How Redacting 'Just 15%' Can Hide The Details Of CIA's Torture Program

from the here's-an-example dept

As the fight over the redactions on the CIA torture report continue, it’s worth reminding folks how you can totally change the story with just a few well placed redactions. Director of National Intelligence has insisted that just 15% was redacted — though, as Marcy Wheeler points out, the part that’s being declassified is just the exec summary, which was written specifically to get around the redactor’s ink, since the details are buried in the full report, which will likely remain classified for a while. In other words, the vast, vast majority of the report is still “redacted.” Still, even a 15% redaction can do a lot of damage and hide a lot of facts. Senator Mark Udall has made it clear that the existing redactions make parts of the report “incomprehensible” in an effort to hide embarrassing information from the public.

Reed Richardson decided to do a fairly simple demonstration to show just how much a 15% redaction can bury key points. He took President Obama’s statement about how “we tortured some folks” and redacted “just 15%” of it (though such that if you look closely, you can see what’s covered). Notice how the key elements — the admission of torture — simply fade away…

Richardson told me the whole exercise took less than 10 minutes, demonstrating just how easy it is to distort a report based on a few strategic redactions.

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Comments on “How Redacting 'Just 15%' Can Hide The Details Of CIA's Torture Program”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Citing Uncyclopedia as comment on censorship? Deliciously ironic

…because, in its infinite evil, Wikia has censored the Uncyclopedia in its entirety – shitcanning the entire wiki in a couple of dozen languages. See for the details.

…or try as maybe that one’s still up. 🙂

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:


15% is approximately 1 in 6; so basically one word in every sentence of 6 words. In any given sentence, there is a noun or two (subject, object), a verb, and other words that could be loosely grouped as “qualifiers”.

To destroy the value of the sentence, only one of the major words must be removed:

Johnny ate the bright red apple.

Critical words removed:
XXXXXX ate the bright red apple.
Johnny XXXXXX the bright red apple.
Johnny ate the bright red XXXXXX.

So I would expect 15% redactions to remove the sense of pretty much anything.

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