Secrecy News

The Wikipedia Factor in U.S. Intelligence

The collaboratively written online encyclopedia Wikipedia, created in 2001, has steadily grown in popularity, credibility and influence to the point that it is now used and referenced in U.S. Government intelligence products.

A March 19 profile of Indian Congress Party Leader Rahul Gandhi prepared by the Open Source Center (OSC) of the Office of Director of National Intelligence is explicitly derived from “various internet sources including wikipedia.org.” A March 21 OSC profile of Rajnath Singh, president of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, is likewise “sourced from wikipedia.org.”

An OSC report last year on the leader of the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Prabhakaran, noted that he and his wife “have two children, a girl and a boy. According to wikipedia.com, the boy is named Charles Anthony and the girl, Duwaraha.”

The relatively new attentiveness of U.S. intelligence agencies to Wikipedia and other unorthodox sources (including fas.org) seems like a healthy development. Of course, like any source and moreso than some, Wikipedia cannot be used uncritically.

Last December, according to another OSC report, a participant in an online jihadist forum posted a message entitled “Why Don’t We Invade Wikipedia?” in which “he called on other participants to consider writing articles and adding items to the online Wikipedia encyclopedia…. and in this way, and through an Islamic lobby, apply pressure on the encyclopedia’s material.”

For various topics related to space physics, “Wikipedia was the most complete source of information” compared to other highly ranked web sites, according to an article in the American Geophysical Union’s Eos magazine (13 March 07) by Mark B. Moldwin, et al. But some Wikipedia entries on space physics, the authors found, also contained mistaken use of terminology, factual errors and omissions.

“Wikipedia lets anyone write or edit it, which of course makes it vulnerable to vandalism–as when a picture of the evil Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars briefly adorned the entry for the new Pope [Benedict],” notes Eric Rauchway in The New Republic Online (March 21).

0 thoughts on “The Wikipedia Factor in U.S. Intelligence

  1. THE WIKIPEDIA FACTOR IN U.S. INTELLIGENCE = ZERO

    For several years one of my duties was to be a vault custodian in military intelligence. I worked with live intelligence data also. Sometimes the data comes from sources we would think is unclassified. WIKIPEDIA is not considered to be reliable by professional journalists, let alone some High School teachers. Do you want our sources for intelligence to be muddied by anyone who keys into the page? This is why Intelligence has compartmented rules and rules and laws on how it is collected and by who. It is to help insure its integrity and to protect the sources and ways we gather it… Lives are lost when sources are revealed. At the least the missions are ended and millions of dollars and human hours for the mission are wasted. If something is found useful in any media, it is best not to reveal the tool. It is a sad day for Intelligence gathering and says a lot about the politics of our young culture being allowed to make these decisions for our personal and national safety.

  2. Wikipedia is a compendium of published material. It is unlikely to contain material that has not been published somewhere, but might with its worldwide participation by multilingual users contain material that might go unnoticed or not be regularly consulted. If Wikipedia’s rules on sourcing are followed, there should be a reference to the source for most information contained in an article, so it is usually easy to check the source and evaluate its reliability.

  3. The risk with Wikipedia isn’t intel leak or even collection, it is more a question of a possible propaganda platform. In this age of political correctness, there is a tendency to give the benefit of doubt where it shouldn’t be granted. The islamofascist have a world wide propaganda program going on on the Internet. I don’t fear anything they have to say but I fear not answering their lies. A LIE POSTED TO ENOUGH PLACES, ENOUGH TIMES, OVER A LONG ENOUGH PERIOD “BECOMES THE TRUTH”. “I SAW IT ALL OVER THE INTERNET” This is how they recruit, convert and spread terrorism. Currently USA isn’t doing much to counter these actions. Wikipedia would be an ideal platform for these terrorists purposes.

  4. As Fred Bauder’s post implies, the biggest risk with Wikipedia is that credulous, uncritical, or irresponsible users will not take the time to verify sources thoroughly. The notion that “islamofascists” or anyone else can use Wikipedia to “recruit, convert (To what? Islam? Fascism?) and spread terrorism” itself smacks of a wish for authoritarian control over media that runs counter to everything we like to think we stand for. The apparent success of such efforts (on or off the Internet) is likely attributable to a sense of powerlessness and fear of loss of control that drives individuals toward authoritarian solutions to whatever ails their lives. To its credit, Wikipedia offers a wide open forum for anyone wishing to answer “their lies” (in 40 languages, including Arabic).

  5. Hi, great article, i have bookmarked it… it’s funny (and maybe scary) that the US agencies use Wikipedia. Anyway, if you are a Wikipedia user, try Wikli… its the path to Wikipedia…

    Thanks, fuser

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