Sept. 11 pager messages published online

The pager message is from a woman near a pay phone near 38th Street in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. The woman says her children were evacuated, but she's trying to find them. She tells her husband she loves him.

It's one of more than half a million Sept. 11 pager messages obtained by secret document publisher Wikileaks, all of which are gradually being published on the Internet Wednesday. Wikileaks hopes that they will shed some light on the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, an incident that continues to arouse heated debate in the U.S.

"This is a historic day ... and a day that has a lot of historic questions," said Daniel Schmitt, a Wikileaks spokesman. "So whatever helps to understand what happened on that day is important for everyone."

"It's a precise second-by-second record of how the event unfolded," he said.

Wikileaks began publishing the messages at 3 a.m. ET on Wednesday and will release them in small batches for about 24 hours, Schmitt said. The group hopes that posting them in increments will make the messages easier to analyze.

Many of the messages were sent by people operating in some sort of official capacity -- emergency responders, IT staffers and members of the military -- Schmitt said. "The ratio of official information in that capacity is quite high," Schmitt said. "You can see JP Morgan systems going down, Goldman Sachs systems going down … all these people being called into conference calls."

Pagers were widely used to send text messages in the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s, but they have now been eclipsed by the mobile-phone networks' SMS (short message service) system. Unlike parts of the mobile networks, however, pager networks kept functioning during the Sept. 11 attacks.

In total, Wikileaks will publish 573,000 pager messages sent nationwide over four carriers: SkyTel, Metrocall, WebLink and Arch (the last three are now owned by USA Mobility).

The messages were handed over to Wikileaks by an anonymous source. It's not clear how they were obtained, but Schmitt says that this is one of the more worrying aspects of the leak: the fact that this pager information is being logged by someone and is obtainable.

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