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Leaks easier with computer files

world Updated: Jul 28, 2010 23:30 IST
Washington Post

Everybody is comparing the WikiLeaks document dump to the Pentagon Papers, but leaking is today much easier thanks to digital computer files. Let's not forget the immense time and wrist-breaking effort it took in the pre-Internet days to copy stolen files.

For Daniel Ellsberg and partner-in-leaks Anthony Russo, copying all 7,000 pages of the Defense Department's secret history of the Vietnam War took three months by hand with a Xerox machine.

Such donkeywork proved so tiring to East German spymaster Markus Wolf that he told one of his US moles to slow down:

"In the last years of the Cold War, James Hall, an Army warrant officer assigned to a National Security Agency listening post in Berlin, turned over thousands of documents to East Germany's spy service, whose analysts fretted that Hall was providing so much material they couldn't keep up with it," recalled an intelligence commentator.

"Hall's deliveries were so vast that we suggested he slow down," Wolf wrote in his memoirs.

"Hall spent up to two hours a day photocopying military documents, or else would carry out plastic bags of classified material, which he would hand to an accomplice who would copy them and then bring them back for Hall to put them back in the files," Wolf wrote.

The material Hall stole included critical information on signals intelligence and electronic warfare, Wolf wrote. Hall was convicted of espionage and is serving a 40-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth.

For Ellsberg and Russo, of course, copying the 47 volumes of the Pentagon study was a one-time deal. But it took them from September to November 1969 to complete the caper.

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