Wikipedia Becomes Intelligence Tool And Target For Jihadists
Last year, an Internet user posted a message to a jihadist Web site titled "Why Don't We Invade Wikipedia?"
By Thomas Claburn
March 22, 2007 05:00 PM
Wikipedia, like Switzerland, wants to be neutral. But the new bankers of the Net's knowledge face foes invested in partisan points of view.
It's not just the Congressional staff members, special interest groups, and Microsoft making changes to Wikipedia entries. Islamic jihadists fancy themselves editors, too.
On Dec. 9th of last year, an Internet user posted a message to a jihadist Web site titled, "Why Don't We Invade Wikipedia?"
The forum participant advised Muslims to contribute to the online encyclopedia, "and in this way, and through an Islamic lobby, apply pressure on the encyclopedia's material, as is the case with most of the other participants," according to news summary distributed by the Open Source Center of the Office of Director of National Intelligence.
Wikipedia says that "The DNI Open Source Center was established Nov. 1, 2005, and, operating under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is intended to improve the availability of open sources to intelligence officers and other government officials."
One such source is Wikipedia.
Wikipedia "has steadily grown in popularity, credibility, and influence to the point that it is now used and referenced in U.S. Government intelligence products," explained Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, a group that monitors government information policy, in a recent blog post.
For example, a March 21 OSC profile of Rajnath Singh, president of India's Bharatiya Janata Party, says that it was sourced from wikipedia.org, the official BJP website, and Indian media Web sites including Zee News, Indian Express, and The Times of India.
Aftergood sees the government's increasing use of Wikipedia for intelligence as both perilous and promising. "Everyone recognizes the limitations of Wikipedia, that it's only as good as its contributors, but it's a starting point," he said. "And in many cases it can be a source of first resort. If you have 30 seconds to check something, it can be the best place to turn."
On the whole, Aftergood sees the government's willingness to look to new sources of intelligence as "a welcome development," even if it means approaching Wikipedia entries with caution.
As to the invasion of Wikipedia, last year's call to arms hasn't resulted in a noticeable increase in vandalism or partisan editing, according to a Wikipedia spokesperson Sandra Ordonez. However, she acknowledges that Wikipedia is working on developing better reporting and anti-vandalism tools, which at least suggests the issue hasn't gone away.
Ordonez maintains that edits to articles that alter the neutral point of view will be addressed by the Wikipedia community.
Asked whether the defense community was aware of concerted efforts by jihadists to alter Wikipedia, Maj. Patrick Ryder, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, said, "I have no information on this particular case to pass along. However, as we have seen, terrorists continue to use the Internet to conduct distributed operations, recruit, raise funds and spread false information."