The 5 Stupidest Ways Important People Leaked Deadly Secrets
When a movie portrays an operation to steal secret documents, usually you're talking about master hackers, or spies dropping down out of air vents and avoiding laser security systems. In real life, classified secrets are handled by bored bureaucrats and staffers who are just trying to get home for dinner. So what we're trying to say is that government leaks tend to be less Mission: Impossible and more "Guy mistook secret documents for toilet paper."
If you think that example is something we made up purely for comedy purposes, well ...
Russians Literally Wiped Their Asses with Classified Documents
Now here's a scene you're never, ever going to see in a James Bond movie: At one point, Soviet troops wiped their asses with classified documents, and American spies fished the shit-stained state secrets out of the trash.
If this sounds too ludicrous to be true, a little background will help. Soviet-era Russia lacked several important aspects of modern life, including consumer goods we take for granted, like toilet paper. Also, freedom and the ability to criticize the government without being executed, but moreso the Charmin. So people in that situation get used to wiping with whatever they happen to have on hand -- catalogues, magazines, stray cats, etc.
He used to be totally white.
Next you have to realize that Soviet soldiers were largely uneducated people, who lived simple, peasant lives when not soldiering all over the place. So, when they were on the shitter and grabbed whatever discarded sheets were nearby, they probably had no way of knowing they were wiping with classified documents. Whatever secrets these papers revealed likely meant nothing to them, except they helped provide a fresher feeling between the legs.
When US and UK forces got wind of this, they launched Operation Tamarisk, because "Operation Dig Through Garbage For Paper Wads Covered in Human Shit" did nothing to attract volunteers. Spies, who probably enlisted with visions of Sean Connery in a tuxedo dancing in their heads, would literally collect all the discarded crap-filled documents they could find and bring them back to friendly territory to be cleaned, decoded, and analyzed.
"Please do not wipe your ass on this. -Stalin"
If that already sounds like the worst job in espionage history, it gets worse. Because they found that the Russians didn't just toss shit-coated secret in the trash; they also threw away goddamned body parts. Any limbs that were amputated or blown off, due to faulty grenades or other such weaponry, were literally chucked in the garbage, like a dinner plate full of chicken bones. Once word of this got out, U.S. and U.K. spies went about bringing those back, as well, so their superiors could deduce what kind of shrapnel the Soviets were using in their grenades. That, and to entertain the kiddies on base with the world's most gruesome and disturbing puppet show.
By the time the Allies had their fill of shit and gore, Operation Tamarisk had brought back a slew of vital, insanely classified information, going down as one of the most successful intelligence operations of the Cold War. Still probably not worth it, though.
"I've never been so thankful to be on a continent with no Mexican food."
The Hunt for Red October Exposes A Super-Secret Submarine Project
From 1990, The Hunt For Red October was the epitome of a Cold War film. Featuring Soviet defections, submarine chases, and Sean Connery not giving the slightest shit about pulling off a Russian accent, the film was a huge hit, despite the whole Cold War thing all but ending the year before. But while millions of filmgoers loved it and the Tom Clancy novel it was based on, the U.S. military most certainly did not. All because of one little line that blew a billion-dollar secret.
If you're not familiar with Tom Clancy novels, they're basically military gadget porn. Clancy was always a well-connected guy and did his homework, so his stories always featured futuristic military hardware that was either based on stuff he knew was in development, or on educated guesses. Well, in this case, it was a little too educated.
"Wanna know when you'll die? Sorry, you'll have to ask Stephen King about that one."
Back in 1973, the Navy had secretly developed gravity gradiometers, technology that could silently alert the crew of a submarine of any slight changes in the surrounding environment. If it detected a mountain, a drop-off, or even a bomb, the gradiometer would let the captain know, and he could plan an escape accordingly. That was huge, since submarines don't have windows and all, and it also gave them an advantage over Soviet subs, which didn't have it.
This technology remained a secret until The Hunt for Red October. As part of the "fake technical-sounding dialogue" the crew was jabbering at each other during the exciting submarine chase scenes, they can be heard referencing their gradiometer readings. What the writers thought was just fictional techno-jargon wound up being real secret technology. Technology that they had just inadvertently made public. It'd be like if the invisible car featured in Die Another Day turned out to be a real device British Intelligence had been trying to develop for decades.
"Those sonsabitches gave away what?!"
The entire billion-dollar project was declassified months after the movie came out. The least they could have done was include some other, freakier techno-jargon just to keep their enemies guessing ("Captain! Turn on the Nuclear Scrotum Obliterator!").
Two Secret CIA Bases Are Outed by Congress ... on National TV
Sept. 11, 2012 was not a fun day for anybody. The U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya was attacked, resulting in the deaths of several embassy workers, including the U.S. ambassador. The United States was stunned, obviously, so a Congressional hearing was held the next month on how and why this happened. Of course, discussing the ins and outs of embassy security and foreign intelligence without actually giving away key information about both would require officials to tread lightly. But that's old hat for members of Congress who deal with this sort of thing every day, right?
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which sounds like it must just be a party a minute, met to discuss what happened that terrible day. Like almost all Congressional hearings, the meeting quickly devolved into idiotic questions, everyone blaming one another, and nobody actively taking responsibility for anything. Finally, they got around to presenting information about the attack, which included an overhead view of the American compound. As it turns out, there were two ultra-secret CIA buildings smack-dab in the middle of the shot.
"Can you move your head a bit? We're planning terrorism."
Now, the situation could still have been saved at that point. After all, the buildings were hardly marked "CIA" in the photo. Since they were secret and all, they looked like regular old buildings to the naked eye. It would take some additional idiocy to blow the lid off the operation. Luckily, Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz was up to the challenge.
Chaffetz, instead of explaining away the buildings as mere administrative complexes or anything sensible like that, flat-out admitted that they're a big fucking deal. His exact words: "We're getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this ... I totally object to the use of that photo ... I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you're showing here today."
"I'm not super good at listening."
At this point, any terrorist watching C-SPAN undoubtedly grabbed the popcorn and started chomping away, because this was about to get good. Chaffetz' partner-in-idiocy, Darrell Issa, directed that the picture be removed immediately. According to Issa, "In this hearing room, we're not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities."
Needless to say, the buildings have not been used since, and the whole episode caused a severe setback in U.S. intelligence-gathering operations. All because two politicians pulled the equivalent of telling your kid to NOT open the closet, because there are absolutely NO Christmas presents inside. Nope, not one single toy or video game in this closet right here.
High-ranking British Intelligence Director Leaves Classified Documents on a Public Train
Richard Jackson was an important deputy director of a U.K. Cabinet office, analyzing anti-terrorist information obtained from MI5 and MI6 forces. If James Bond were real, Jackson would be the guy reading over his field reports. Of course, that's more than a full-time job (tracking all of the sexy double agents their agents bang probably takes 40 hours alone) so he was known to take work home with him. You can see where this is going.
So, as he left the office with a stack of homework, unknowingly sandwiched in between boring government reports were two uber-classified documents about "Al-Qaeda vulnerabilities" and "an assessment of the Iraqi security forces," neither of which were supposed to leave the office unsecured, which you probably could have guessed from the titles alone.
"Mind if I pass the time by reading highly classified information over your shoulder?"
Now, this could have still turned out perfectly fine. It's not like anyone magically knew the secret documents had left their secure government building. There was still a chance he could have simply noticed his mistake and brought them back the next day, with no one the wiser. But as Murphy's Law dictates, things were not done going wrong for Mr. Jackson.
That's right: He got home and realized he had left the documents on the train.
"Milk? No, I have that. Toilet paper? No, I just put that away. What the hell am I missing?"
In a panic, he spent his day frantically calling every lost and found office imaginable, asking if anyone had turned in a bright orange envelope they'd found on the London metro. No one had. Fortunately, a passenger did find the envelope and clearly realized they were incredibly important. Unfortunately, they sent them to the BBC.
The BBC reported the loss, and Jackson was put on trial, essentially for being stupid. He wasn't imprisoned, though he was fined 2,750 pounds, demoted three grades, and transferred to a different, less security-heavy department.
There's really no pretending to have dignity about this.
Still, Jackson can take comfort in knowing he's not the only one. A week later, somebody else did the exact same thing. This time, it was a top-secret briefing about how banks can be used to finance weapons of mass destruction. You know how in the movies, secret agents handcuff their briefcase to their wrist when they take public transportation? Well, they do that specifically so bullshit like this doesn't happen.
A Taliban Spokesman CC's His Entire Mailing List
Here are the two most dangerous fields on your computer:
Especially if you click the "attachment" button after your fifth drink.
We're talking about the CC and Bcc fields in your email program, which determine:
A. Who gets publicly copied on your emails
B. Who gets privately copied on your emails
AKA: how you can accidentally send your entire family nude selfies.
Lives have been ruined by the split-second, accidental addition of the wrong parties to one or both of those boxes -- for instance, if you email your co-worker saying your boss can go fuck himself, and copy the boss on the message. And if you are, say, the member of an organization running covert operations, you want to make sure your fellow operatives stay in that "Bcc" field. Which brings us to Qari Yousuf Ahmadi.
He was a Taliban media spokesperson, because of course the Taliban has one of those (it's 2013, if the zombie apocalypse happens, the freaking undead will have a media guy). His duties consisted of taking press releases, most of which admit to committing this bombing or that mass murder, and forwarding them to journalists and other people in the know.
"No comment about trading heroin for helicopter-murdering rockets."
This Employee Of the Month received one such press release from his bosses and immediately did the forwarding thing. All well and good, except he copied the list of recipients to CC instead of BCC, thereby revealing the Taliban's entire mailing list to the world.
So who are the Taliban's secret buddies? Mostly journalists, but the list also included a governor of an Afghan province, a member of the Afghan national legislature, several academics, a bunch of political activists, and a spokesman for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a brutal Afghan warlord who has committed many acts of violence against coalition troops.
Shown here, planning the genocide of his enemies.
All 400-plus people now knew of each other's existence, and their connection to the Taliban. As journalist Mustafa Kazemi tweeted, "Taliban have included all 4 of my email addresses on the leaked distribution list. Quite reassuring to my safety." When a guy stuck in war-torn Kabul decides that your dumb ass is the reason he's not safe, it might be best to eschew email altogether going forward and go back to carrying coded messages on the back of a goat, or however you and your bomb-crazy buddies communicated before computers came around.
For more terrifying slapstickness, check out 7 Bullshit Rumors That Caused Real World Catastrophes and The 7 Most Disastrous Typos Of All Time.