WASHINGTON–The US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has been caught conducting covert propaganda attacks on the internet. The attacks, exposed by government transparency group Wikileaks, include deleting detainees’ ID numbers from Wikipedia, the systematic posting of unattributed “self praise” comments on news organization web sites in response to negative press, boosting pro-Guantanamo stories on the internet news site Digg and even modifying Fidel Castro’s encyclopedia article to describe the Cuban president as “an admitted transexual” [sic].
Among the un- or mis-attributed responses to news stories were statements such as “[Guantanamo is] a very professional place full of true American patriots.” and comments playing down the impact of leaked documents which among other matters mandated all Guantanamo detainees to have no contact with the Red Cross for at least the first 2-4 weeks after their arrival: “interesting document but not at all relevant today as much of this has changed over the years.”
Shayana Kadidal, Managing Attorney of the Center for Constitutional Rights Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, said in response to the report:
“The military’s efforts to alter the record by vandalizing Wikipedia are of a piece with the amateurism of their other public relations efforts: [such as] their ridiculous claims that released detainees who criticize the United States in the media have ‘returned to the battlefield’.”
Guantanamo command spokesman Lt. Col. Edward Bush, denied the charges (to the New York Daily News) only to spectacularly fall over himself when trying to attack Wikileaks over the report.
“There has been no attempt to alter/change any information that has been posted anywhere,” Lt. Col. Bush said in the statement e-mailed to us. “That would be unethical.” Bush said in a subsequent phone call that there’s no way to know if any of the 3,000 uniformed military at Gitmo was responsible for the documented changes, but he promised his public affairs staff was not behind it. He also blasted [Wikileaks] for identifying one sailor in his office by name, who has since received death threats for simply doing his job – posting positive comments on the Internet about Gitmo.
Wikileaks subsequently asked noted computer security expert Bruce Schneier to independently review the evidence:
“Based on the evidence, it is obvious that these changes came from people stationed at Guantanamo Bay. The only other possibility is that someone hacked into the Guantanamo Bay computers in an effort to frame the U.S. government; certainly possible but much less likely.”
Barring obscure loopholes, the admitted acts of the Guantanamo Bay Public Affairs Office are unlawful:
1. “publishing material which is misleading as to its origin” (covert propaganda)
2. “publicity of a nature tending to emphasize the importance of the agency or activity in question” (self aggrandizement)
3. “publicity or propaganda within the United States” (domestic propaganda)
The first two activities are illegal under several appropriations and other acts as detailed in a similar case investigated by the Government Accounting Office in 2005: [http://gao.gov/decisions/appro/303495.htm]
The third, depending on how the Public Affairs Office funding was structured during time the activities took place may also be illegal. Since 1951, the following prohibition on the use of appropriated funds for propaganda purposes has been enacted annually: “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by Congress.” [http://fas.org/sgp/congress/2005/s020205.html]
Joint Task Force Guantanamo has often claimed to be outside of US legal jurisdiction, for example in regards to the Habeas Corpus rights of detainees. However most of the news organizations and other sites affected are located in the United States as are the majority of their readers.
Wikileaks has referred the matter to the GAO and Depart of Defense Inspector General for further investigation.
Wikileaks is a web site that claims to allow an anonymous place for whistleblowers to post government documents.