Feb. 10, 2012 at 4:47 PM ET
Updated at 11:45 p.m. ET: cia.gov is back up, although it is loading slowly, about nine hours after it was reported to be down, followed shortly by a claim that the hacker group Anonymous was responsible.
Updated at 7:10 p.m. ET: cia.gov remains inaccessible four hours after it was first reported to be down, followed shortly by a claim that the hacker group Anonymous was responsible. As security experts have noted, that's an unusually long time if the attack really is a straightforward DDoS assault.
Meanwhile, the Anonymous Twitter account that set off the original round of reports has tweeted a follow-up that bolsters our original report (below) that the attack could have been launched by Anonymous or simply by "elements claiming to be part of it":
Updated at 6 p.m. ET: cia.gov remains inaccessible, about three hours after it was first reported to be down. Meanwhile, the Alabama Department of Homeland Security says any "comment would be premature at this time" because it was an "ongoing investigation," The Birmingham News reports.
Updated at 5:28 p.m. ET: Jennifer Youngblood, a spokeswoman for the CIA, tells CNN the agency is "looking into these reports."
Original post: The hacker group Anonymous, or elements claiming to be part of it, claimed it launched an ambitious set of attacks Friday, saying it had taken down the CIA's website and had harvested the personal information of 46,000 people in Alabama.
Neither claim could immediately be confirmed, but the CIA's site remained unavailable late Friday afternoon.
An Anonymous member tweeted CIA TANGO DOWN, using a military expression for the killing of an important target:
(Don't worry; the shortened link takes you to a safe news report on the incident.)
Gizmodo quoted a member of Anonymous as saying the CIA was under a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, by a group of anti-pedophile hackers.
In a further indication that the group could be stepping up its generally anti-bureaucracy, pro-open-Internet approach, Anonymous separately claimed responsibility for an attack on Alabama government servers, saying it had harvested the personal information — including dates of birth, Social Security numbers and criminal records — for 46,000 state residents.
In an Internet post that msnbc.com is not linking to, the Anonymous operative said the attack was launched in opposition to "recent racist legislation in an attempt to punish immigrants as criminals."
That appears to be a reference to a law Gov. Robert Bentley signed in June that has been called the nation's toughest immigration legislation. The posting linked to an msnbc.com story from September in which state officials promised to fully enforce the new law.
The post said the personal data would be deleted. But it did publish edited samples from 500 residents as proof of its claim — something Anonymous isn't known to have done before when the information involved private individuals, rather than government or police officials.
The attack resembles one that Anonymous claimed Tuesday night, when the Salt Lake City, Utah, police website went down under a DDoS campaign. A purported Anonymous member told NBC station KSL that that attack harvested phone numbers, addresses and email addresses of police officers and officials, as well as information on drug operations, suppliers, license plate numbers and more.
That attack came a day after yet another similar attack on a website for the West Virginia Chiefs of Police Association. The same Anonymous group that claimed Friday's CIA attack — calling itself CabinCr3w — claimed responsibility harvesting the personal information of more than 150 police officers.