Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Oil-for-Food Inquiry Report On-line

In February I attended a hearing of the "Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food Programme" and made some comments on its use of IT. The final report of the inquiry has been released on-line. This report consists of five PDF files (with a HTML version promised "soon"):
  1. Summary, recommendations and background 346 pages 3231 KB
  2. Negotiations and sales, July 1999 - December 2000 463 pages 1791 KB)
  3. Sales, allegations and inquiries, January 2001 - December 2005 432 pages 2590 KB
  4. Findings 396 pages 1417 KB
  5. Appendices 428 pages 21960 KB
These are very efficiently encoded PDF files (about 10 to 50 kbytes per A4 page) and downloaded very quickly. A table of contents has been included for fast access to sections.

Unfortunately the inquiry chose to turn on the PDF security option which stops content copying or extraction. The effect of this is to make it difficult to copy sections of the report for reporting and analysis. They have allowed content extraction for access by the disabled. Attempting to stop coping sections of the report provides no real security and will just make harder accurate reporting and analysis. I have suggested to the Inquiry that security should be removed, especially if an unsecured HTML version is to be provided "soon".

This is one of the first major inquiries of the Internet age. Many of the revelations occurred due to email messages discovered by the inquiry staff and the word "email" occurs 68 times in Volume 1. The evidence is available on-line in electronic format and should provide a very useful resource for scholars, as well as journalists.

Curiously the word "Internet" only occurs once in the summary of the report and the inquiry seems dismissive of its importance saying "All they has was a database of prior contacts and the capacity to use the internet to make any other inquiries". Even at the time referred to (1999), the Internet was a powerful open source intelligence tool.

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