THE BLOG
08/29/2007 01:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wiki Thought Control: The CIA, The Pentagon, Homeland Security, and the Encyclopedia

Wiki Scanner, a tool that tracks changes to Wikipedia and identifies the server used to make them, tells us that someone in the Pentagon changed the definition of terrorism. Someone in the CIA cast doubts on Iraq casualty figures. And someone in the Department of Homeland Security altered entries for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, deleting all references to their histories of problem drinking.

To be fair, we can't assume that these acts of censorship are the result of deliberate government policy. Although they're beginning to form a pattern, they may still turn out to be the work of overzealous political appointees. Either way, the practice raises some serious concerns about use of national security resources. If this isn't deliberate manipulation of public opinion, the government should take action to stop it.

Changes were made from inside the Pentagon that deleted commonly-accepted exclusions to the definition of "terrorism," leaving the implication that terrorism can be more broadly defined than it historically has been. One interesting effect of the change, if it remains, is that it adds more legitimacy to the government's decision to define Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist" organization -- the first time a government military group has been so designated.

CIA and FBI computers were also used to alter Wikipedia entries, although at least one of these changes is defensible. Someone in the FBI removed aerial reconnaissance images of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. As indefensible as the prison may be, it's probably unwise to disseminate this kind of material.

Other CIA and FBI changes fall more directly into the category of manipulating public opinion. Someone in CIA headquarters added encomiums for controversial former CIA director William Colby, while another included skeptical comments about Iraq casualty figures.

Fox News -- which some would argue is an extension of the current government -- has been making its own set of changes to Wikipedia, too. And someone at Clear Channel deleted some information on Air America's programming content.

The problems don't all stem from the Republican-led administration. Somebody in the U. S. Senate office building -- presumably a Democrat -- made this childish alteration to George W. Bush's entry. But the actions of public employees inside the national security apparatus raise the most concern.

Private companies have been working the Wiki, too. Pepsi deleted references to health problems associated with drinking their cola. And someone at Wal-Mart changed their entry to suggest they pay their employees higher wages than originally stated.

Religions aren't exempt, either. Scientologists and Mormons have been editing Wikipedia references about their religions, and Scientologists added Scientology-friendly links to entries about rock star suicides Michael Hutchence and Kurt Cobain. (Note: Some reports say that Hutchence's death was not intentional.)

Prediction #1: The Administration will soon announce that all IP addresses (which Wiki Scanner uses to identify servers) will become classified information to protect the government from cyberterrorism. And industries will follow suit.

Prediction #2: Some enterprising hacker eventually reproduce Wiki Scanner some other way.

As they used to say in the golden days of computing: Information wants to be free.

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