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April 7, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

This rather bland article on the French Wikipedia about a military radio station (now in English!) became on April 6 the most viewed page on the site, after agents of the DCRI (French Homeland Security) summoned the president of Wikimedia France, Rémi Mathis, to the DCRI headquarters last Thursday and (allegedly) forced him to delete the page under threat of prosecution, on the grounds that the page divulged classified military information. The page was quickly undeleted by other users, as could be expected. Mathis, an historian and library curator at the French National Library is also known as an advocate for freedom of panorama.
posted by elgilito (43 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Given the cack handed way they went about this, The DCRI can only have meant to publicize the article.
posted by wotsac at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


The effect of decentralized semi-anonymized systems like Wikipedia are interesting problems from an intelligence perspective. Assume government has the power to compel removal of content. What if someone posted floor-plans for NSA headquarters, for example? If you're NSA how practically would you shut it down and keep it shut down? Do you threaten to throw Jimmy Wales in the clink?
posted by leotrotsky at 8:21 AM on April 7, 2013


It's a good thing we've already coined the Barbara Streisand effect, otherwise we'd be stuck with the much less mirthful "DCRI effect". The French might not be so lucky, though; I imagine the Académie française is hard at work as we speak, coming up with a wholly french alternative. The French can then build the ramdam by inserting it in their various infolettres.
posted by anewnadir at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


What if someone posted floor-plans for NSA headquarters, for example? If you're NSA how practically would you shut it down and keep it shut down?
NSA headquarters floor-plans would be another matter entirely, given that the American President has 007-style license to kill.
posted by fredludd at 8:30 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Welcome to the Internet, France. New here? Let me show you around...
posted by pla at 8:33 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Wikipedia entry is not about something notable (a radio tower???) and I've nominated it as a candidate for speedy deletion.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


If you're NSA how practically would you shut it down and keep it shut down? Do you threaten to throw Jimmy Wales in the clink?
If someone is posting anything "secret" on Wikipedia then you've already failed.
It's like minimising the noise of the sirens when the engines come to your burning house.
posted by fullerine at 8:35 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


NSA floorplans: You don't need floor plans. Just follow the lines painted on the floor...pick a color. The Marine guards stationed at various intersections will inspect your badge, and direct you to the proper room. This is after you get past the gate. Oh, and feel free to give the Marines a hard time. They could probably use a bit of cheering up.
posted by mule98J at 8:36 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


People complain all the time about specious and arbitrary deletions from Wikipedia. Use one of those reasons, and do it yourself rather than giving some anti authoritarian a great story.
posted by wotsac at 8:38 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


What if someone posted floor-plans for NSA headquarters, for example?

Question. Why is this a security issue?

See, that's the real point of this. DCRI attempt to classify something that every potential enemy of the French state already knows. Then they did so in an incredibly hamhanded way, and even better, did so in a way that would not secure the information, indeed, would make certain to disseminate it even further.

Even better, of course, is that all of this information was already posted on the net. Check out the list of references.

So, DCRI attempted to suppress information that was already out there, by interrogating someone who had nothing to do with the collection or collation of that information, in a way that would do absolutely nothing to actually control that information.

They need to be fired. Either they're idiots, or there is a real deep reason that this should have remained hidden and DCRI just announced to the world that you should start digging to find out what that is.

And, actually, read that as the non-exclusive or.
posted by eriko at 8:41 AM on April 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you're NSA how practically would you shut it down and keep it shut down?

Demand citations, then nominate for deletion. If someone actually finds some reliable sources, then squelch those and repeat.
posted by ryanrs at 8:42 AM on April 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


This is obviously a psyops campaign to distract our attention away from the overnight shipment of fine French cheeses and wine to Kim Jong-un that is working its way across the globe as we type.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're NSA how practically would you shut it down and keep it shut down? Do you threaten to throw Jimmy Wales in the clink?

I think by that point you assume that the people who would want it will already have it and come up with a new plan. Once a leak has leaked, you can't really suppress it.
posted by Think_Long at 8:52 AM on April 7, 2013


Oh, great, now they're going to go and arrest taz.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:56 AM on April 7, 2013


KokuRyu : The Wikipedia entry is not about something notable (a radio tower???) and I've nominated it as a candidate for speedy deletion.
ryanrs : Demand citations, then nominate for deletion. If someone actually finds some reliable sources, then squelch those and repeat.

Ah, two more folks new to the internet... Welcome, welcome!

That subject now gets 3.7 million hits on Google. Crunch... Er... Nominate all you want, we'll make more!
posted by pla at 8:58 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yet another demonstration of the Streisand Effect.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:03 AM on April 7, 2013


two more folks new to the internet

And one person new to wikipedia.
posted by ryanrs at 9:06 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, two more folks new to the internet... Welcome, welcome!

Ah, one more person new to the world of jokes. I must say, you would fit right in on Wikipedia, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:12 AM on April 7, 2013 [23 favorites]


Do you threaten to throw Jimmy Wales in the clink?

You wouldn't need to go that far. Jimmy Wales is such a marshmallow that he perma-deleted an article after receiving vague threats from some guy who pretends to be a ninja.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 9:15 AM on April 7, 2013


I should tell you guys about that time I helped Jimbo Wales purge secret Wikimedia documents from Google and Bing in order to protect his masters from public exposure. Maybe after lunch.

(this actually happened)
posted by ryanrs at 9:17 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


"... after agents of the DCRI (French Homeland Security) summoned the president of Wikimedia France, Rémi Mathis, to the DCRI headquarters last Thursday and (allegedly) forced him to delete the page under threat of prosecution, ..."

They're probably still sore about Minitel being shut-down.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:18 AM on April 7, 2013


I've heard that there is actually a great deal of classified information on wikipedia but no-one does anything about it because in many cases acknowledging that a piece of information is secret give away more than just leaving the information there.

This is a great example because what was just one of hundreds of French military installations is now known to be in some way very secret.
posted by atrazine at 9:19 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I should tell you guys about that time I helped Jimbo Wales purge secret Wikimedia documents from Google and Bing in order to protect his masters from public exposure. Maybe after lunch.
True story.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:21 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I can tell you that many things on the Internet are true and are classified military information (I hesitate to call them secrets, because, obviously someone knows it.) There are also infinitely many times MORE incorrect things out there. That's why leaving the correct things there usually isn't a big deal - nobody has any way of knowing it's true or false.

Test depth of a submarine is classified. If a wikipedia article says test depth of a 688-class submarine is 950 feet (which it does,) well that would be classified information. But here's the thing: only if it's correct. Not if it's some internet blowhard's random guess.

Demanding a takedown would kind of say something, wouldn't it?

Or is that what the DCRI wants people to think, and clearly we can not choose the glass in front of you.

Probably the point is just free advertising to project the chilling effect, so people that do know secret things think twice about posting them in the future. Just to remind people that the DCRI cares about such things, and don't be that guy.
posted by ctmf at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Superb. I've been meaning to read up on ACE HIGH for ages. Plus, there's nothing as unsecret as a secret radio station. They tend to have big towers, conspicuous antennas and, er, transmit stuff. Give me a few hours and some of the test equipment I have on my desk here, and I'll probably be able to tell you the technical specifications of their transmitters.

The whole thing has the feeling of a phenomenon I've observed many times in journalism, where someone way up high in an organisation sees something they don't like in a publication and demands that their minions Do Something to get it removed. The minions say "It doesn't work like that, sir". Sir says "I don't care how it works, get it removed." Minions then have to go and prove, usually to their own intense personal embarrassment, that it really doesn't work that way, so they can go back to Sir and say "We did what you asked. It didn't work".

In journalism, it's usually a PR or marketing person who has to go out and make an arse of themselves by calling up the editor and saying "Will you take that down? You shouldn't have published it." - possibly with fuzzy threats of legal action or "we'll never talk to you again/we'll pull all our advertising/we know where your children go to school" (Yes, even that. I can't name the company in question, because it's a very serious allegation and I have no proof, but you've used their software and you don't like it very much.)

The editor, who knows the score, says "No, you can tell whoever asked you to do that, that they're being a giant pillock, and if they carry on we'll write a story which gleefully tells the world of their giant pillock nature With, of course, a link to the article. It's great for traffic. Do get them to call me personally if they want me to instruct them in how not to be a giant pillock."

Exactly how the minion chooses to relay this is up to them, but it never goes any further.
posted by Devonian at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


What's the point of censoring Wikipedia? If the article's properly cited, the information is available from the original sources anyway. It would be more effective to get the sources censored, all copies of the sources censored, and then ask Wikipedia to delete the article for lacking sources.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:17 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The effect of decentralized semi-anonymized systems like Wikipedia are interesting problems from an intelligence perspective. Assume government has the power to compel removal of content. What if someone posted floor-plans for NSA headquarters, for example? If you're NSA how practically would you shut it down and keep it shut down?

Hasn't this really been more-or-less impossible since the photocopier made it fast and easy to duplicate information? You can't put a secret back in a bottle.

One approach to fighting the effects is probably to add disinformation. Leak multiple, conflicting versions of the floor-plans. Leak floor-plans with clearly ridiculous details ("Holding area for Area 51 grays") to discredit all variants. Leak made-up versions of the plans that appear to be more official and more credible than the real ones. Leak documents that downplay the importance (and secrecy) of your real secrets and hint elliptically at some other, made-up secret.

Maybe you even clumsily and publicly quash information you don't really care about in order to distract from other steps you take at the same time more quietly.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


One approach to fighting the effects is probably to add disinformation.

That was my first thought as well. Are disinformation campaigns too old skool now or something?
posted by rtha at 11:14 AM on April 7, 2013


Plus, now the DCRI bosses get to go around saying to their own employees, "Hey, I just had a conversation with the president of Wikimedia France, Rémi Mathis. He told me some very interesting things about who's been posting different things to Wikipedia." Implied threat: we have ways of finding out if you're leaking shit.

I doubt it was about suppressing this specific information at all.
posted by ctmf at 11:15 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I should tell you guys about that time I helped Jimbo Wales purge secret Wikimedia documents from Google and Bing in order to protect his masters from public exposure. Maybe after lunch.


During the 2007/2008 Wikipedia funding drive, I made a $1,500 donation specifically crafted to troll the anti-wikipedia crackpots over at Wikipedia Review (and other similar sites).

Wikipedia was smaller back then, and a lot less prominent. A three month donation drive could be expected to pull in a couple million bucks in total. A $1,500 anonymous donation would go right to the top of the donation scoreboard and probably sit there for a few days. Since anonymous donations could include a short message, this provided a great platform for stirring up the crazies.

My $1,500 message was:
sha1:338c3706b3f34653d195ee40a310f73d2fb52b5c

Not only did my mysterious hash set off the alarm bells at tinfoil central, but it gave me a handy Google search token so I could watch the fun.

The response was as amusing as expected.


What I did NOT expect was to find the full, non-anonymized Wikimedia donor list. Someone at Wikimedia accidentally published the wrong donation list template, which exposed the non-anonymized list just long enough for Google to cache it.

I immediately contacted Wikimedia and alerted them to the problem. The first couple of people I emailed apologized profusely, then condescendingly explained to me how the internet and Google worked, and that it would be impossible to remove the cached donor list. Meanwhile, the clowns at Wikipedia Review were busy trying to figure out who sent the mysterious donation. Finding the entire donor list would have been fucking Christmas for them.

But as it happened, the Wikipedia Review guys were as lazy as the Wikimedia staff was dumb, and they never clicked through to the 4th page of Google results for that hash key, so they didn't find the donor list.

After a day of trading emails with the Wikimedia staff, I gave up and emailed the entire Board of Directors and Jimbo Wales. Jimbo made one phone call to Google and the donor list was gone within a couple hours. As far as I know, no one ever saw it and realized what it was.


For those curious, the hash was simply a link to my Wikipedia user page, written in the usual style.
501 ~$ echo -n '[[User:Ryanrs|Ryan Salsbury]]' | openssl sha1
338c3706b3f34653d195ee40a310f73d2fb52b5c

posted by ryanrs at 11:19 AM on April 7, 2013 [28 favorites]


Oops, Bing didn't exist back then. MS's search engine at the time was live.com.
posted by ryanrs at 11:23 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The response was as amusing as expected.

Equal parts hilarious and terrifying.
posted by rtha at 11:27 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


That WR thing has got to be one of the funniest things I've read.
Oh dear.
posted by glasseyes at 1:21 PM on April 7, 2013


Now, Mr Anonymous (or Miss or Ms or whatever title you may have), I notice that you like jumbling random letters and numbers. Now, we here think that there is something wrong with that. What are you playing at? Sha1? Does that mean you are Shakira? Or someone else?

LOL
posted by XMLicious at 2:20 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


some kind of socially-maladjusted uber-nerd with dot-com wealth

I kind of like that one actually.
posted by ryanrs at 2:22 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or is that what the DCRI wants people to think, and clearly we can not choose the glass in front of you.

It's possible that this is all some clever game designed to occlude some masterly plan. It's also possible that some members of intelligence organizations are morons who act first and think later.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:03 PM on April 7, 2013


It's a good thing we've already coined the Barbara Streisand effect, otherwise we'd be stuck with the much less mirthful "DCRI effect". The French might not be so lucky, though; I imagine the Académie française is hard at work as we speak, coming up with a wholly french alternative.

Trop tard.
posted by homunculus at 5:45 PM on April 7, 2013


divulged classified military information

Because pretending it was invisible always worked until now.
posted by Twang at 6:56 PM on April 7, 2013


Demand citations, then nominate for deletion. If someone actually finds some reliable sources, then squelch those and repeat.

Or insist someone prove they're an 'expert'. My friend found a figure in a math article that was drawn so badly as to be incorrect (basically, two vertices were on top of each other--you could tell because the vertices weren't labeled sequentially). He redrew the figure and uploaded it, only to be told by someone who pretty clearly neither knew anything of the subject nor could exercise common sense that he needed to demonstrate a 'consensus of opinion among experts'.
posted by hoyland at 7:25 PM on April 7, 2013


What if someone posted floor-plans for NSA headquarters, for example? If you're NSA how practically would you shut it down and keep it shut down?

Let's say they did. So? I'm just guessing that the NSA uses some top drawer cryptography and has pretty good procedural security and generally runs a tight ship. If that's not the case and my wandering into the server room when I'm trying to find the men's room (and nobody thought to lock the door) is going to bring the entire US intelligence operation to it's knees, they're screwed already.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:58 PM on April 7, 2013


I would have thought that the significance would be knowing where to aim your missile / plant your IED / crash your anti-gubmint kamikaze prop plane to take out the server room rather than the mens' room.
posted by XMLicious at 9:11 PM on April 7, 2013


The page was quickly undeletedsurrendered by other users, as could be expected

FTFY
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:28 AM on April 8, 2013


One wonders if DCRI would have been so quick to bring someone into a government office if Wikipedia's French flag-bearer wasn't a government employee. No dig at the individual involved, but one wonders if this guy's job would be on the line if he didn't do what he was told. Harder to hint at such sanctions if the volunteer didn't work for the state.
posted by MILNEWSca at 7:53 AM on April 9, 2013


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