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The CIA’s CREST database of declassified records is gradually being made publicly available online, thanks to the efforts of MuckRock, Michael Best and others. Prior to MuckRock’s lawsuit, CREST was *technically* available, but only Monday through Friday from 9 Am to 4:30 PM at the National Archives facility at the University of Maryland. Some CREST documents are already available from the CIA’s FOIA Reading Room — like the files of arch anti-communist George Wackenhut, founder of the Wackenhut private security corporation which maintained dossiers on 2.5 million suspected American dissidents — but it’s unclear how soon all of the CREST documents will be accessible. Estimates are a couple of months rather than the 28 years(!) the CIA originally said it’d take to process all of the files. Thanks to all for their perseverance in assuring that CIA declassified documents see the light of the Internet day!
So what *is* CREST? CREST is the CIA’s full-text searchable system of a subset of CIA records reviewed under the CIA’s 25-year declassification program (manually reviewed and released records are accessioned directly into the National Archives in their original format). So far over 775,000 files and over 13,000,000 pages have been declassified as part of the 25-year automatic declassification review period. According to the very handy context for the lawsuit and description of CREST by Michael Best, the database includes the following:
- Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s papers: 40,000 pages of newly declassified documents. The papers did not originate with CIA, but “contain many CIA equities.”
- Directorate of Science and Technology R&D: 20,000 pages
- Analytic intelligence publication files: Over 100,000 pages.
- News archives: The Agency collected a lot of news stories about themselves and the subjects they were interested in. Their news archive, much of which is included in CREST, contains many
Office of the DCI Collection (ODCI): 28,550 documents/129,000 pages from the records of the first five Directors of Central Intelligence: Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, General Walter “Bedell” Smith, Allen Dulles, John McCone, and Richard Helms. These records run from the beginning of CIA in 1947 through the late 1960s and include a wide variety of memos, letters, minutes of meetings, chronologies and related files from the Office of the DCI (ODCI) that document the high level workings of the CIA during its early years.
- Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Central Intelligence Bulletins: 8,800 documents/123,000 pages from a collection of daily Central Intelligence Bulletins (CIB), National Intelligence Bulletins (NIB) and National Intelligence Dailies (NID) running from 1951 through 1979. The CIBs/NIBs were published six days a week (Monday through Saturday) and were all source compilations of articles and consisting initially of short Daily Briefs and longer Significant Intelligence Reports and Estimates on key events and tops of the day. The CIBs/ NIBs were circulated to high level policy-makers in the US Government.
- General CIA Records: Records from the CIA’s archives that are 25 years old or older, including a wide variety of finished intelligence reports, field information reports, high-level Agency policy papers and memoranda, and other documents produced by the CIA.
- STAR GATE: A 25-year Intelligence Community effort that used remote viewers who claimed to use clairvoyance, precognition, or telepathy to acquire and describe information about targets that were blocked from ordinary perception. The records include documentation of remote viewing sessions, training, internal memoranda, foreign assessments, and program reviews.
- Consolidated Translations: Translated reports of foreign-language technical articles of intelligence interest, organized by author and each document covers a single subject.
- Scientific Abstracts: Abstracts of foreign scientific and technical journal articles from around the world.
- Ground Photo Caption Cards: Used to identify photographs in the NlMA ground photograph collection. Each caption card contains a serial number that corresponds to the identical serial number on a ground photograph. The master negatives of the ground photography collection have been accessioned separately to NARA. The caption cards provide descriptive information to help identify which master negatives researchers may wish to request.
- National Intelligence Survey: National Intelligence Survey gazetteers.
- NGA: Records from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, primarily photographic intelligence reports.
- Joint Publication Research Service: Provided translations of regional and topical issues in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
- Office of Strategic Services files: Documents from the OSS, CIA’s World War II predecessor.
Back in December, we wrote about how the CIA would be placing its previously-inaccessible CREST database online. The move was a response to our lawsuit, handled pro bono by with Kel McClanahan of National Security Counselors, as well as Mike Best’s diligence in trying to manually print and scan the archive.
Today, we’re happy to announce that all 25 years worth of declassified documents are now available – no trip to the National Archives required.
There are a couple of things that are troubling to me about this report:
- Agencies were asked to send proposals on management of email and CIA and DHS proposed to just delete them, regardless of their historical importance.
- The National Archives has already tentatively approved of the proposal
- The story goes on to note that 10 years ago, this proposal would have been applauded by privacy advocates!
- The letter sent to NARA from a group of senators interestingly notes that email is an essential search tool in “finding CIA records that may not exist in other so-called permanent records at the CIA.”
Usually, deleting emails is a no-fanfare, one-click affair — but not when you’re the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Homeland Security. Both agencies have recently submitted proposals to the National Archives and Records Administration that outline their plans to delete years’ worth of emails, which the Archives has already tentatively approved. The CIA apparently turned one in to comply with the administration’s directive, ordering federal agencies to conjure up viable plans to better manage government emails by 2016. If approved, all the correspondences of every person to ever be employed by the CIA will be flushed down the digital toilet three years after they leave. All messages older than seven years old will also be nuked, and only the digital missives of 22 top officials will be preserved — something which several senators do not want to happen.
Led by California Senator Dianne Fenstein, the group sent NARA a letter detailing why they want the Archives to reconsider its tentative approval of the CIA’s proposal. Based on what was written there, the senators seem concerned that the agency might use that opportunity to expunge any important correspondence or materials (say, any evidence of dubious activities) not filed as a permanent record.
[[Steven_Aftergood|Steven Aftergood]] over at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Project on Government Secrecy to (which you should all subscribe!) recently posted this CRS Report describing access to federal records over time as “increasingly complicated, costly, and potentially impossible.”
We really appreciate Mr Aftergood’s work over the years to shake loose and make publicly accessible government documents and especially CRS reports which are in the public domain but not distributed to the public or to FDLP libraries. Here’s more on CRS reports.
Thanks also to Sabrina Pacifici at the beSpacific blog for posting about it (and you should all subscribe to beSapcific too!).
Retaining and Preserving Federal Records in a Digital Environment: Background and Issues for Congress. Wendy Ginsberg, Analyst in American National Government. July 26, 2013
“All federal departments and agencies create federal records “in connection with the transaction of public business.” The Federal Records Act, as amended (44 U.S.C. Chapters 21, 29, 31, and 33), requires executive branch departments and agencies to collect, retain, and preserve federal records, which provide the Administration, Congress, and the public with a history of public-policy execution and its results. Increasing use of e-mail, social media, and other electronic media has prompted a proliferation of record creation in the federal government. The variety of electronic platforms used to create federal records, however, may complicate the technologies needed to capture and retain them. It is also unclear whether the devices and applications that agencies currently use to create and retain records will be viable in perpetuity—making access to federal records over time increasingly complicated, costly, and potentially impossible.”
Wade-Hahn Chan reported in Federal Computer Week this week that the first part of the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) will make its debut in September. ERA is the system that the National Archives is designing to preserve the federal government’s electronic records.
The first release, according to NARA CIO Martha Morphy, will allow federal agencies to transfer their electronic records directly to the ERA. Four agencies currently submit their records to NARA for archiving; in addition, NARA’s Electronic Records Management Initiative has provided all agencies with information on how to handle the formating of electronic documents.
The White House has requested a $12 million increase in the budget for ERA for FY2008. Speaking of the Bush administration, a second version of ERA will be developed for the George W. Bush Presidential Library to archive the administration’s electronic records. The FY2008 budget requests $38 million to archive these documents.