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The Internet Censorship

Wikipedia Infiltrated by Intelligence Agents? 428

Posted by Zonk
from the super-seekrit-spy-stuff dept.
An anonymous reader writes "International Humanitarian Law professor Ludwig Braeckeleer thinks so. In an article published yesterday in the Korean newspaper OhMyNews, he reveals a discovery he made while researching a story on the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland. It turns out that a Wikipedia administrator named SlimVirgin is actually Linda Mack, a woman who as a young graduate in the 1980s was hired by investigative reporter Pierre Salinger of ABC News to help with the investigation. Salinger later came to believe that Mack was actually working for Britain's MI5 on a mission to investigate the bombing and to infiltrate and monitor the news agency. Shortly after her Wikipedia identity was uncovered, many of her edits to articles related to the bombing were permanently removed from the database in an attempt to conceal her identity. This discovery comes only months after another Wikipedia admin was caught lying about his credentials to the press. What can Wikipedia do about those who would use it for their own purposes?"
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Wikipedia Infiltrated by Intelligence Agents?

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  • Pierre Salinger (Score:4, Informative)

    by MontyApollo (849862) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:22PM (#20016685)
    Pierre Salinger was kind of a crackpot at this point in his career, so just because he believed somebody was an MI-5 operative doesn't mean much. He was a laughing stock because of all of his conspiracy theories at the time.
  • by Snowspinner (627098) <philsand@ufl. e d u> on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:38PM (#20016883) Homepage
    It's shameful that this made it to the front page. The OhMyNews story that is cited isn't linked to. A quick glance at it (It's at http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_vi ew.asp?menu=c10400&no=374006&rel_no=1 [ohmynews.com] ) shows why - the writer's only source for his claims about Slim Virgin is the evidence collected by Daniel Brandt, who cyberstalked her publicly on The Wikipedia Review, a board populated by the banned trolls of Wikipedia. The article makes clear the degree to which this "investigation" is based on rumors and lies, and proceeds to publicly state the alleged name and city of residence of this person.

    I am appalled that Slashdot decided to participate in this public character assassination of a private citizen.
  • Re:Transparency (Score:5, Informative)

    by sepluv (641107) <`blakesley' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:45PM (#20016943) Homepage

    I have a better idea. Rather than an appeal-to-personal-authority based approach, maybe Wikipedia could adopt some policies regarding verifiability of claims, so as not to rely on the personal credibility of the submitter.
    Which, in case you weren't been sarcastic, is exactly how Wikipedia does work. Stuff that isn't common knowledge having to be referenced is the cardinal rule of Wikipedia. See the Wikipedia:Verifiability (WP:V) [wikipedia.org] policy.

    Also, the founder, Jimmy Wales, has commented many a time on the fact that Wikipedians should just remove unreferenced statements that are potentially controversial or that someone disagrees with.

    In Wikipedia, appeals to personal authority don't work at all, unlike Britannica, which bases its entire approach on these. They are at either end of these extremes, andf both work to some extent. Being in the middle would like not work at all.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:47PM (#20016959)

    CentCom I remember from the film "Control Room", they are the people trying to spin the Iraq war for the world (and especially the US) media.


    While, certainly, there are people in the PR arm of Centcom (and the Pentagon itself, and the White House) doing that, Centcom is the United States "Central Command", the regional combatant command in whose area of operations both the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan are being fought, not simply a special-purpose spin shop.

    This is CENTCOM's job - US taxpayer's dollars to rewrite history, so that the US can keep going overseas militarily.
    being the part of the US military that is (in one particular area) overseas. Their job is fighting and winning wars, and preventing wars by having the capacity to fight and win them. Propaganda is part of that, of course, and no doubt they engage in some practices in the course of that against which there are legitiamte objections.
  • by sepluv (641107) <`blakesley' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:00PM (#20017079) Homepage

    IMHO, any source that is not peer-reviewed by identified experts and can be edited by anyone at a moment's notice is not authoritative.

    By your definition of "authoritative", no encyclopedia can be authoritative because an encyclopedia is, by definition, a tertiary source.

    An encyclopedia is a large work that attempts to summarise the entirety of human knowledge through a number of articles on distinct topics. Each article gives a concise summary of the current state of knowledge on that topic by referencing secondary sources, which are themselves based on original research (and in part the results of any peer reviewing of said research).

    Wikipedia may be a decent general information source or even a starting point for more serious research
    That is all an encyclopedia is supposed to do. If you are doing serious research (for, say an academic thesis, something relating to a decision of grave importance to you) you should always refer to the original sources such as those referenced by the encyclopedia article.
  • Re:Transparency (Score:4, Informative)

    by networkBoy (774728) on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:20PM (#20017305) Homepage Journal
    I would assume you could still reference the manual, even though it isn't widely available, others may have access and could verify. Similar to me referencing Nature, Lancet, or Science News.
    -nB
  • Re:Transparency (Score:5, Informative)

    by sepluv (641107) <`blakesley' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:57PM (#20017641) Homepage
    Exactly. It is pretty difficult to make up references, and if someone did think it was made up they could dispute it. If you have paraphrased in the body of the article, it is also quite common to include the exact quote from the referenced text in the footnote with the reference so that other users can check you've interpreted it right.
  • by dbIII (701233) on Friday July 27, 2007 @07:04PM (#20017709)

    possible CIA involvement in overthrowing Australia's government in the 1970's (the Whitlam/Kerr thing)

    There was CIA involvement - but it did not appear to be paticularly competant or effective and Whitlam was informed of it some time before the dismissal (and apparently laughed at some of the stupid antics along with the intelligence agents that told him - it looks like they sent the new kid in the agency). The major consequence of this operation was it's existence upset two US agents and they used is as the reason/excuse to sell intelligence secrets to the USSR - the movie "The Falcon and the Snowman" was based on what came out in court.

    Whitlam was of course doomed to be removed from office once he lost the numbers, long before any attempted CIA involvement. I find it bizzare that anyone in the CIA would have considered him worth removing - he was such a strong ally of the USA that he even supported Nixon's line on East Timor despite it being opposed to Australia's national interest and a policy formed by a large bribe to the Republican party by the Indonesian President. Timor is still suffering phyically and Australia financially and militarily from the consequences of that bribe - government corruption can have major consequences.

  • by Snowspinner (627098) <philsand@ufl. e d u> on Friday July 27, 2007 @08:06PM (#20018305) Homepage
    No, there are plenty of people who criticize the power structure of Wikipedia who are not banned.

    On the other hand, there are fewer people who decide to criticize the power structure like Daniel Brandt does - stalking and outing the real names and cities of residence of Wikipedia editors. Those people, pleasantly, get banned.
  • by jwales (97533) on Friday July 27, 2007 @08:10PM (#20018335) Homepage
    This story is demented and broken on so many levels, it is quite difficult to know where to begin, even.

    Here we have an excellent Wikipedia administrator who has been victimized by lunatic conspiracy theorists, a private person who has absolutely no relation to the wild stories that this article promulgates.

    Slashdot, you have been trolled.
  • by DiamondGeezer (872237) on Friday July 27, 2007 @09:30PM (#20018941) Homepage
    Bullshit. Just like with Essjay, you have known that Slimvirgin is Linda Mack, and you have also known that SV has been instrumental in the falsification of history, especially in relation to PanAm 103.

    You have knowingly harbored and cossetted a person very strongly suspected of spying on behalf of a foreign government and should never have been allowed to touch Wikipedia never mind be one of the most powerful and thoroughly abusive admins.

    Now all that's happened is that SV's user pages (and that of her sock Crum375) have been locked and at least one editor has been banned for the heinous crime of asking Crum375 whether she was Linda Mack and has she spied for MI5.

    Just like with Essjay, you're in denial of reality. The only person trolling is you.

    For anyone else who would like to see what lies beneath, see Wikipedia Review here [wikipediareview.com]
  • by Durova (1088517) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @01:27AM (#20020479)
    As a followup to Jimbo Wales's post I'll set forth some of the reasons why the story is baseless and Slashdot has been trolled.

    First, regardless of Dr. De Braeckeleer's credentials, he doesn't know how to read a Wikipedia history file. His piece starts with a complaint that information had vanished, but two or three mouse clicks would have led him to what he wanted in a historical version of the page. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Operatio n_Entebbe&diff=137747616&oldid=137745019 [wikipedia.org]

    Then he jumped to a conclusion that something sinister had happened because the page happened to be edit protected when he read it. Here's a historical version of the page as it appeared at press time, along with the notes of both the protecting administrator (who performed a routine action to quell an editing dispute) and me freeing it up for editing immediately after the story ran. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Operatio n_Entebbe&diff=next&oldid=137748352 [wikipedia.org]

    I also affirmed at the original story's comment lines that SlimVirgin had never edited the "Operation Entebbe" article. As a sysop I can read deleted edits and nothing has been deleted from that page. The main history file itself is open for viewing for anyone who wants to search for SlimVirgin's username. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Operatio n_Entebbe&limit=500&action=history [wikipedia.org]

    Immediately after I posted those explanations someone came along and said she had edited the "Pan Am Flight 103" article, as if that were relevant to the accessibility of the other article. Okay, she did edit...two full years ago. I've looked up the page with my sysop tools and there are no deleted edits hidden away there. There's nothing sinister in the logs: some edits did get deleted a year ago and fully restored. The Flight 103 article has never even been edit protected. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pan_Am_F light_103&offset=20060121160944&limit=500&action=h istory [wikipedia.org]

    It's not surprising that SlimVirgin edited that page a bit. She's made over 60,000 total edits and she's among the 50 most prolific contributors to Wikipedia. Common sense ought to say that's a lot more activity than a spy would need to engage in, if the aim was to infiltrate the site. And isn't a basic tenet of espionage to keep a low profile? SlimVirgin tussles on policy issues all the time and has sitebanned quite a few rules-violating editors. That's an effective way for an honest volunteer to collect a small army of offsite trolls, but it's a terrible way for a secret agent to keep a cover. If she actually were a spy and I were her boss, I'd be calling her out on the carpet right now.

    Yes, Wikipedia does see some infiltration attempts from the CIA. They dabble in baseball articles and complain that their jobs are boring. Here's a report from Wikinews: http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/United_States_Departme nt_of_Justice_workers_among_government_Wikipedia_v andals [wikinews.org]

    And for a glimpse of how ineffective they are on a subject that really matters to them, have a look at the "Q clearance" article history. A lot of edits resolve to government IP addresses and claim Wikipedia's image of the badge is illegal. htt [wikipedia.org]
  • by Fred Ferrigno (122319) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @03:08AM (#20020945)
    SlimVirgin was not at all involved in editing Operation Entebbe [wikipedia.org]. Four other editors -- nadav1, Beit Or, Tewfik and Makaristos -- argued for removing the passage. You can see the discussion here [wikipedia.org]. Their point is that the Colin quote is a second-hand reporting of a rumor from an unnamed source. Other editors, chiefly Agha Nader, argued that since the item was picked up by major media, it is de facto notable and should be included.

    At issue is Wikipedia's guideline on the inclusion of fringe theories [wikipedia.org], which says that "ideas which are of borderline or minimal notability may be documented in Wikipedia, but should not be given undue weight." Some of the editors believed that mentioning the rumor at all constitutes giving it undue weight. Others were of the opinion that the passage as written gave the rumor undue weight.

    Whether or not you agree, their position is not totally without merit. Reasonable people will interpret Wikipedia's guidelines and policies differently and come to different conclusions on the inclusion of specific material. Disagreeing with a conspiracy theorist does not mean you are a CIA shill.
  • by Blissyu2 (1134049) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @08:19AM (#20022061) Journal
    What do you guys think that the CIA and MI5 and other secret agencies around the world are charged to do? Yes, they do exist, and yes they are supposed to do things. They gather intelligence, whilst at the same time trying to stop other agents around the world, and the general public, from finding out the truth. Of course they are involved in Wikipedia. Anyone who thought that they weren't is somewhat naive. And a lot of them are pretty obvious too. SlimVirgin regularly deletes comments unread from her user talk page, as well as article pages, is constantly deleting "offensive" material from articles all over Wikipedia, is forever complaining about people for "indulging in Wikistalking" or anything related to finding out what is really going on, then makes vague references to it without any real proof. She is the reason that the Oversight command was created. Her edits to Lockerbie bombing and to Salinger's articles (her first ever edits on Wikipedia) were some of the first ever uses of the Oversight command - to hide her identity (luckily a few people like myself had saved these edits before she did this). What more has she done? It shouldn't come as any surprise whatsoever that SlimVirgin is a secret agent. She acts in the exact way that a secret agent should operate. And either Jimbo is very naive, or else he is willing to do his bit for his country. Perhaps indeed, SlimVirgin is a member of MIB. "We are the best kept secret in the galaxy. We monitor, licence and police all alien activity on the Earth. We're your first, last, and only line of defense. We live in secret, we exsist in shadow. And we dress in black." [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119654/quotes]
  • by makomk (752139) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:07AM (#20022355) Journal
    The last time I checked, Wikipedia sysops [wikipedia.org] had no more ability to see deleted revisions of articles than anyone else (that is, they can't even see that they were deleted). Viewing deleted revisions required oversight [wikipedia.org] powers. As an example of a deleted revision, Daniel Brandt claims [wikipediareview.com] that SlimVirgin's first edit to Wikipedia was an edit relating to her allaged real-workd identity [wikipedia.org] and that it has since vanished. The edit in question now shows up as part of a later edit by CanisRufus [wikipedia.org] with an unrelated edit summary, which is what exactly what we'd see if the revision in question had existed and had been oversighted.
  • by Durova (1088517) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:18AM (#20022861)
    Wikipedia has two levels of deletion: regular sysop and Oversight. There are good reasons for that but the main point here is that Oversight is in very few hands. Here's the list of Oversight privileges. As you can see, SlimVirgin isn't on it. I could view any action she's taken.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Listusers/ove rsight [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2007 @12:18PM (#20023727)
    Oversight is a newer invention, and different from what the sysop above was referring to. Any article in Wikipedia has a history built of individual revisions. When an article is deleted, it and all its revisions are invisible to the general populace - only sysops can see them. When an article is restored, the sysop restoring it can choose which revisions to restore. Say an article has 1,000 revisions in its history, a sysop can delete it and restore 999. This was used before Oversight to "permanently" remove sensitive or corrosive data from public eyes.

    Oversight lets special users remove revisions from the history, even sysops can't see and restore. There's only a handful of oversighters, and SlimVirgin is not one of them.

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