting stuff on the Panama Papers website and the graphics are outstanding too. The size of this leak dwarfs previous leaks. The website has graphics comparing it to Snowden's and Wiki-Leaks. [UPDATE May 8, 2016: I wish though, that they'd put publication dates on their stories.]
I'd just note that the move to computers and then to the internet has made private conversations and messages that the socially, politically, and economically prominent have used to hide their shady dealings available in a way they could never have imagined. And hackers are following Eastern martial arts philosophies that teach how to use one's opponent's strength against him.