The Central Intelligence Agency maintains more than 10 million pages of declassified, post-World War II documents, covering everything from the birth of the CIA to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The documents are publicly available – assuming one is willing to drive to the National Archives complex in College Park, Maryland, sit at one of four computer terminals in the library, and print dozens, hundreds, or thousands of pages.
Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, argues that the documents, accessible through the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), should simply be put online, given their non-sensitive nature. “It’s the richest source of agency historical records in the public domain – except that it’s not fully in the public domain,” Aftergood said. Indeed, only document titles are available on the CIA’s Web site, though specific documents can be obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
In an e-mail, CIA spokeswoman Paula Weiss wrote, “When it comes to openness, our record is, quite frankly, unsurpassed among foreign intelligence agencies. As part of our continuing commitment to share this information, we’re looking into other ways of providing CREST documents.”
A number of compelling reports, including Tim Weiner’s celebrated CIA history, Legacy of Ashes, have come from CREST. But attempts to acquire the entire database under FOIA have failed, Aftergood said, with the CIA citing an exemption for “protection of intelligence sources and methods.”
Aftergood called this position “frivolous,” and said his group has nominated CREST as a “high-value” database worthy of inclusion on www.data.gov.
ABOUT THE DATA
What: More than 10 million declassified CIA documents
Where: National Archives, College Park, Maryland
Availability: Only document titles available on CIA Web site; documents themselves must be viewed in College Park or obtained through FOIA
Usability: Must print documents