n online tool that claims to reveal the identity of
organisations that edit Wikipedia pages has revealed that the
CIA was involved in editing entries.
Wikipedia Scanner allegedly shows that
workers on the agency’s computers made edits to the page of
It also purportedly shows that the Vatican
has edited entries about Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
The tool, developed by US researchers, trawls
a list of 5.3m edits and matches them to the net address of the
Wikipedia is a free online encyclopaedia that
can be created and edited by anyone.
Most of the edits detected by the scanner
correct spelling mistakes or factual inaccuracies in profiles.
However, others have been used to remove potentially damaging
material or to deface sites.
On the profile of Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, the tool indicates that a worker on the CIA network
reportedly added the exclamation “Wahhhhhh!” before a section on
the leader’s plans for his presidency.
A warning on the profile of the anonymous
editor reads: “You have recently vandalised a Wikipedia article,
and you are now being asked to stop this type of behaviour.”
is claimed the entry was changed by a CIA computer user
Other changes that have been made are more
innocuous, and include tweaks to the profile of former CIA chief
Porter Goss and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey.
When asked whether it could confirm whether
the changes had been made by a person using a CIA computer, an
agency spokesperson responded: “I cannot confirm that the
traffic you cite came from agency computers.
“I’d like in any case to underscore a far
larger and more significant point that no one should doubt or
forget: The CIA has a vital mission in protecting the United
States, and the focus of this agency is there, on that decisive
The site also indicates that a computer owned
by the US Democratic Party was used to make changes to the site
of right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
The changes brand Mr Limbaugh as “idiotic,” a
“racist”, and a “bigot”. An entry about his audience now reads:
“Most of them are legally retarded.”
The IP address is registered in the name of
the Democratic National Headquarters.
A spokesperson for the Democratic Party said
that the changes had not been made on its computers. Instead,
they said that the “IP address is the same as the DCCC”.
The DCCC, or Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee, is the “official campaign arm of the
Democrats” in the House of Representatives and share a building
with the party.
“We don’t condone these sorts of activities
and we take every precaution to ensure that our network is used
in a responsible manner,” Doug Thornell of the DCCC told the BBC
Mr Thornell pointed out that the edit had
been made “close to two years ago” and it was “impossible to
know” who had done it.
The site also indicates that Vatican
computers were used to remove content from a page about the
leader of the Irish republican party Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams.
Wikipedia already collects the IP address or username of
The edit removed links to newspaper stories
written in 2006 that alleged that Mr Adams’ fingerprints and
handprints were found on a car used during a double murder in
The section, titled “Fresh murder question
raised” is no longer available through the online encyclopaedia.
Wikipedia Scanner also points the finger at
commercial organisations that have modified entries about the
One in particular is Diebold, the company
that supplied electronic voting machines for the controversial
US election in 2000.
In October 2005, a person using a Diebold
computer removed paragraphs about Walden O’Dell, chief executive
of the company, which revealed that he had been “a top
fund-raiser” for George Bush.
A month later, other paragraphs and links to
stories about the alleged rigging of the 2000 election were also
The paragraphs and links have since been
Diebold officials have not responded to
requests by the BBC for information about the changes.
The Wikipedia Scanner results are not the
first time that people have been uncovered editing their own
Earlier this year, Microsoft was revealed to
have offered money to experts to trawl through entries about the
company and its products to make corrections.
Staff at the US Congress have also previously
been exposed for editing and removing sensitive information
An inquiry was launched after staff for
Democratic representative Marty Meehan admitted polishing his
The new tool was built by Virgil Griffith of
the California Institute of Technology.
It exploits the open nature of Wikipedia,
which already collects the net address or username of editors
and tracks all changes to a page. The information can be
accessed in the “history” tab at the top of a Wikipedia page.
By merging this information with a database
of IP address owners, Wikipedia Scanner is able to put a name to
the organisation and firms from which edits are made.
The scanner cannot identify the individuals
editing articles, admits Mr Griffith.
“Technically, we don’t know whether it came
from an agent of that company, however, we do know that edit
came from someone with access to their network,” he wrote on the
Wikipedia Scanner site.
A spokesperson for Wikipedia said the tool
helped prevent conflicts of interest.
“We really value transparency and the scanner
really takes this to another level,” they said.
“Wikipedia Scanner may prevent an
organisation or individuals from editing articles that they’re
really not supposed to.”
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