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DND computers used to change Wikipedia site

Last Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 5:25 PM ET

An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is seen in an Ottawa hangar waiting for an announcement by Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, on July 16.An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is seen in an Ottawa hangar waiting for an announcement by Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, on July 16. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A Defence Department spokesperson confirms computers at the department's research agency were used to alter a Wikipedia page entry about the Joint Strike Fighter jet and the Conservative government's decision to spend as much as $18 billion on the aircraft.

Those edits included the removal of information critical of the government's plan to buy the jets and the addition of insulting comments aimed at Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

As first reported in a story by Postmedia, Wikipedia traced the edits to computers owned by Defence Research Development Canada's Ottawa offices. Wikipedia locked down the entry, labelled the changes as vandalism and only allowed recognized editors to work on the page.

In one entry, all information outlining the criticism of the jets and the plan to buy them was removed. In another, someone added that Ignatieff thought the deal to buy the planes for Canada was an "awesome, amazing decision to proceed with this contract." In reality, Ignatieff has been critical of the sole-source contract, calling for a reconvening of the defence committee to examine the decision.

Another version of the entry inserted that Ignatieff has six toes on each foot.

Ignatieff said the incidents show the government has "something to hide."

"Instead of making the case for Canadians ... saying, 'this is why we need this plane,' they're playing these games with Wikipedia," Ignatieff said, while in Toronto on his summer bus tour.

"If you can't prove this case straight up and you have to resort to these tricks, then there's something wrong with the very proposition."

NDP Leader Jack Layton was also unimpressed.

"Attempting to expunge the realities of debate. I mean what the heck is going on here?" asked Layton at a news conference Thursday. "We all knew [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper operated a controlling operation, but we didn't think he was willing to go so far as to snatch the words out of people's mouths and pretend they never were spoken. I hope that DND are simply disavowing this practice and will put a stop to it ASAP."

DRDC spokesperson Martin Champoux said the defence department does not condone the behaviour.

He said IT specialists are trying to track down who uses the computers with the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that were traced to the altered entries. As well, employees will be sent reminders about regulations concerning computer use, he said.

The head of communications at Wikipedia, Jay Walsh, said most people who use the site know that edits are easily traced.

"It's kind of surprising. Usually folks from pretty smart public services around the world seem to be fully aware of how Wikipedia works," Walsh told CBC News in a telephone interview.

"People on those networks usually understand that if they’re going to edit Wikipedia, it’s not really anonymous."

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