The Central Intelligence Agency dumped a huge trove of Osama bin Laden documents on Wednesday, but they didn’t stay online for long.
The CIA’s trove of 470,000 of the al-Qaeda leader’s files had become unavailable by Thursday evening and was still offline as of Monday morning.
Reached for comment on Friday, a spokesperson for the CIA’s Office of Media Affairs said the issue was a technical one and that the agency expected for it to be fixed soon, though it didn’t have a set timetable. The office didn't respond to a request for comment Saturday.
“It could be technical, or it could be that they discovered something that shouldn’t have been released and are re-scrubbing,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. “It's very strange that it's been down for days."
The files, which the CIA said in its release had long been available to members of the intelligence community, provide evidence that bin Laden, despite a life declaring himself at war with the West, had an affinity for its pop culture. Despite not having an internet connection, his hard drives were filled with viral videos like “Charlie Bit My Finger” and a dubbed clip of the British comedy show "Mr. Bean."
Though it’s the final archive of documents taken from bin Laden’s compound, it’s the first one hosted by the CIA itself. Previously, released files are hosted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
All together, the fileset is 332 GB, said Emma Best, a national security journalist and digital archivist who scraped the files before they became unavailable. Best created a zipped file of the release, which is now available at the Internet Archive once.
Despite the long wait time, it’s feasible that the CIA’s public-facing site was simply unprepared for such a gigantic fileset that would be visited by large numbers of people, said Jason Scott, a curator at the Internet Archive.
“I will tell you that when the CIA (or most companies) put out a larger dataset of any amount (even as ‘small’ as a few hundred megs) and it in any way goes viral, especially in a media link, it will often just crush their infrastructure,” Scott told BuzzFeed News. "Even Internet Archive has stuff we need to do when something is a hit. I've crushed IA before and downloading is all we do!”
“We are unquestionably outsiders trying to speculate, but I doubt it's ‘oh no, we didn't expect this level of scrutiny’ and more ‘oh crap, that was way more downloads than expected,’” he said.
Kevin Collier is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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