Millions of top-secret CIA documents have been posted online, making them accessible to the public in an unprecedented move. The now declassified documents are a part of the agency's Crest database, otherwise known as the CIA Records Search Tool. Nearly 13 million pages of classified "historically valuable" CIA records, covering a wide variety of issues and events are now available online.
The move comes after MuckRock – a nonprofit which helps people file Freedom of Information Act Requests (FoI) – sued the CIA in 2014, claiming that the Crest database, which was made public in 1995 by an executive presidential order by the-then President Bill Clinton, was "technically public, but in practice largely inaccessible."
This was because the database could only be accessed via 4 computers at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, during limited business hours, according to a report by Motherboard.
The now-declassified documents, spanning the agency's activities from the 1940s to the 1990s, covers records such as the CIA's R&D documents, scientific research papers, intelligence reports, news archives and more.
"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," Joseph Lambert, the CIA's director of information management told Bloomberg.
Why and how CIA documents were put online
Following MuckRock's lawsuit, the CIA's previous estimate that claimed it would take almost 28 years to process and upload files was slashed to six years. Meanwhile journalist Michael Best, who frequently used MuckRock's services, launched an independent Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to manually scan and copy all of CIA's Crest records.
Given that the CIA reportedly does not charge for printer paper and toner, Best hoped that his campaign would propel the CIA to speed up the process, especially given the financial loss they would face every time researchers came in to manually copy and print records.
"The hope was that the financial pressure, the negative press and making it not only a legal but a practical inevitability that these files would be put online would force the Agency to speed up their timetable," Best wrote in a blog, adding, "CIA isn't doing this out of the goodness of their hearts."
The CIA eventually succumbed to growing pressure and in October 2016 agreed to upload the records online as soon as possible.
What information do the records contain?
The records feature the agency's activities through the Vietnam, Korean and Cold War conflicts and also contains documents relating to the agency's "Star Gate" program which investigates so-called potential psychic abilities and whether they can be utilised operationally.
The documents also contain Henry Kissinger's papers, translated reports from foreign intelligence services, CIA policy and memoranda documents and even documents relating to UFO sightings.
"None of this is cherry-picked," said CIA spokesperson Heather Fritz Horniak, CNN reported. "It's the full history. It's good and bads."
However, the archive does not contain any newly declassified documents. Moreover, although most of the documents have been declassified, there are some which come with redactions. According to Horniak, the redactions were made to protect sources and methods, which could potentially pose a threat to national security.
The CIA's documents can be accessed here.