Kickstarter Project Seeks $10,000 To Release CIA Database

A US researcher is looking for donations to make 10 million pages of CIA documents available online

A US researcher has launched a $10,000 (£6,875) Kickstarter funding campaign aimed at making the entirety of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) database of declassified documents freely available online.

Michael Best, who previously worked with The Internet Archive project and with MuckRock, which facilitates US Government Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, said he hopes to make a full-time job out of digitising and uploading the more than 10 million pages of documents made available via the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST).

25 Year Programme

crest database

The documents, released under the CIA’s 25 Year Programme, under which information 25 years or older is made available to the public, include records from the first five Directors of Central Intelligence, intelligence photographs and information on more exotic subjects, such as “Star Gate”, a 25-year effort that “used remote viewers who claimed to use clairvoyance, precognition, or telepathy to acquire and describe information about targets that were blocked from ordinary perception”, according to Best.

However, while the documents are theoretically available to any researcher, in practice they can only be viewed using four dedicated terminals (pictured) located at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in College Park, Maryland, a suburb or Washington, DC.

The only way researchers are allowed to make copies of the documents is by printing them out – meaning that Best’s plan requires him to print out millions of pages, then convert them back into digital form using a high-speed scanner and upload them to The Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that makes digital and digitised materials of various kinds freely available to the public in formats including PDF and EPUB.

10 million pages

The initial funding target mostly covers the cost of the high-speed scanner and a laptop, as well as office supplies such as storage materials for the documents, Best said. As of Monday morning, Best had raised more than $8,000 of the $10,000 target.

“There are over 10 million pages of CIA documents that have never seen the light of day. It’s time to change that,” Best said in the project description.

Best, who has previously published large collections of documents related to the assassination of US president John F. Kennedy and declassified information about UFOs, also works with MuckRock, which in 2014 filed a FOIA request asking the CIA to make CREST available to it in digital form.

Following a lawsuit by MuckRock, the CIA said it would deliver the database on 1,200 compact discs, but said delivery would take six to 28 years to fulfil and would cost more than $100,000, due to the time and staffing resources needed to review the documents to ensure no classified information was found in them.

Best said that if the CIA were to speed up fulfilment of the FOIA request, he would turn his attention to digitising other documents.

Paper and toner

The researcher estimates the project will take several years to complete, with the exact number depending on whether he can raise enough additional funding to work on the digitisation full-time, as well as other, more prosaic factors – such as the availability of paper and printer toner, for which the CIA currently reimburses NARA.

“The rate of printing is dependent on the flow of fresh paper and toner,” Best stated. “If the archives run out of either, then printing and digitising will have to pause while CIA refreshes their supplies.”

Once the documents are uploaded, Best said he plans to provide digital copies to organisations such as The New York Times and WikiLeaks, and finally to donate the print-outs to a public institution such as a library or university.

Individuals can back the project for as little as $1, with all participants getting a say in what is made available first, Best said.

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