Skeletons in the closet? Uncovering embarrassing Wiki edits by Pentagon, Congress

A recent movement to track in real-time edits government organizations anonymously make to Wikipedia has also turned up deep archives of changes made dating back more than 10 years. For instance, thanks to Jari Bakken, lead developer of a Norwegian parliamentary watchdog account, a database of 1,843 edits made at Pentagon IP addresses from 2004-2010 is now publically available. Exploring this reveals Pentagon employees contributed uncivil language to the pages for John Kerry, Valerie Plame and Marion Berry. One editor put words in Keith Olbermann’s mouth, inverting his quote from “I’m not a liberal, I’m an American,” to “I’m not an American, I’m a liberal.” Regarding the “First Battle of Fallujah” article, an anonymous editor added “WHAT LIBERAL, PACIFIST, JAG-OFF MEMBER OF THE OBAMA CABINET WROTE THIS POLITICALLY SLANTED PUFF-PIECE?” Homophobic slurs were inserted into pages for “gay pride,” “LGBT symbols,” and bizarrely, Evian water. A global warming skeptic quibbled over the language of the article dedicated to the scientific phenomenon from his office at the Department of Defense headquarters. In general, Pentagon employees’ more notable edits addressed what they perceived as Wikipedia’s liberal bias. The history of Congressional edits (13,269 total from 2003-2014), also now available, provides evidence of more ideological alterations. In 2005, for example, someone on Capitol Hill removed a reference to the War on Terror from the page for “crusades.” In 2007, the entire page for “abortion law” was blanked. Some sling mud: One anonymous editor called Noam Chomsky a “dangerous radical” and “undoubtedly a shifty Communist gulag-master.” Another – or possibly the same – labeled Eugene V. Debs a “whore.” Other changes seem more geared toward electability: Joe Lieberman’s lobby connections disappeared; Nancy Pelosi was noted as “extreme” and hypocritical for accepting corporate cash. Some are just silly, such as changing John Boehner’s age to 88 years old. While it appears that the majority of edits emanating from the Beltway have been made in good faith, with a few vandals making alterations without strategic aim, there have been more deliberate changes originating from Congress than the DOD. Still, these are more likely to indicate pettiness than evil. At the very least though, the records indicate a severe misuse of public time, equipment and ultimately tax dollars, according to Stephen Potts, chairman of the Ethics Resource Center during the Meehan embarrassment. It’s fitting, then, that one Pentagon employee apparently spent many hours contributing to the Wiki for Joseph Heller’s classic novel, “Catch-22,” which skewers the absurdity and waste of the military and bureaucracy at large.

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