Unlocking history at State
- By Dan Carney
- Jun 11, 2001
The State Department's archives include more than 25 million records of
telegram e-mail messages to and from the department's field offices around
the world since 1973. The content ranges from the mundane a 1975 record
of the embassy in Suriname receiving a new Dodge truck was an example shown
during a recent demonstration to exotic, top-secret, we'd-tell-you-but-we'd-have-to-kill-you
The department's challenge is separating the wheat from the chaff when
looking for specific items in the huge database. The department's Office
of Information Resources Management Programs and Services (IPS) is charged
with providing information sought under the Freedom of Information Act and
with determining when documents can be declassified and released to the
The professional searchers who look for data in the State Archiving
System use an advanced records-searching capability that helps them quickly
find relevant information.
The State searchers use Verity Inc.'s Information Server software, with
a sophisticated interface to perform complex searches. "Anything you read
in the Washington Post or New York Times or see on CNN that is attributed
to the State Department, chances are, somewhere in this department, we are
researching that data," said an IPS team member, who spoke on condition
The department also maintains a publicly accessible database (foia.state.gov)
that uses the same Verity search technology, but through a simplified interface
to accommodate computer novices and people who speak little English.
Before the adoption of the Verity search software, one could search
the telegram records only by their assigned number, the subject line, and
the Traffic Analysis Geography or Subject information. Now, the entire database
is searchable by text, date, sender or recipient, classification ("top secret,"
for example) and many other parameters.
The system returns results quickly. During the demonstration, a search
for information about Suriname from 1975 was quickly narrowed in scope to
a half- million records. A few seconds later, the search was narrowed further
and the results were in: It seems that as pleased as the embassy workers
were to have a new truck, they really wished Dodge would hurry up and ship
an air conditioner for it as soon as possible.