The world of journalism is abuzz with the release of the so-called ‘Panama Papers.’ The largest data leak of its kind in history, at 11.5 million files, totalling over 2.6 TB of data, makes this a juicy peach indeed, with years of excavating and sifting of documents to be had (lest we forget, Edward Snowden’s 2013 leak of NSA documents seems to be actively researched to this date, as we occasionally hear revelations of some vital piece of information that had been buried in the documents). 370 journalists have spent the past year researching the documents, and publishing the subsequent Panama Papers on April 4.
The long and the short of the background is that 40 years worth of confidential client documents of the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca, were leaked to a German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, who then promptly shared the horde with International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Notably, amidst all the furor about $2 billion linked to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin via his cellist (one might inquire whether he ‘bowed’ to pressure?); amidst the revelations that the Icelandic prime minister Sigmunder Gunnlauggsson failed to disclose a substantive and significant conflict of interest regarding an offshore company set up for whatever open and transparent reason he neglected to mention to parliament, particularly during their financial crisis; amidst the who’s who list of dubious reputations (King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, anything FIFA-related and notably Lionel Messi and the UEFA, Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine et al….), one thing keeps leaping out at me: who leaked the papers?
According to Ramon Fonseca, one of the founding partners, the “hack” came from external sources. He is right; this leak is a hack.
Many ideas keep floating through my mind:
Did someone hack the law firm, looking for a specific piece of information, and decided to release the documentation to a) cover their tracks b) some strange anarchist gesture to stick it to the man?
Did a country hack the law firm, looking to take down either someone within their own country (the Politburo reflecting some of the dissatisfaction currently surfacing against Xi Jinping?), or looking to implicate a leader in another country (Putin may be right that people are out to get him, and I’m sure it isn’t the first time)?
I doubt the targets are the likes of Gunnlauggsson who was forced to resign yesterday over the revelations; or even any of Middle Eastern or west Asian leaders. Without going into specifics, there are certain countries that specialize in corporate espionage of this flavour.
Whatever information the hackers found, they must be sitting on their haunches delighting in all the chaos the Panama Papers are creating. Not that ti’s necessarily a bad thing, having these kinds of documents released, if indeed criminal activity is taking place. Let’s note, as the Guardian, and all good news agencies are rightfully pointing out, not all situations are criminal.
The flip side of this situation, is that if it was your personal banking information that was publicly released, wouldn’t you be pretty upset? We bank and count on complete privacy and security of our information. This hack shows how false that sense of security is.
It might feel good, for some, to read of the dodgy dealings of the very wealthy, but it’s not right, and I feel that the journalists behind the Panama Papers are purposely obfuscating the five w’s of good journalism: who is behind the leak/hack, what really happened, when did it happen (well, a year ago, so that one is covered), where did it happen or from where did the hack originate, and how did it happen?
In the meantime, we wait to see who has next fallen to the Panamanian machete, ahem, papers. And, honestly, I’m as eager as the next person.