For most Americans, the Central Intelligence Agency is an enigma. Founded in 1947 as a civilian foreign service that gathers intelligence for the highest echelons of American government, the name can evoke everything from assassination attempts to aliens and mind control. But though more than 12 million pages of declassified documents from the CIA have been publicly available since the 2000s, they’ve been hard to access. Until now: As Jason Leopold reports for BuzzFeed, the agency just put millions of declassified documents online for anyone to search and view.
They can be accessed through the CIA’s CREST (CIA Records Search Tool) archive. Hosted on the CIA website, the documents were declassified under an executive order that requires what the agency calls “nonexempt historically valuable records 25 years or older” to be released to the public. But despite the undeniable historical value of the documents, notes Leopold, those who wanted to access them could previously only do so at the National Archives on four designated computers available for just 7.5 hours a day.
For years, the agency has dragged its feet on making the documents more accessible. Journalist Michael Best even started a crowdfunded project to print out the entire database at the CIA’s expense and make them publicly accessible in a bid to make it cheaper for the CIA to simply put up an online database. After telling the public it would take 26 years to make the documents available, the CIA then revised its estimate to six years and finally put them online. "The hope was that the financial pressure, the negative press and making it not only a legal but a practical inevitability that these files would be put online would force the Agency to speed up their timetable,” wrote Best on his blog.
Now, anyone can browse the documents. “Access to this historically significant collection is no longer limited by geography,” CIA Director of Information Management Joseph Lambert said in a release. The redacted, declassified documents cover everything from intelligence reports to internal documents to items from the CIA’s predecessor agency, the Office of Strategic Services. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s papers are part of the archive, as are a myriad of other papers, reports, photos, articles and translations. Modern wars, terrorism, and even formulas for invisible ink can be found in the archive’s depths.
Perhaps the most fascinating documents now available are related to STAR GATE, a 25-year-long attempt to see if clairvoyants and psychics could be of use in military and intelligence operations. The database is riddled with the names of dictators like Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro, and contains details on overseas operations like the Berlin Tunnel, a joint CIA and British intelligence attempt to spy on Soviet Army communications from a 1,500-foot-long tunnel in Berlin. (There was just one problem: The Soviets knew about the project from the beginning. Nevertheless, the project garnered a huge amount of data.) And if you’re in the mood for aliens, you can browse through over 1,700 documents that contain the word “UFO.” The truth is out there—that is, if you can find it among the millions of pages now available to the public.