Panama Papers whistleblower: A mystery man most wanted
At least eight prominent Middle East figures have been named in the leaked Mossack Fonseca data. (Twitter)
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First there was Julian Assange of the self-styled journalistic watchdog WikiLeaks. Then came Edward Snowden, a former CIA emplyee who leaked top secret information about American surveillance activities.The storms kicked up by these daredevil whistleblowers in the corridors of power across the globe have hardly died down.
Now comes the Panama Papers, an unprecedented leak of 11.5 million files from the database of the world's fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.They exposed dozens of national leaders and hundreds of celebrities and politicians from around the world using offshore tax havens.But beyond those revelations, argues the portal wired.com, the leakrepresents an unprecedented story in itself: Whodunnit And how this anonymous whistleblower was able to spirit out and surreptitiously send journalists a gargantuan collection of files, which were then analysed by more than 400 reporters in secret over more than a year before a coordinated effort to go public.
The Panama Papers leak began, according to ICIJ director Gerard Ryle, in late 2014, when an unknown source reached out to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.When an encrypted message first flashed up on Bastian Obermayer'screen, the German investigative reporter could have no idea that he was about to receive the biggest leak of confidential material the world has ever seen, writes Nico Hines in thedailybeast.com.
"Hello. This is John Doe. Interested in data?" the source asked. Of course, he was. Via an encrypted messaging service, the whistleblower continued: "There are a couple of conditions. My life is in danger. "We will only chat over encrypted files. "No meeting, ever." According to thedailybeast.com, Obermayer didn't know it yet but this clandestine approach was entirely justified. The anonymous source was about to expose some of the most closely held secrets of the world's most feared and powerful men.
Mossack Fonseca is a law firm based in Panama that has advised thousands of clients from Chinese President Xi's brother-in-law to British Prime Minister Cameron's father. Many of these secretive savers may have nothing to hide but many of the world's tax and fraud agencies have already demanded access to their account data.
"Why are you doing this?" the Suddeutsche Zeitung reporter asked his source when he came forward more than a year ago, according to thedailybeast.com.
"I want to make these crimes public," was the response. Obermayer asked how much data they were talking about.
"More than anything you have ever seen," came the reply. Indeed, the leak included 4.8 million emails, 3 million folders, and 2.1 million PDFs.
That is many times more than the WikiLeaks cables, Pentagon Papers and Snowden documents combined.
According to thedailybeast.com, when Suddeutsche Zeitung realised the scope and potential fallout of this leak, they enlisted the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based in Washington, DC. They then shared the 11.5 million documents with journalists at 109 media organisations in 76 countries.
The combined might of those media organisations were able to scrutinise the involvement of senior figures from Argentina to Zambia.
None of them knew the source of the information. Even Obermayer does not know who it was.
"I don't know the name of the person or the identity of the person," he told Wired. "But I would say I know the person. For certain periods I talked to [this person] more than to my wife."
Nico Hines of the thedailybeast.com says that a few weeks before anyone named in the tranche of documents was approached, Obermayer destroyed his phone and the hard drive of the laptop he had used for the secret interactions, which were always prefaced with an old-fashioned tradecraft question like: Is it sunny? The correct answer might be: The moon is raining.
The whistleblower is unlikely to be included on the Interpol Most Wanted list anytime soon but among the world's humiliated dictators, strongmen and some of their supposedly respectable colleagues, there's no question who is now Public Enemy No 1, concludes thedailybeast.com.
Interestingly, ICIJ director Ryle says that the media organisations have no plans to release the full dataset, WikiLeaks-style, which he argues would expose the sensitive information of innocent private individuals.
"We're not WikiLeaks. We're trying to show that journalism can be done responsibly," Ryle says.
However, Wikileaks, which did not like being characterised as conducting "irresponsible" journalism, accused the ICIJ of being a "Washington DC based Ford, Soros funded soft-power tax-dodge" which "has a WikiLeaks problem".
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