CIA’s CREST Leaves Cavity in Public Domain

04.06.09 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The curious refusal of the Central Intelligence Agency to provide online access to its “CREST” database of declassified documents was examined last week in Mother Jones magazine.

“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.”

See “Inside the CIA’s (Sort of) Secret Document Stash” by Bruce Falconer, Mother Jones, April 3.

A mostly favorable review of the CREST database was provided by historians David M. Barrett and Raymond Wasko in “Sampling CIA’s New Document Retrieval System: McCone’s Telephone Conversations during the Six Crises Tempest,” Intelligence and National Security, vol. 20, no. 2, June 2005, pp. 332-340 (not online).

By denying online public access to the CREST database, the Central Intelligence Agency appears to be at odds with the President’s executive order on classification.  That order states (EO 13292, section 3.7):  “The Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, in conjunction with those agencies that originate classified information, shall coordinate the linkage and effective utilization of existing agency databases of records that have been declassified and publicly released.”

But by refusing to place the CREST database online (or to release it to others who will do so), the CIA is undermining the “effective utilization” of this existing agency database.