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CIA finally declassifies last WWI era classified documents

So the CIA just got around to declassifying 6 of the U.S.’s oldest classified documents from WWI (1917 + 1918). They’ve posted them in their CIA FOIA reading room and the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) at the National Archives (but to use CREST, a researcher must physically be present at the National Archives, College Park, Maryland :-|). That also means that the documents will also soon be available at the archive-it FOIA collection (I’m harvesting them as we speak ;-)).

These documents, which describe secret writing techniques and are housed at the National Archives, are believed to be the only remaining classified documents from the World War I era. Documents describing secret writing fall under the CIA’s purview to declassify.

“These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent advancements in technology made it possible to release them,” CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said. “When historical information is no longer sensitive, we take seriously our responsibility to share it with the American people.”

One document outlines the chemicals and techniques necessary for developing certain types of secret writing ink and a method for opening sealed letters without detection. Another memorandum dated June 14, 1918 – written in French – reveals the formula used for German secret ink.

“The CIA recognizes the importance of opening these historical documents to the public,” said Joseph Lambert, the Agency’s Director of Information Management Services. “In fiscal year 2010 alone, the Agency declassified and released over 1.1 million pages of documents.”These documents, which describe secret writing techniques and are housed at the National Archives, are believed to be the only remaining classified documents from the World War I era. Documents describing secret writing fall under the CIA’s purview to declassify.

“These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent advancements in technology made it possible to release them,” CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said. “When historical information is no longer sensitive, we take seriously our responsibility to share it with the American people.”

One document outlines the chemicals and techniques necessary for developing certain types of secret writing ink and a method for opening sealed letters without detection. Another memorandum dated June 14, 1918 – written in French – reveals the formula used for German secret ink.

“The CIA recognizes the importance of opening these historical documents to the public,” said Joseph Lambert, the Agency’s Director of Information Management Services. “In fiscal year 2010 alone, the Agency declassified and released over 1.1 million pages of documents.”

Declassified CIA documents (all pdf):

This was such cool news that Rachel Maddow went gaga over the news!


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[HT to Gary Price for posting CIA Declassifies Oldest Documents in U.S. Government Collection (1917 + 1918), View Them Online on InfoDocket. Thanks Gary!]

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2 Comments

  1. jajacobs says:

    Thanks for this!

    Steven Aftergood expands on this story:

    http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2011/04/cia_wwi.html

    But there are a few things the CIA news release did not say.

    These World War I documents remained classified not because they were forgotten or overlooked, but because the CIA had vigorously opposed their release. In response to a 1998 FOIA lawsuit brought by the James Madison Project, the CIA argued that “some of the methods described in the documents in question are still used by the CIA, and that third parties inimical to the interests of the United States may not know which of the [invisible ink] formulas are still considered reliable by the CIA and approved for use by its agents.” In 2002, a federal court accepted that argument and ruled in favor of the CIA, affirming the secrecy of the documents.

    …An alternate explanation for the new release is that the records were subject to a pending mandatory declassification review (MDR) request by attorneys Mark Zaid and Kel McClanahan. If CIA had continued to deny disclosure of the documents, that request could have been referred to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, which has been known to view extreme secrecy claims with skepticism, and often to overturn them.

  2. jrjacobs says:

    thanks for the further context on this. I guess mandatory declassification review is like a parole board.

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