Ottawa Citizen | August 24, 2010
The computer used to alter information on a Wikipedia entry critical of the Conservative government’s decision to spend billions of dollars on a new stealth fighters has been traced to the air force’s headquarters in Winnipeg, the Defence Department said Tuesday.
Defence Department information specialists traced the computer to 1 Canadian Air Division headquarters in Winnipeg, Canadian Forces spokesman Navy Capt. David Scanlon said.
“Now it’s up to chain of command to pursue that, identify the individual and determine whether disciplinary or administrative action is appropriate,” he said.
The computer was used last month to alter the online encyclopedia’s entry on the Joint Strike Fighter. The alterations included the removal of any information critical of the Harper government’s plan to spend at least $16 billion on the new fighter aircraft.
The computer account was also used to insert insults, aimed at Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, into the entry. Ignatieff has questioned the proposed purchase. Quotes from news articles outlining opposition to the arms sale by University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers, a former NDP candidate, were also removed.
Using a website that provides the geographic location of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, the Ottawa Citizen further traced the computers to the CFB Cold Lake air force base in northeastern Alberta.
After being informed about the Wikipedia alterations by the Citizen, the Defence Department launched an investigation.
Wikipedia originally traced the changes to three Internet Protocol addresses registered to Defence Research and Development Canada’s Ottawa offices. The online site has labelled the July 20-21 alterations as vandalism.
The nine attempts to change the Wikipedia page, made during work hours, stopped when Wikipedia administrators locked down the entry on the Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF. That allowed only recognized editors to work on the page. But once the page was unlocked the changes continued.
The proposed purchase of the JSF, the most expensive military equipment procurement in Canadian history, is supported by the air force. But Ignatieff, concerned that no competition was held to select the fighter plane, has vowed to review the deal if his party forms the next government.
The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have also spoken out against the planned purchase.
Canada won’t be required to sign a contract committing it to purchasing the stealth fighters until 2013, according to aerospace industry representatives. That has opened the door for any future government to back away from the proposed deal if needed.
Byers, who recently wrote a Toronto Star commentary criticizing the JSF purchase, said the Harper government is particularly sensitive about any opposition towards the JSF purchase, a situation reflected by the attempts to alter the Wikipedia page.
The news comes after an investigation was ordered into another case of Wikipedia mischief, in which someone using a federal government computer altered the entry on Canada’s Official Languages Act to rebrand it “Quebec’s Nazi Act.”
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews ordered the investigation after the alteration was traced to a computer at federal Correctional Services headquarters in Ottawa.
The minister was alerted to the prank by Quebec Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who was himself alerted by a Twitter user who spotted the modification.
Calling it hate propaganda, Coderre said Criminal-Code sanctions against hate speech should be brought to bear.
“Comparing Quebecers to Nazis is hate propaganda and is unacceptable,” he said. “I’m calling on the government to take action in this case and take action immediately, because this is a serious matter.”
What makes it doubly serious is the fact that alteration was made from a government computer, Coderre said.
“We know that anybody can write anything on Wikipedia, but this comes from a government computer. I’m not attacking the government on this, but I want light shed on what happened.”
Adopted in 1969, the act declares French and English to be the official languages of Canada.