CIA to put millions of declassified documents online

The intelligence agency is shifting its collection of declassified documents from an offline National Archives workstation to the public-facing CIA.gov website.

Shutterstock image: digital record overlay.

The CIA is in the process of migrating more than 11 million pages of previously declassified documents to its public CIA.gov website, an action that open-government proponents have been advocating for years.

In 2000, the agency created the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), which is an electronic database of documents declassified under a Clinton administration executive order calling for the declassification of historically valuable records that are 25 years old or older.

However, CREST came under immediate criticism for being housed and accessible only at the National Archives and Records Administration facility in College Park, Md. In other words, although the documents had technically been publicly released, it was not possible to search them without traveling to the NARA complex.

“The migration is certainly a welcome move, especially if the existing search functionality -- which is quite good -- is retained on the new site,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy and a longtime critic of CREST being kept off-line.

CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu confirmed that the search functionality will be retained. “When loaded on the website, the documents will be full-text searchable and have the same features currently available on the CREST system at NARA,” he said. “This will dramatically increase the ability of the public to access these documents.”

Liu added that “the CREST database housed at NARA will remain up and running at least until the website is fully functioning.” He did not provide a time frame for when the new website would be available, saying only that the agency is “moving out on the plan to make the transition.”

CIA officials did not say why they chose to make the move, but Aftergood believes the agency simply ran out of reasons not to.

“There has been a drumbeat of public demand for access to these soft-copy records for a decade or longer,” he said.

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