Microsoft Word documents are notorious for containing private information in file headers which people would sometimes rather not share. The British government of Tony Blair just learned this lesson the hard way.
Back in February 2003, 10 Downing Street published a dossier on Iraq's security and intelligence organizations. This dossier was cited by Colin Powell in his address to the United Nations the same month. Dr. Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University, quickly discovered that much of the material in the dossier was actually plagiarized from a U.S. researcher on Iraq.
You can read Dr. Rangwala's original analysis of the dossier from Feb. 5, 2003 at this URL:
http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2003/msg00457.htmlBlair's government made one additional mistake: they published the dossier as a Microsoft Word file on their Web site. When I first heard from Dr. Rangwala about the dossier, I decided to try to learn who had worked on the document. I downloaded the Word file containing the dossier from the 10 Downing Street Web site (http://www.number-10.gov.uk/) and found the following revision log in the file:
Rev. #1: "cic22" edited file "C:\DOCUME~1\phamill\LOCALS~1\Temp\AutoRecovery save of Iraq - security.asd" Rev. #2: "cic22" edited file "C:\DOCUME~1\phamill\LOCALS~1\Temp\AutoRecovery save of Iraq - security.asd" Rev. #3: "cic22" edited file "C:\DOCUME~1\phamill\LOCALS~1\Temp\AutoRecovery save of Iraq - security.asd" Rev. #4: "JPratt" edited file "C:\TEMP\Iraq - security.doc" Rev. #5: "JPratt" edited file "A:\Iraq - security.doc" Rev. #6: "ablackshaw" edited file "C:\ABlackshaw\Iraq - security.doc" Rev. #7: "ablackshaw" edited file "C:\ABlackshaw\A;Iraq - security.doc" Rev. #8: "ablackshaw" edited file "A:\Iraq - security.doc" Rev. #9: "MKhan" edited file "C:\TEMP\Iraq - security.doc" Rev. #10: "MKhan" edited file "C:\WINNT\Profiles\mkhan\Desktop\Iraq.doc"
Most Word document files contain a revision log which is a listing of the last 10 edits of a document, showing the names of the people who worked with the document and the names of the files that the document went under. Revision logs are hidden and cannot be viewed in Microsoft Word. However I wrote a small utility for extracting and displaying revision logs and other hidden information in Word .DOC files.
It is easy to spot the following four names in the revision log of the Blair dossier:P. HamillIn addition, the "cic22" in the first three entries of the revision log stands for "Communications Information Centre," a unit of the British Government.
Back in February, I passed along these 4 names to Dr. Rangwala who then provided them to a number of reports in the UK. One reporter quickly identified the four individuals as:Paul Hamill - Foreign Office officialDuring the week of June 23, 2003, the British Parliament held hearings of the Blair Dossier and other PR efforts by the UK Government leading up to the Iraq war. Alastair Campbell of the UK Communications Information Centre was put in the hot seat and had to explain the dossier plagiarism and details of the revision log.
John Pratt - Downing Street official
Alison Blackshaw - The personal assistant of the Prime Minister's press secretary
Murtaza Khan - Junior press officer for the Prime Minister
One of the interesting tidbits that came out of the hearings is that John Pratt provided the dossier on a floppy disk to Alison Blackshaw to give to Colin Powell for his presentation before the United Nations. The revision log shows the document being copied from Pratt's hard drive to a floppy disk in revisions #4 and #5.
The Word version of the dossier was recently removed from the 10 Downing Street Web site, but I archived a copy of the Feb. 6 version here:IRAQ - ITS INFRASTRUCTURE OF CONCEALMENT, DECEPTION AND INTIMIDATIONThe Blair government learned its lesson well with regard to publishing Microsoft Word documents. Another report on Iraq that was published in June 2003 was only available as a PDF file.
As a general rule, Word document files which are converted to RTF files, HTML files, or PDF files will not contain revision logs and other metadata.
LinksFrench translation of this articleCopyright (C) 2003 Richard M. Smith
Dr. Glen Rangwala's analysis of the Iraq dossier, Feb. 2003
Dr. Glen Rangwala's paper submitted to Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, June 16, 2003
Iraq's Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis, Sept. 2002
Downing St dossier plagiarised, Feb. 6, 2003
Britain Admits That Much of Its Report on Iraq Came From Magazines, Feb. 8, 2003
Straw's letter to WMD inquiry
Campbell: In the line of fire
The key backroom players
WD97: How to Minimize Metadata in Microsoft Word Documents
Dr. Glen Rangwala's Web site
10 Downing Street Web site
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