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Information wants to be free: Famous leaks through the ages

Ask any plumber and they will tell you: Water has a way of finding a way out. The same can be said for secrets.

Ask any plumber and they will tell you: Water has a way of finding a way out.

The same can be said for secrets.

At 2,600 gigabytes, the Panama Papers were the biggest data leak in history — a massive information dump that exposed the shady dealings of billionaires, celebrities , sports stars and world leaders.

In this case, it was somebody with access to the records of the Panama City-based Mossack Fonseca law firm who steered some the 11.5 million records to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

RELATED: Why are Americans not included in the Panama Papers?

But history is littered with other leaks that have exposed corruption, governmental ineptitude, ruined reputations, and even brought down a sitting U.S. president. Here are some of the best known examples:

Watergate — It was an infamous leaker dubbed Deep Throat who helped a pair of Washington Post reporters — Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — make the connection between the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex and the White House. The resulting stories led to the resignation of President NIxon. Much later, the leaker was unmasked as a former FBI honcho named W. Mark Felt.

Pentagon Papers — A former military analyst named Daniel Ellsberg helped sour the nation on the Vietnam War and sow distrust in the government in 1971 by turning over to the New York Times a top secret, 7,000-page Pentagon history of the events leading up to the conflict. It led to a dramatic confrontation between the press and the White House, which wanted to muzzle the story. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of publishing the papers.

WikiLeaks — Led by Julian Assange, the international whistleblower organization made its first mark by releasing leaked footage from a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad that resulted in the deaths of two Reuters reporters and other civilians. But its biggest coup, which came to be known as Cablegate, was the release of millions of diplomatic cables — many of them embarrassing to the U.S. government — that they obtained from a disgruntled Army private named Bradley Manning. Still, the WikiLeaks information only totaled 1.6 gigabytes, a fraction of the Panama papers.

Edward Snowden — The former National Security Agency contractor became infamous after he leaked classified documents about government surveillance to reporters. The U.S. charged Snowden with espionage. He remains in Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum in 2013 and where he remains. Among other things, NBC News reported — based on documents from Snowden — that British spies have developed "dirty tricks" for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers. They include releasing computer viruses, spying on journalists and diplomats, jamming phones and computers, and using sex to lure targets into "honey traps."

Sony Pictures Entertainment — The entertainment giant was hacked in 2014 by a shadowy group calling itself the "Guardians of Peace," which released e-mails between employees and other confidential information. Among the biggest casualties were super-producer Scott Rudin and Sony big shot Amy Pascal, who were caught going on a racist riff about President Obama's supposed movie tastes. The group also demanded that Sony pull "The Interview" — a comedy about killing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The North Koreans have deniedany role in the hacking. In all, at least 40 gigabytes of internal data was released, although the hackers claimed to have 100 terabytes (100,000 GB) of information.

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