Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/Academy/Declassified documents
|This page is part of the Military history WikiProject's online Academy, and contains instructions, recommendations, or suggestions for editors working on military history articles.
While it is not one of the project's formal guidelines, editors are encouraged to consider the advice presented here in the course of their editing work.
Let me offer some suggestions on finding declassified, or sometimes just administratively controlled, documents online, including a few tricks to make them more readable. I;l also mention a few places, with caveats as appropriate, where there often are reliable leaks. If anyone has suggestions on other countries, I'd be delighted to see them.
One general suggestion: when searching on Google, etc., I find the quality of a first search improves tremendously, and doesn't pick up tinfoil hat conspiracies or third-hand summaries, if you search on full titles of agencies, documents, etc. For example, search on "Central Intelligence Agency" for your first try, not CIA.
- 1 United States
- 1.1 Foreign Relations of the United States
- 1.2 George Washington University National Security Archive
- 1.3 Federation of American Scientists
- 1.4 Global Security.org
- 1.5 Cryptome.org
- 1.6 Central Intelligence Agency
- 1.7 National Security Agency
- 2 Canada
- 3 United Kingdom
- 4 Australia
If you find material excised/not declassified/redacted, etc., don't give up. The National Security Archive (below) is especially good at pointing out that something censored out of one document may be in another, which will have different deletions. They, the Federation of American Scientists, and other groups will often appeal deletions. If they lose the appeal, they may still have some very informed speculation on the page. In some cases, they have filed appeal after appeal, and won after a number of years, so if what you want was redacted, check back periodically.
Foreign Relations of the United States
These are official records, put out by the Historian of the Department of State: http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/frus.html. The earlier ones are in hard copy only, but the more recent ones are online and decently put into machine-readable text -- possibly by hand, but if scanned, very well edited. A given document may have sections not declassified. You are more likely to find a document with a general-purpose search engine than by using theirs.
It may seem that FRUS is mostly chronological by Presidential Administration, but that can be misleading. Periodically, they will put out a volume of long-classified material, such as the approval process for covert actions, that covers several administrations but is well over 25, and sometimes 50, years old.
One annoying part of their user interface is that you'll get a summary page and index of the documents, and then you have to jump to a section of it, all in PDF. When you hit "back" on your browser, it takes you to the top of the index page, and you have to scroll back down to get to the desired section. If you think you will keep going to that section, bookmark it.
George Washington University National Security Archive
There will be excellent summaries of the overall area being discussed, comments on documents, and, if there are various releases of the same document, with different declassifications, those documents will be grouped together. Link: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/index.html
My biggest complaint is that they scan documents into PDF, but do not do Optical Character Recognition. I need to get an OCR program that works well on PDF. Any suggestions, especially freeware/shareware?
Federation of American Scientists
FAS is an excellent resource, but its focus has changed over the years. It used to carry detailed military information, but John Pike, who maintained that part, moved off and founded http://www.globalsecurity.org/. AFAIK, it was a friendly parting.
Their search engine could be better; it's usually best to hunt around manually. ePrints and "hot documents" often are not available elsewhere.
Secrecy News and Steven Aftergood
I strongly recommend subscribing to Secrecy News, edited by Steven Aftergood, who has an excellent reputation in Washington both for testimony on excessive secrecy, and The Secrecy News Blog is at: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/ To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, go to: http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/subscribe.html Secrecy News is archived at: http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/index.html
While Congressional Research Service reports are not classified, they are not yet routinely made available. Aftergood usually has relevant ones on his website a few days after release.
This is less a site for declassified materials, and more references for military and intelligence systems: http://www.globalsecurity.org/ Pike doesn't seem to update as often as when he was at FAS.
Regard this as a leak site, expect to find quite a few conspiracy theories, but also a lot of solid content. http://www.cryptome.org
Central Intelligence Agency
There are several public areas, some easier to read than others.
Center for the Study of Intelligence
Great material herehttps://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/index.html, although, again, some of it is hard to retrieve unless you know where to look. It is a good area to read and sample, but if you want to find something in their in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, go to the operations index page for it: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/subjectII.htm. I don't think the analysis index page works yet, but I'd be happy to be wrong.
I had a confusing email exchange with them on how to convert volume numbers to years. If anyone can figure it out definitively, please post it here. They seem to have two volumes per year of Studies in Intelligence, but it's not totally clear as to the year in which their first volume was issued. I think the declassified and originally unclassified version volume numbers are the same, but I'm not certain.
FOIA Reading Room
This is driven by their search engine, and you need to have a good idea what you want to find. Code words help. For example, not everything declassified that came from Oleg Penkovsky will come up on a name search; you should also search under the code name for his materials, IRONBARK.
I don't know if they deliberately made their document reader hard to use, or it was bad programming. For some obscure reason, it doesn't show full pages, just half pages down which you must scroll, and then click to the next page. There is a feature to print entire documents, and what I usually do is print to a file, which I then read. I'll use Microsoft Office's document imaging tool, which does create huge files; be aware of your disk space.
National Security Agency
They have a History section at http://www.nsa.gov/history/, which tends to long but detailed historical volumes, usually originally prepared for internal use at the TOP SECRET/CCO level, and then selectively declassified. Other volumes, especially the older histories, started out declassified. Other documents are available in hard copy only, but they will mail them if you call them or request them by email. I'm not sure if they will send them outside the US.
Both the CIA and NSA history people are very nice if you phone them; I've had better luck with the phone than email.
Canada seems to be the country that tries to classify as little as possible.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Publications index page: http://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/en/publications/publications.asp. This is the English version; there is also a comparable set in French, sometimes available from the same page and sometimes, I'm told, one needs to go back to the home page and select French.
The Australian War Memorial is currently digitalising its massive holdings of Australian Army war diaries and placing them online at  While these are obviously primary sources and need to be used with care (especially as they're not always accurate) they're a great resource. --Nick Dowling