The CIA has posted almost 10 million pages of its records online. Anyone with an internet connection can go through the files to excavate 50 years’ worth of declassified intelligence reports and briefings.
The CIA aims to improve transparency
Joseph Lambert, the CIA’s director of information management, told BuzzFeed that all the documents have not been released, but no documents were reclassified before CREST’s online appearance.
“This is one of the things that we think improves transparency for us, and it’s a simple thing” to make information “more widely available,” Lambert told Bloomberg.
Lambert stated that the CIA is focusing on emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning tools in order to process the staggering amount of documents. This requires assessing whether the release of any particular information would affect national security and redacting sensitive names and details.
“It’s a difficult endeavor to make sure that you can put together the right technologies to assist a human being going forward to scale to hundreds of millions of pages,” Lambert said.
A brief scan of the database can open some attractive pieces of information about world-changing events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis or Bay of Pigs invasion. Also there are details about some of the CIA’s most secretive projects, such as MK Ultra. The uploaded files also include discussions about the assassination of Fidel Castro, details of war crimes and also reports about UFO spottings. There is also a study on human telepathy called “Project Star Gate,” notes The Verge.
CIA database in demand
CREST — the CIA’s database — has been in the news every now and then as journalists, researchers and academics have demanded that it be made public. Non-profit organization MuckRock filed a Freedom of Information case against the database in 2014. However, the CIA responded to it by saying that it would take about six years and would be possible to deliver it on 1,200 CDs for a price of $108,000.
In November, the time frame and the cost were sharply lowered when the agency stated that CREST will be available to everyone within the next year.
Also then-President Bill Clinton ordered the CIA to declassify the secret documents that were older than 25 years and of historical value. However, the agency did not make archives searchable until 2000. Even then, documents from between the 1940s and the 1990s could only be accessed from four computers at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and it could only be accessible between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., notes The Verge.