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The Internet Censorship

Wikipedia Infiltrated by Intelligence Agents? 428

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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  • by nevali ( 942731 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:13PM (#20016559) Homepage
    ...would be "is there a major web-site which doesn't have a presence from at least one intelligence agency?"
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:19PM (#20016643)
    ...that influences popular perceptions, and anyone can contribute to it. Of course government agents are using it.

    OTOH, compared to what covert agents do outside of Wikipedia, I can hardly see much reason for alarm.
  • by Paxton ( 24233 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:20PM (#20016655)
    It can do what it's designed to do: self-edit.

    Wouldn't you rather have someone writing stuff that can be corrected by anyone than have a publisher infiltrated and subsequently print untrue (yet unchangeable) information?

    Of course, through ignorance or apathy or downright malevolence, any source produces at least some erroneous information anyway...
  • by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:21PM (#20016665) Journal
    It's a site that's meant to inform. Does it matter if information is contributed under false identity? Information is either true or not. Judging whether it's true or not by who contributes is setting a very low standard for fact finding. Claims about knowledge that is outside of the expertise of layman have to have references to well-established sources (which can be checked) anyway. Otherwise, it's just rumors.
  • by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:28PM (#20016753) Homepage Journal

    What can Wikipedia do about those who would use it for their own purposes?

    What a retarded question... Don't we all use Wikipedia for our own purposes? The reaction — if any is needed at all — should depend on the purposes.

    A covert agent of a reasonably democratic government investigating a crime is one thing. A pseudo-scientist lying about his credentials is another. A pranskter vandalizing pages is the third. An overt agent of a reasonably democratic government pushing their government's view [] is yet another. And so on... And then, of course, come the rest of us using the resource to learn, teach, and immortalize ourselves via contributions...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:30PM (#20016793)
    It's a three to six person campaign now.

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:32PM (#20016817) Homepage Journal
    OK, maybe Wikipedia is a tool of the Man, and it's deleting edits to cover the tracks of an intelligence agent.

    So, show me the 'before' and 'after' of the edits. Surely Google cache or or any of the other search engines have that page from some point in the past, no? How about even a locally cached copy (certainly not tamper proof)?

    Or... have all of the people who might have a cached copy also been infiltrated? We know how that story goes.
  • Carry On (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:36PM (#20016869) Journal
    > What can Wikipedia do about those who would use it for their own purposes?"

    Carry on exactly as they are, because that is precisely what every contributor is doing. Their purpose may be an attempt at the truth, which is noble, but also subjective, and some will disagree. They too will contribute if they care enough. With enough of that, any other "purposes" will be, if not buried, then at least illuminated. Where that could fail is if there are not enough who care enough to contribute.

    So what are you still here for?
  • Indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chazzf ( 188092 ) <cfulton&deepthought,org> on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:54PM (#20017029) Homepage Journal

    Obviously the fact that a twenty-something was caught posing as a Catholic theology professor lends credence to the accusation by a former Kennedy administration official that MI5 has penetrated Wikipedia.


    Don't you fools see? Kennedy was Catholic, and Essjay claimed to be Catholic! TELL THE WIKIT$&$^^$^&NO CARRIER

  • by SamP2 ( 1097897 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @05:55PM (#20017041)
    Question people's actions, not their motives -- Cicero

    As long as their contributions are valid, it does not matter why they contribute. If you wouldn't delete a given contribution from a PHD, you shouldn't delete it from a highschool student either, because it's the contribution itself that is either good or bad, not the source. The validitity of contributions should be derived from itself (including references provided, which is explicitly required by Wikipedia policies), and it has nothing to do with who actually contributes, because you may not use yourself or your reputation as a reference.

    Likewise, it's wrong to censor someone's contributions just because you think he has a political agenda. As long as (and only as long as) the content submitted is valid and conforms to all policies (neutrality, references, no original research), it should make no difference whatsoever what agenda the contributor has.
  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:03PM (#20017095)
    The evidence that Wikipedia has been infiltrated by Intelligence Agencies is that a woman who was a major contributor on the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing was a graduate student who investigated it for Pierre Salinger, but he came to suspect that she worked for MI-5. Note: not that he discovered that she worked for MI-5, just that he thought she did. Pierre Salinger is a man who in his later years demonstrated a gullibility for conspiracy theories.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:14PM (#20017221)
    Mind you, if you were to truthfully describe some actual documented conspiracies and events to a person off the street, they'd think you were crazy too.

    (Putin murdering people with radioactive isotopes, the French blowing up anti-nuclear vessels, Scientology break-ins at federal offices, acoustic kitty, LSD experiments on civilians, Tuskagee experiments, etc. etc.)

    Lets face it, the world is an incredibly fucked up place - and the idea of someone being planted to infiltrate a newspaper investigation is not bizarre at all in comparison.
  • Annoying Indeed. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twitter ( 104583 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:18PM (#20017275) Homepage Journal

    I'd be a little annoyed if the brain surgeons in our intelligence agencies -- who I, along with the rest of the taxpayers, bankroll -- weren't at least aware of Wikipedia. ... they're not doing anything I wouldn't expect them to be doing.

    I do NOT want my government spending my money on disinformation. It's bad enough when they publish it openly, but lying about who you are while you vandalize a public resource is much worse. Freely elected governments are supposed to represent the opinions of their people, not brainwash them.

    I fully expect that the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, etc., probably have propaganda agencies astroturfing Wikipedia and other web sites to their own advantage. This is what countries do.

    No, that is what tyrants do. They also murder those who oppose them. They do both of these things because they are fucking everyone. They have placed their self interest above yours and do what it takes to keep that position.

  • by Quadraginta ( 902985 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:26PM (#20017355)
    However I don't edit it for my own purposes.

    Oh come on, let's think this out. Are you suggesting people who do edit it do not edit it for their own purposes (fame, showing off, to feel part of a virtuous movement)? Or are you suggesting they're robots acting purely from instinct?

    Surely imagining that anyone does anything without personal motivation is deluded. We're not insects. But just because you have a personal motivation doesn't mean what you do is suspect. I go to work primarily to get money to buy myself stuff. That is not the motivation of the company founder, but that doesn't mean my work is corrupt -- or even that it's of lower quality than the founder's. The fact that I'm there for different reasons doesn't mean we can't work together profitably. What's important is the result of one's work, not the motivation for it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:26PM (#20017361)
    How is propaganda from any democratic government ever legal? Proper decision-making in a democracy requires access to the truth. When the elected lie to the electorate they become despots.
  • by Haeleth ( 414428 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:27PM (#20017363) Journal

    The wikipedia community might want to take it on themselves to promote a "Real Name" system that casts suspicion on and removes the benefit of the doubt from those who choose to post anonymously.
    How exactly would these real names be verified? Amazon can do it because they can compare the name you give with the name on your credit card, but that really isn't an option for community projects for all sorts of reasons.
  • I sure hope not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Quadraginta ( 902985 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:37PM (#20017473)
    Good golly, if my country's intelligence services are not monitoring every major web site (plus a lot of obscure minor web sites of which I've never heard), then they're incompetent idiots and I want them all shot, or at least fired.

    If they want to contribute true information to Wikipedia out of their own knowledge, well that's nice. If they want to contribute false information to Wikipedia for some obscure reason -- to fox the opposition, I guess, who are clueless newbs who believe anything they read on the 'net -- then that's an annoying waste of my tax dollars, but hardly seems worth raising a fuss over. If the Wikipedia has to rely on the honesty of every last J. Random Web User -- if they can't easily detect a nontrivial campaign of deliberate falsehood -- then they're clearly doomed. Because I can think of many groups other than "intelligence services" who would be very interested in easily spreading disinformation via a trusted source.
  • by dtobias ( 262347 ) <> on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:40PM (#20017509) Homepage
    "Banned troll" = anybody who dares to criticize the power clique of Wikipedia. (I like Wikipedia... I hate some of the people and cliques with power there.)
  • Re:Transparency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zoney_ie ( 740061 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:53PM (#20017605)
    Realistically, that's a naive view of how things actually work on Wikipedia. In reality, certain contributors earn or grab authority and their views are given more weight than those who are newer, less experienced, or who hold unpopular views. Not only that, but certain contributors "get away" with more through either an earned status, or essentially sort of being a bully (or at the least, having more perserverance or perservering back-up supporters).

    In the end, Wikipedia will fail through it's lack of a traditional authority structure, however much not having one has certain advantages.

    One cannot expect a project of such a magnitude to survive in the real world (for all the talk of a "second life", people forget that the Internet is reality - part of our boring old society) without a sensible authority structure - and indeed rules decided by something else other than what sticks on a wiki. Even from a purely legal standpoint, Wikipedia is only going to have more trouble in the future than it can eventually handle.
  • by Irish_Samurai ( 224931 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @06:56PM (#20017633)

    Imagine every University in the world, every high school even, running it's own Wikipedia. That kind of network would be impossible to corrupt.
    Unfortunately that's when the marketing techniques step in to pander and cater to certain crowds - thereby using the theory of mob rule to enforce credibility on subjects that shouldn't be decided by such factors. A large chunk of my job is in marketing and I am willing to say from first hand experience I don't want it involved with establishing reference credibility in any way, shape, or form.
  • Re:Transparency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @07:06PM (#20017721)

    How does Wikipedia handle topics (like certain forms of proprietary technology) where the only published data sources might only exist in non-public forms (e.g., vendor manuals), or may not exist in published form at all anymore (e.g., out of print vendor manuals)?

    As I understand it, that a source is no longer in print does not prevent it from being a citable source that would satisfy WP:V, though obviously, where they are available, more accessible sources for the same information would be good. Non-public forms are a bit trickier; if they are essentially inaccessible (the de facto equivalent of unpublished works or internal memoranda), I would imagine they aren't suitable sources and thus, if they are the only support for a fact claim, that claim cannot (under policy) be made on Wikipedia; if they are merely hard to find, I think the situation is similar to what I suggest for an out-of-print source, acceptable but perhaps not preferred if there is an alternative.
  • Re:Transparency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @07:16PM (#20017807)

    Realistically, that's a naive view of how things actually work on Wikipedia. In reality, certain contributors earn or grab authority and their views are given more weight than those who are newer, less experienced, or who hold unpopular views.

    In reality, your view might be valid as a description of how Wikipedia works in a few highly controversial areas where people expend lots of energy. Much of Wikipedia works more like this: someone posts material without adequate references and with clear inaccuracies, and over time it gets progressively edited to better compliance with Wikipedia's stated policies, improving in quality.

    In the end, Wikipedia will fail through it's lack of a traditional authority structure, however much not having one has certain advantages.

    In the end, we're all dead, and every business (even nonprofits) will fail, because every business is subject to risk at all times, and has finite, exhaustible resources, and thus every business is subject to gambler's ruin. So, really, prognostication that "in the end" Wikipedia will fail is not all that substantial.
  • Re:Transparency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sepluv ( 641107 ) <> on Friday July 27, 2007 @07:21PM (#20017875)

    So, to support the idea that I am indeed being naïve, can you give me an example of how these individuals manage to exert pressure on others over the Internet? I don't really think "bullying" works very well over the Internet and multiple personal attacks will get one banned, anyway. Also, winning through having better arguments and the other editors agreeing with them (a self-selecting argument-based democratic consensus) seems to me to be quite a good way of dealing with things; please suggest a better one.

    I'm assuming this hierarchy must work via some kind of conspiracy. I don't doubt there is the odd, small-scale conspiracy between a few friends going on (like IMing them to support you in some discussion), but I see little evidence of a greater cabal. In fact as an editor without a great deal of experience, it just so happens that I recently admonished two editors who turned out to be admins (who I guess would be the ones most likely running any cabal) about what I thought was their not following policy (I was probably a little too severe in retrospect), and they discussed this with me very politely with reasoned argument and one conceded some ground on it, as opposed to exerting pressure on me somehow.

    In the end, Wikipedia will fail through it's lack of a traditional authority structure, however much not having one has certain advantages.
    I'm confused. I thought your argument was that it does have an authority structure.

    One cannot expect a project of such a magnitude to survive in the real world
    It seems to have "survived" 6 years with the number articles, readers and editors continually growing exponentially. Do you have any reasons why it might not survive? It seemed obvious to me that it would work from when I first heard about the model (for a number of reasons, like lots of editors making it more balanced and less NPOV, the ease of fixing mistakes, &c).

    Even from a purely legal standpoint, Wikipedia is only going to have more trouble in the future than it can eventually handle.
    Pray, tell me, what form this trouble will take, if you want me to believe you, lest I believe you are merely casting around weasel words as flamebait.
  • by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @07:32PM (#20017973) Homepage

    The important revelation here isn't that there are intelligence agents using Wikipedia to spread propaganda -- being open to edit by most anyone means it'll pick up its fair share of people editing in bad faith, ranging from civilian vandals and scumbags to the government's equivalent. The important question here is why the hell did Wikipedia's admins cooperate with her -- protecting her by removing the content -- when she was outed? Everyone likes to argue over the credibility of the information they find on Wikipedia, and this does not help their credibility at all.

  • by dtobias ( 262347 ) <> on Friday July 27, 2007 @08:37PM (#20018571) Homepage
    An "excellent Wikipedia administrator", maybe, in some ways... but also a top member of a clique that can be quite hypocritically nasty to anybody who gets in its way, and which pushes policies such as the silly one against linking to so-called "attack sites" under any circumstances, which end up reflecting poorly on Wikipedia by making it seem to be trying to censor its critics. I think that critics, even "lunatic conspiracy theorists", should be kept in the light of day instead of forcibly suppressed and left to fester in the dark.
  • by micpp ( 818596 ) on Friday July 27, 2007 @10:08PM (#20019237) Homepage
    Well, the way it's being covered up on Wikipedia does seem a bit worrying.
  • by Durova ( 1088517 ) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:15AM (#20022827)
    Sorry, that's not a red flag to an Oversight action. I know a few things about how Oversight works. When a pile of edits get deleted that could be a sign that a rank-and-file sysop found something potentially libellous and performed a manual delete. I would have been able to read the deleted version if that had happened, and it didn't. I'm not sure why those logs appeared, but I suggest you ask the sysops who created them. It's a huge leap to suppose that a couple of log entries by other sysops, at an article that had been edited thousands of times, necessarily mean that admin SlimVirgin is a spy. Perhaps that's adequate for folks who think NASA faked the moon landings, but for the rest of us human beings who know "The X Files" was fiction, it's a laugh. Or it would be if one very diligent volunteer weren't getting dragged through the mud in the process, and probably also whoever that unfortunate person is who got misidentified as her. The research I can verify on this story is complete hokum. I have no faith in the rest.

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