Truth to Power

What is the CIA hiding in Maryland?

Inside the CIA’s (Sort of) Secret Document Stash

In a quiet, fluorescently lit room in the National Archives’ auxiliary campus in suburban College Park, Maryland, 10 miles outside of Washington, are four computer terminals, each providing instant access to the more than 10 million pages of documents the CIA has declassified since 1995. There’s only one problem: these are the only publicly available computers in the world that do so. At a time when Google is scanning and posting the contents of entire libraries to the Web, the agency refuses to link this large collection of documents–accessible through the CIA Records Search Tool, or CREST–to the Internet. This has effectively placed the CIA’s declassified library beyond the reach of most Americans. So is the agency covering up what it has already uncovered?

CIA officials also believe that even sanitized documents, if made available online, could potentially compromise “sources and methods.” The fear is that foreign spies, utilizing the so-called “mosaic principle,” could piece together fragments of information from a wide range of declassified sources to make deductions about ongoing intelligence operations. But according to Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, such concerns are overblown. “The CIA tends to censor documents so heavily that I just don’t believe that there is much left even for a professional intelligence analyst to work with,” he says. “I think it’s a spurious, reflexive response that can’t be taken seriously.” </em>

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