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Microsoft Word bytes Tony Blair in the butt

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  • Microsoft Word bytes Tony Blair in the butt

    Blair's Iraq Dossier

    Richard M. Smith ([email protected])
    June 30, 2003

    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:

    Blair'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 ( and found the following revision log in the file:

    Rev. #1: "cic22" edited file "C:\DOCUME~1\phamill\LOCALS~1\Temp\AutoRecover y save of Iraq - security.asd"
    Rev. #2: "cic22" edited file "C:\DOCUME~1\phamill\LOCALS~1\Temp\AutoRecover y save of Iraq - security.asd"
    Rev. #3: "cic22" edited file "C:\DOCUME~1\phamill\LOCALS~1\Temp\AutoRecover y 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. Hamill
    J. Pratt
    A. Blackshaw
    M. Khan

    In 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 official
    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

    During 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.

    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:


    The 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.

    French translation of this article

    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,00.html

    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

    Copyright (C) 2003 Richard M. Smith
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