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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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2014 @ 9:21am

    I redacted some letters to my congressmen as part of DWFB. Turned the letter from one opposing mass surveillance into one supporting it. I sent them both

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2014 @ 9:26am

    Redacting 15% of the white on the paper or the amount of area within the letters, Bingo it's not actually a redaction they condensed the font to further utilize the sizing of the white lines between the text

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    bob, Aug 7th, 2014 @ 9:51am

    Mad libs anyone

    Okay I need the following:
    2 names

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2014 @ 11:08am

    Classic example of totally changing the meaning of a sentence. Just mouse over to reveal the redacted parts.

    Note: sense of humor advised

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2014 @ 11:14am



    Censorship is the restriction of expression for the purpose of protecting people from reality by selectively limiting access to various ideas deemed harmful by some authority.


    Censorship is protecting people from harm

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 7:44pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Eponymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2014 @ 12:35am

    An apt analogy...

    To me this redaction is tantamount to the CIA obscuring a crime scene they caused by 15% in which we can still tell a crime was commited, but they in effect hid the smoking gun.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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