French spies demand removal of a Wikipedia entry, threaten random Wikipedia admin in France when they don't get their way

The French spy agency Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur inexplicably flipped out about a longstanding Wikipedia entry on a military base (station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute) filled with public domain, widely known information. They tried to get the Wikimedia Foundation to delete it, but wouldn't explain what, exactly, they objected to in the entry. When the Wikimedia Foundation rebuffed them, they picked out a random volunteer Wikipedia admin living in France -- a person who had never had anything to do with the post in question -- and threatened him with jail unless he used his admin privileges to delete the post.

The Foundation is trying to support the their volunteer as best as they can. Meantime, the post about station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute's pageviews have shot from a couple per day to 9000+.

The Foundation takes allegations of national security threats seriously and investigated the matter accordingly. However, it was not readily apparent what specific information the DCRI could consider classified or otherwise high-risk. Without further information, we could not understand why the DCRI believes information in the article is classified. Almost all of the information in the article is cited to publicly-available sources. In fact, the article’s contents are largely consistent with a publicly available video in which Major Jeansac, the chief of the military station in question, gives a detailed interview and tour of the station to a reporter. This video is now cited in the article. Furthermore, the page was originally created on July 24, 2009 and has been continually available and edited since. We do not know why the DCRI believes that the article has suddenly become an urgent threat now.

We requested more information from the DCRI, such as which specific sentences or sections they believed to contain classified information. Unfortunately, the DCRI refused to provide any more specific detail and reaffirmed their demand that the entire article be deleted. Therefore, the Foundation was forced to refuse their request pending receipt of more information that we could use to fully evaluate their claim.

On 30 March 2013, we discovered that the DCRI, evidently dissatisfied with the Foundation’s response, contacted a volunteer with administrative rights (a “sysop”) who resides in France. This sysop is not responsible for the hosting of the content on Wikipedia, had no role in the creation of the article, and is not part of the Wikimedia Foundation. As we understand it, the sysop attempted to explain his limited role as a volunteer and directed them back to the Foundation’s legal department.

Legal and Community Advocacy/Statement on France

(Image: A general view of the military base of Pierre sur Haute, located in the Monts du Forez. It's a dependency of the Base Aerienne 942 of Lyon-Mont Verdun, GDL/CC BY-SA image by S. Rimbaud)


    1. No doubt.  More than that, my guess is that they must have just found out about the internet if they haven’t figured out that once something’s on the net – one way or the other – it’s there for good.  Let this be their crash course on “Resistance Is Futile.”

    2. In France this will come to be known as l’effet Streisand.

      It’s only since they turned off Minitel last year that the French have discovered Wikipedia and the rest of the internet.

  1. Um, how in the hell is playing out today instead of in 2002 or thereabouts? 

    Did it take this long for the French intel personnel to log off from their Minitel stations and  notice the Internet? 

  2. My theory is that they are upgrading this site with anti ballistic missile radar and want to keep this a secret. They probably hoped that if they deleted the article, nobody could continue to work on it and the upgrades wouldn’t be so apparent. Yet again military intelligence proves to be an oxymoron.

    I do have to say that I’m confused that the French military could threaten a civilian with imprisonment for not following their orders. Do they actually have that power or were they bluffing?

    1.  It’s just what happens when demented, authoritarian power structures get their dander up. Even when they realize they’re being stupid & overreacting (which, it appears, is a time still some way off), they refuse to back down, because then they’d be seen to be ‘weak’. Schools, cops, HMOs, Sooper Sekrit Spy Organisations, they’re all the fucking same.

    2. 35 years ago, Henry Kissinger became nationally reviled for saying “the illegal takes an hour. The unconstitutional takes longer.” 

      In French political culture, however, that notion is taken for granted. So it’s not that shocking that the French government could strong arm this guy into doing it. They really can be that ad hoc some time.

      What is shocking, however, is that they WOULD do it. That is so much worse than a crime. It’s a blunder. 

      1.  “Thirty-five years ago, Henry Kissinger became nationally reviled for saying ‘the
        illegal takes an hour. The unconstitutional takes longer.'”

        Reviled.  Yes.  That was then.  A president was forced out of office for “dirty politics,” too.  Today no one even blinks.  Both are just business as usual. 

  3. The sad thing about the local coverage of this story, beside downplaying the threats on the random sysop, is that everytime wikipedia is mentionned on french mass medias, is is always with that snare of contempt and condescency that is the mark of the academic social strata.
    Here in France, we have a big problem with the narrow hivemind of our journalists.

    1.  opposite problem over here.  our journalists will use Wikipedia as their only source rather than do any of their own research. 

  4. Though, to delete specific pieces of information or to provide information necessary to delete specific pieces of information would reveal which pieces of information are “sensitive”. Thus, it makes sense they’d want the whole article gone as, with the whole article gone, you couldn’t do a before/after comparison to find the sensitive bits.

  5. The alternative explanation is that the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur is not filled with aging idiots who don’t know what they are doing. This could be a “testing the waters” moment to see what they can get away with and what the public reaction would be. So if at some point they would feel they would need to do this there’s some experience in the matter. 

    Or, it could also be a feint. Drum up attention to one spot while something else goes unnoticed. However, I’d bet on the former.

  6. And I do anything
    To get you into my world
    And hold you within
    Its a right I defend
    Over and over again
    What do I do?

  7. There are any number of Wikipedia articles about military installations, hardware, etc.,taken from publicly available sources. While, technically, all that information is classified, the public sources that Wikipedia depends on may or may not be accurate. That is, it might be accurate, it might be disinfo, it might be guesswork on the part of independent analysts. Smart intelligence agencies recognize this, and “neither confirm nor deny.”

    What DCRI has accomplished with this stunt is to verify that the fr.wikipedia article is accurate in all its particulars. D’eau!

  8. Wouldn’t any halfway competent intelligence agency/person just spend a bit of time creating a sock-puppet that would, over time, make a few minor edits to eliminate anything they don’t want on Wikipedia (amidst a great many other perfectly legitimate and accurate edits)?  Maybe even just become an editor themselves?  What the fuck do they do all day anyways?

    I have to assume that bungled clusterfucks like this are just cover for actual competent people doing other things.  But I am probably wrong.

    1. Yes, but…Well, now it’s too late.  There will be a hyper-vigilant editor that will be monitoring the page and revert any changes that attempt to do just that, from now until the end of time.  

        1. You have not met any of those Wiki editors, have you?  I remember correcting a comma one time on some random article and whoever put the page on a watch list emailed me back a few hours later saying, essentially, ‘Welcome to Wiki! I see what you did there!’

    2. They could, but there is still the history and the eyes of the contributors. One of the things I do when I want to check if an entry has been corrupted is to do a diff with an older entry (which you can do directly from the history page).

      1.  Well yes, now, of course.  The cat is out of the bag with whatever they were trying to hide with this one.  2 weeks ago I doubt very many people gave a rat’s arse about the place in question.  Those who do, such as other military orgs, probably have their own sources and don’t rely on Wikipedia overmuch (I hope).

        I was just thinking that a halfway competent intelligence organization would be more, not less creative than myself at managing online information.  Clearly I was mistaken.

        It is clear that competence is not the primary factor in this case, however.  No doubt everyone who might be interested in this site for any reason has all the more reason to pay attention to it now.

  9. So now that the article has been reposted, has the volunteer been called back into the DCRI offices to delete it again? Will they keep dragging him back every time it inevitably gets reposted?

  10. Why do you call it a “random volunteer” ?

    apparently he’s président de l’association Wikimédia France

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