America’s spies have their own version of Wikipedia — here’s what it looks like

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Reuters

America’s spies have their own version of Wikipedia, except it’s for top-secret stuff the public doesn’t get to see.

We were recently reminded of the wiki, called Intellipedia, after the website MuckRock published a story earlier this month about an entry for the fictional Key West “Conch Republic,” which it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The system has been in use since late 2005, when the CIA piloted the effort. Since then, all 16 US intelligence agencies have come onboard to view and edit collaborative wikis, which have three different versions: top secret, secret, and sensitive but unclassified.

You need valid credentials to access the system, which means it’s off-limits to the general public. But there have been plenty of FOIA requests to various agencies for entries over the years.

Here’s what the system looks like:


Before you can access Intellipedia, you need to log in to the Intelink website, which warns you that it’s an official US government server. If you try to access the site without authorization, it says, you might be criminally prosecuted.

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Intelink.gov

There are a couple of options for logging in: If you have the proper VPN, you can log in remotely over the internet, or you can use a CAC, or common access card, inserted into your workstation’s card reader to verify you.

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Kemberly Groue/US Air Force

Google supplies the search software and servers that make up the Intellipedia network, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. It’s handling plenty of traffic, with the top-secret Intellipedia version seeing the most use.

Source: SF Chronicle/MuckRock


Statistics released via FOIA requests in 2014 showed the top-secret version had 255,402 registered users. That wiki had 113,379 entries with more than 290 million page views and 6.2 million edits.

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REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Of course, we’re blocked from logging in. But FOIA requests for entries and some publicly available screenshots can at least show us a little bit of what’s inside.

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Nicholas Carlson

On the real Wikipedia, some users have uploaded unclassified screenshots of the system, which looks near identical to the real thing. The biggest difference: the big, colored bars indicating the classification of the entry.

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Wikimedia Commons

Through a MuckRock FOIA request, we can see what the entry for the Conch Republic looks like.

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MuckRock

It looks a lot like Wikipedia’s own entry, which is not surprising. As MuckRock notes, it’s basically a word-for-word copy-and-paste job. Though we must admit, it’s kind of weird that US intelligence agencies have information about a place that doesn’t even exist.

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Wikipedia

The spy version is a bit different, as the Intellipedia manual explains.

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The Black Vault

Unlike normal Wikipedia, the top and bottom portion of each entry has classification markings, like this one marked ‘unclassified.’ There are also portions marked ‘(U),’ which means the same. The entry on the Conch Republic was accessed 763 times.

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MuckRock

We really hope this isn’t an indication of any covert action being carried out at Sloppy Joe’s Bar.

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iStock / Rauluminate

The entry for Vatican City, which has been accessed more than 10,000 times, is quite different from the playful page for Conch Republic. Instead, it goes straight to what intel analysts would want to know: threats.

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MuckRock

Another website, called The Black Vault, has been submitting FOIA requests for Intellipedia entries for many years. Its creator, John Greenewald, has published entries he’s obtained about subjects like the Bay of Pigs invasion, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and UFOs.

Source: The Black Vault


This is what Intellipedia says about the Bay of Pigs, the failed invasion of Cuba by CIA-backed paramilitaries, which greatly embarrassed Kennedy in the 1960s. The entry was previously marked ‘secret.’

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The Black Vault

While some conspiracy theorists believe the CIA had a hand in Kennedy’s assassination, don’t expect Intellipedia to back up that view. The entry focuses on the CIA’s investigation of whether the president’s murder was a KGB plot.

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The Black Vault

Intellipedia doesn’t say much about UFOs either. This one photo is the entire entry.

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The Black Vault

Greenewald says on The Black Vault that he received responses of ‘no records’ when he asked for entries on topics like the B-21 bomber, anything on the hacker Guccifer, or ‘paranormal.’

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John Moore/Getty Images

But we’d be most interested to see how the top-secret version of the Edward Snowden entry turns out. A 2014 FOIA request returned only a blank page.

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MuckRock