Wikileaks publishes massive archive of private 9/11 pager messages

NYC snapshot (cross-shaped cloud?), a few days after 9/11, by BB reader Todd Warner

[Photo by BB reader Todd Warner. More about the image after the jump.]

As promised, Wikileaks is releasing on to the 'net more than half a million confidential pager messages sent around September 11, 2001. The data includes pager messages sent by officials from the NYPD and the Pentagon, as well as citizens who witnessed the collapse of the twin towers. As I scroll through the archives, though, what strikes me as most fascinating is the jumbled mix: plaintive, automated cries from printers who've gone offline, or servers begging for a reboot — those pings are jammed up against urgent ALL-CAPS messages from wives asking their husbands to please call and let them know they're still alive. There are commands for officials to "meet in the situation room." And texts from disgruntled corporate employees, asking why their bosses don't just give them the day off already. There's not much fodder for conspiracy theorists, but there's a lot of random weirdness:

2001-09-11 09:15:38 Arch [1376997] B ALPHA (27)Hey Honey! Can you bring some bagels when you get back? The pork chop is now crying about the World Trade Center plane crash. Geez! It is scray but no reason to cry. Talk to you later! I love you!

And personal messages like this, odd in the context of great tragedy:

Good morning sexy man!! Got my zebra thongs on!!! Feeling a little animalistic!!!

Others make you stop and think — did this person die moments later? Did this person narrowly escape death?

2001-09-11 07:51:33 Skytel [002691994] C ALPHA TAKE YOUR TIME. I WILL NOT BE AT 1WTC UNTIL 9:30 A.M. THANKS, SHAWN

The mundane, the mechanical, the meta, all in one data dump.

Some media coverage: Guardian, Telegraph.

The people at Wikileaks say they published the intercepts as a "completely objective record of the defining moment of our time".

As Kevin Poulsen at Wired News points out, it sounds like the data may have come from an organized, collaborative effort — not just one person.

"While we are obligated by to protect our sources, it is clear that the information comes from an organization which has been intercepting and archiving national US telecommunications since prior to 9/11."

So many messages from so many different network sources — all carriers? Where did this data come from? My bet is on a military or government agency, or a firm that provides commercial analytics services. Or, some combination thereof.

Declan McCullagh, whose politech email list I stayed glued to on 9/11/2001 and on the days following, has the best last word on the pager intercepts. Snip from his report for CBS News:

This should be a lesson to anyone who would prefer their personal details not go on public display: Without end-to-end encryption, and perhaps even with it, your correspondence is vulnerable to interception and publication. And if you're the Secret Service responding to threats against the president, or FEMA organizing an evacuation to an underground bunker, why are you letting anyone with a $10 pager and a Windows laptop watch what you're doing?

9/11 tragedy pager intercepts. (Wikileaks)

Related: Reddit thread is here.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Click for full size.

Boing Boing reader Todd Warner shared this with us. See the cross-shape in the sky? He says it's a picture he took a few days after 9/11. Todd's life partner found it years later and scanned it for us to blog. My money's on lens flare. Todd explains:

You can see the smoke from the site. No one would ever publish it at the time, because I think they think I was some kind of religious nut… I'm not. Just find it interesting and kind of cool. This is a poor scan of the original picture but I checked the negative and the cross is there (upper right in the sky).

I was rollerblading on the west side of New York that morning headed south. When I was about a mile away from the World Trade Center, I noticed a low passenger plane out of the corner of my eye over midtown that looked like it was in trouble. I thought I was going to witness a terrible accident but assumed the pilot would try to go into the Hudson. Watched in horror as it plowed into WTC 1. Oddly, I immediately looked at my hands to see if I was really there. Literally thought I was having a nightmare. At that point since it was out of the clear blue, I assumed it was an accident. Couldn't fathom that anyone could have done it on purpose. By the time I got back to my apartment the second plane had hit.