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How to find declassified CIA documents?

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is one of the most well-known secret service agencies globally, and not most of you might be aware that it declassified 930,000 documents containing 12 million pages.

These documents include the CIA’s take on UFO sightings, documents related to the 9/11 attack, Stargate (studying human telepathy), and other controversial files relating to interrogation techniques, as well as Project MK Ultra — CIA’s mind-controlling experiments on humans.

All declassified documents are available for public perusal on their website under the title: ‘Central Intelligence Agency’s Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room.’

Before the website, a CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) was available to the public, but one of the major drawbacks was that to access these records, one would need to visit the National Archives Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, between 9 am to 4:30 pm.

But in January 2017, all of the CREST archives were put online for easier access to the public.

Update: CIA has shifted its declassified documents library to this Reading Room link and have made it all the more difficult to browse and find several files mentioned in this report. We’ll update the links for the declassified files mentioned below soon.

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But why were these documents declassified?

How to access declassified CIA documents: 25-year CREST archives
CIA HQ

In April 1995, US President Bill Clinton directed agencies (under Executive Order 12958) to automatically declassify documents that were 25 years or older unless exempted. This order was implemented later after the amendment (Executive Order 13526) on December 31, 2006.

Called ‘CREST: The 25-Year Program Archive’, the database covered documents dating from the time of CIAs inception in 1947 till 1981, when it was implemented in 2006.

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What kind of documents are declassified?

“Do UFOs fascinate you? Are you a history buff who wants to learn more about the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam or the A-12 Oxcart? Have stories about spies always fascinated you? You can find information about all of these topics and more in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Electronic Reading Room,” reads the CIA website library containing the declassified documents.

The documents in the archives include the following collections, among others:


How to access declassified CIA documents?

Step 1: Go to the online library of the CIA and click on ‘Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room‘ on the left side of the page.

How to access declassified CIA documents: 25-year CREST archives

Step 2: On the next page, click on ‘CREST: 25-Year Program Archive, located on the left sidebar.

How to access declassified CIA documents: 25-year CREST archives

A drop-down list will appear, and you can select and read about any topic of your choice. You can also click on ‘Historical Collections‘ (located just above CREST) to access documents from the 1950s through the early 90s.

“Access to this historically significant collection is no longer limited by geography. The American public can access these documents from the comfort of their homes,” said Joseph Lambert, the CIA Director of Information Management, during the website’s unveiling on January 17, 2017.

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