12 Million Declassified CIA Documents Now Free Online: Secret Tunnels, UFOs, Psychic Experiments & More

Image by Duff­man, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

“The Unit­ed States Gov­ern­ment has not yet made any offi­cial reply to the Sovi­et and East Ger­man alle­ga­tions and protests con­cern­ing the 300-yard tun­nel that Amer­i­can intel­li­gence oper­a­tives are said to have built under­neath the bor­der between West and East Berlin for espi­onage pur­pos­es,” says a Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle from 1956 head­lined “The Tun­nel of Love.” The Com­mu­nists’ excite­ment about their dis­cov­ery even had them con­duct­ing “spe­cial pro­pa­gan­da tours through the tun­nel and to have exhib­it­ed the wire­tap­ping and oth­er record­ing appa­ra­tus that the Amer­i­cans are sup­posed to have installed inside it.”

This amus­ing chap­ter of Cold War his­to­ry might have seemed, to Amer­i­ca at the time, like the kind of foiled effort — though one of an inge­nu­ity admired on both sides of the Iron Cur­tain — best buried at the back of the espi­onage archives. But now, thanks to an exec­u­tive order requir­ing the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency to release “nonex­empt his­tor­i­cal­ly valu­able records 25 years or old­er” as well as the dogged efforts of jour­nal­ist Michael Best, you can read over 12 mil­lion pages of pre­vi­ous­ly clas­si­fied doc­u­ments at CREST, the CIA Records Search Tool. In addi­tion to the files on the “Berlin Tun­nel” oper­a­tion, it offers copi­ous mate­r­i­al on much else, such as vin­tage espi­onage tech­niques like writ­ing with invis­i­ble ink and unde­tectably open­ing sealed let­ters and CIA research into spir­i­tu­al­ist heal­ingtelepa­thy, and oth­er psy­chic pow­ers.

For quite some time before now, you tech­ni­cal­ly could have looked up all of this infor­ma­tion your­self, pro­vid­ed you felt like going to the Nation­al Archives in Col­lege Park, Mary­land, and pulling it up on one of the four com­put­ers made avail­able to do so — but only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The fact that you can now do it from the com­fort of your brows­er owes in large part to the efforts of Best, who raised $15,000 on Kick­starter to go man­u­al­ly print out all (or at least some) of those twelve mil­lion pages and upload them to the inter­net, there­by prod­ding the CIA to save the ink-and-paper mon­ey and just do it them­selves.

Some of the pro­jec­t’s back­ers, no doubt, want­ed specif­i­cal­ly to see what the CIA’s archives have to say about space aliens, a stock of infor­ma­tion you may recall that we fea­tured here just last year. “The pub­li­ca­tion of the files rep­re­sents a poten­tial moth­er­lode of back­ground mate­r­i­al for researchers, jour­nal­ists and curi­ous hob­by­ists,” write the New York Times’ Daniel Vic­tor and Erin McCann, not long before admit­ting that “most of the files are pret­ty bor­ing,” a result of “reg­u­lar bureau­crat­ic col­la­tion.” But then, that kind of method­i­cal gath­er­ing and orga­niz­ing of infor­ma­tion has long con­sti­tut­ed most of the work of nation­al intel­li­gence: even the short-lived “Tun­nel of Love” gath­ered enough data to keep its proces­sors busy for years after it became a Sovi­et tourist spot.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

FBI’s “Vault” Web Site Reveals Declas­si­fied Files on Hem­ing­way, Ein­stein, Mar­i­lyn & Oth­er Icons

The CIA Puts Hun­dreds of Declas­si­fied Doc­u­ments About UFO Sight­ings Online, Plus 10 Tips for Inves­ti­gat­ing Fly­ing Saucers

His­to­ry Declas­si­fied: New Archive Reveals Once-Secret Doc­u­ments from World Gov­ern­ments

Declas­si­fied CIA Doc­u­ment Reveals That Ben Franklin (and His Big Ego) Put U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty at Risk

75 Years of CIA Maps Now Declas­si­fied & Made Avail­able Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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