Wikipedia and the military-intelligence Complex: How the free encyclopedia feeds the national security state from which it emerged
07/05/2021 // News Editors // Views

In my new bookWe’ll Tell You What to Think: Wikipedia, Propaganda and the Making of Liberal ConsensusI expose who funds Wikipedia, what their intentions are, and how they seek to shape narratives favorable to neoliberal capitalism and the US empire.

(Article by T.J. Coles republished from

Wikipedia is part of the very internet developed by the military with public money in the 1950s-60s, then called ARPANET. Generally speaking, corporations hope that the systems developed in the military that evolve in the public-corporate realm—satellites, computers, data analysis, etc.—will inspire new military-intelligence innovations in a permanent feedback loop.

In 2003, the CIA’s Director of Central Intelligence established the Galileo Awards Program to inspire those in the intelligence community to submit unclassified papers to shape the CIA’s adaptive capacities to cope in the information age. One partly-declassified report from 2004 states that times have changed and that the CIA now exists in a real-time information environment.


Just as Woodrow Wilson said that most nations don’t need direct rule, merely the inculcation of elite US "values" where possible, the officer who contributed to the Galileo report includes an anecdote about the 19th century Mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois, who said that he kept the massive frontier city in good order because he taught the inhabitants the "correct principles and they govern themselves." The Mayor was Joseph Smith (1805-44), founder of Mormonism.


This principle applies to Wikipedia: set the overarching "values" and its contributors—mainly young, white, middle-class liberals—will reflect those "values". They include progressive slogans but reactionary policies, humanitarianism but pro-war positions, and conformity to consensus opinion even when the consensus is wrong (e.g., "regime change" in Libya and Syria).

It also applies to the CIA’s "complexity theory": "a simple tradecraft regime will emerge [from] an Intelligence Community that continuously and dynamically reinvents itself" (tradecraft means having the skills of spying, disrupting, etc.). The changes that require the intelligence community to adapt are unpredictable.

Consequently, the CIA is given five prescriptions:

1) Just as consumers are supposedly autonomous in "market" systems, officers must be free to act when necessary.

2) Just as cities are governed by property rules, officers must be "hardwired" with the techniques of tradecraft.

3) Officers must share more information to help the CIA thrive, just as consumers share information about niche products to help "markets."

4) Officers need more feedback from the National Security environment.

5) Intelligence managers must be persuasive in their objectives, such as communication with other officers.

Technology makes the five "prescriptions" more realistic. The author cites Wikipedia as an interesting "tradecraft … or a rule set to which contributors and editors must abide." The self-initiation is analogous to one of the five prescriptions. Wikipedia inspired the author’s advocacy of fostering a "healthy market of debatable ideas [which] emerges from the sharing of points of view." But Wikipedia does not exist in isolation: "The occasional brilliant blog comment will shape the Wiki." These principles, says the author, should be incorporated into the Defense Information Systems Agency’s SIPRNet.


The document in question was signed by CIA Director Porter Goss. Just a few years later, software had traced Wikipedia edits on Goss’s entry to the CIA. Other CIA edits included vandalism of the biographical entry for Iran’s then-President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At the time, the CIA, Britain’s MI6 and Israel’s Mossad were attacking Iran in various ways, including via the funding of anti-regime terrorists, such as the Jundullah, a Balochi Sunni group.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for Jundullah dismisses claims that the CIA had been working with the group. It does so by citing what it says is an "investigation" that debunked the claims. But in reality, the debunking source is merely a Reuters article that rejects claims of CIA involvement, but provides no counterevidence. Some of the information concerning anti-Iranian CIA activity came from Fred Burton.

Between 2012 and ‘13, WikiLeaks published emails from Burton’s employer, Stratfor; the private intelligence agency/global risks analyst. Not only do the leaked Stratfor emails confirm that edits had been made to Burton’s Wikipedia entry, they confirm that Stratfor wanted to use Wikipedia to boost its own company profile. Brian Genchur, Stratfor’s PR Manager, told colleagues: "I COULD alter part of Fred Burton’s Wikipedia entry (done a few days ago) because it contained a factual error that he was part of a gov. department that he really was never a part of because 1) it’s false and 2) it did not have sourcing attached" (emphasis in original. On an unrelated matter, Larry Sanger toldWikiLeaks: "Speaking as Wikipedia’s co-founder, I consider you enemies of the U.S.—not just the government, but the people.")


By 2006, the Intelligence Community had developed its own Intellipedia. A Top Secret report released under a FOIA request instructed intelligence officers how to edit Wikipedia’s entry on MK-ULTRA, the CIA’s mind control program (1953-circa 1970s), for Intellipedia. MK-ULTRA led to deaths and involved the exploitation of prisoners, mental patients and foreign POWs. The CIA document reveals that the NSA has a mirror-site of Wikipedia. It states: "Be bold in modifying this Wikipedia import … Correct mistakes; remove bias; categorize; … when assimilation into Intellipedia is complete, remove this template and add {{From Wikipedia}}."

During the Obama Years (2009-2017), the US Army sought the creation of Wikipedia-style Army Manuals. "Using the same free software behind Wikipedia, the Army’s ‘wikified’ field  manuals invite military personnel—from the privates to the generals—to collaboratively update the Army Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures in real time."

Similarly, the US Department of Energy (DOE), which has partial control over the development of nuclear weapons (along with the Pentagon) sought to develop its Open Energy Information (OpenEI), "an open source web platform—similar to the one used by Wikipedia—developed by DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to make the large amounts of energy-related data and information more easily searched, accessed, and used both by people and automated machine processes."


Funded by weapons contractors like BAE Systems and Boeing, and until recently led by people like Katherine Maher, ex-World Banker and Fellow of the Truman National Security Project, which exists to promote "US values" at home and abroad, the Wikimedia Foundation that enables Wikipedia does not exist in a vacuum. Wikipedia does not present unbiased, scholarly encyclopedia entries. It is as much part of the military-industrial-complex as mainstream corporate media.

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