British Sunday broadsheet The Observer received record hits to its web site last week following the publication of a leaked document apparently showing that the US administration was spying on United Nations Security Council delegates.

The memorandum, allegedly written by an official at the National Security Agency (NSA), gives orders to increase surveillance on delegations from Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea and Pakistan.

It was published in full on the The Observer's web site on 2 March 2003. According to the Observer, the site received 964,373 page impressions on the Sunday and another 800,000 over the next three days, with newspapers across the world picking up the story.

"This shows how quickly the web disseminates information around the world," said the Observer's web site editor. "Immediately we publish something, it is picked up and commented on in any number of different forums."

Within hours of its publication, at least one US web site was implying that the document was an attempt to smear the US government. The Drudge Report, famous for breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal, pointed to inconsistencies in the spelling of some of the words in the document as evidence of its fabrication.

In fact, the Observer had merely Anglicised some of the American spellings. These were subsequently restored to their original.


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