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Declassified Intelligence Documents: Where to Look

Tips, techniques & links to help you find answers for your research papers & projects

Where to Look for Declassified Documents

To be thorough, one must check all of these sources. See annotations below for further explanation.


Digital National Security Archive (MU only)

MU Libraries subscribes to the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA), a database from ProQuest created in partnership with the National Security Archive. The database contains over 80,000 declassified documents deemed to be significant, especially in relation to U.S. policy. Among the documents included are “presidential directives, memos, diplomatic dispatches, meeting notes, independent reports, briefing papers, White House communications, email, confidential letters and other secret communication.” The DNSA database focuses on documents that pertain to U.S. foreign policy, security, and intelligence matters in the years following World War II. The DNSA also provides users with reference supplements including a bibliography, glossary, introductory essays, etc. Check under the "Collections" tab within the database to confirm those to which MU affiliates have access.

National Security Archive at George Washington University (Free web-based resource)

An independent non-governmental research institute and library, the National Security Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), The Archive also serves as a repository of government records on a wide range of topics pertaining to the national security, foreign intelligence, and economic policies of the United States. Staff members systematically track U.S. government agencies and federal records repositories for documents that either have never been released before or help to shed light on the decision-making process of the U.S. government and provide the historical context underlying those decisions.

Foreign Relations of the United States (title varies slightly over time)

This is the official documentary record of U.S. foreign policy. Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) includes a wide variety of primary source material, including declassified documents that have been reviewed (and sometimes edited) for publication. Recent volumes available online in the FRUS series include transcripts of Presidential tape recording and, significantly, documents from a wider range of government agencies including those involved in covert and intelligence activities. Series volumes in print in Ellis Library under the call number JX 233 .A3 (located in 2 East) and older volumes available online are published approximately thirty years after the period covered.

Federal Agency Reading Rooms

In addition to checking the databases listed above, is prudent to check agency reading rooms before resorting to an FOIA request. The FOIA requires that physical and electronic reading rooms be made available for the public for inspecting and/or copying information from documents that have already been released in response to previous FOIA requests.  Other reading room materials include administrative staff manuals and documents that indicate an agency’s position regarding legal issues and policy questions. See more about document content in agency reading rooms. As is often true, some documents will be restricted for reasons of personal privacy, national security, protection of trade secrets, etc. 

Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS):

In 1972, a massive number of government documents were declassified and released. In response, the Declassified Documents Reference System was created and originally published in print as the Declassified Documents Quarterly Catalog. Entries in the catalog include a title or summary line, source agency, type of document, pagination, publication, security classification, “sanitized copy status,” and declassification date (see the “User’s Guide” in the front of each quarterly catalog for more information). A microfiche series accompanied the quarterly catalog. In 1997, print publication ceased and content was made available digitally through an online subscription service from Gale Publishers. MU Libraries does not subscribe to this Gale product. The microfiche series at MU Libraries contains declassified content from1945 to 2004. The majority of declassified documents are from the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department, and the Department of Defense. Other documents in the DDRS were generated by the National Security Council, White House, FBI, etc. Users accessing the contents of the DDRS will find correspondence, background studies, situation reports, meeting minutes, telegrams, national intelligence estimates, and unevaluated field reports.

The DDRS does not include documents automatically declassified in bulk, nor does it cover documents given wide public dissemination or those deemed to be of marginal interest. The DDRS was produced by a series of different publishers and, consequently, the arrangement of microfiche is extremely confusing. To make matters more complicated, after publication of the DDRS print volumes ceased and the DDRS materials became available through the subscription-only database, the publisher continued to issue microfiche. The quality of both the microfiche and digital content varies greatly. Some of the online material is redundant and searching the subscription-based online index can be a sticky wicket. Finally, because of changes in publishers and formats, users with access to the Gale data base should look in the print index (pre-1982) and online as well.

Other websites with additional information: