"Information doesn't do any good if it's hidden away in a locked file cabinet."
Millions of pages of CIA documents are stored in Room 3000. The CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), the agency's database of declassified intelligence files, is only accessible via four computers in the National Archives Building in College Park, MD, and contains everything from Cold War intelligence, research and development files, to images.
Now one activist is aiming to get those documents more readily available to anyone who is interested in them, by methodically printing, scanning, and then archiving them on the internet.
"It boils down to freeing information and getting as much of it as possible into the hands of the public, not to mention journalists, researchers and historians," Michael Best, analyst and freedom of information activist told Motherboard in an online chat.
Best is trying to raise $10,000 on Kickstarter in order to purchase the high speed scanner necessary for such a project, a laptop, office supplies, and to cover some other costs. If he raises more than the main goal, he might be able to take on the archiving task full-time, as well as pay for FOIAs to remove redactions from some of the files in the database. As a reward, backers will help to choose what gets archived first, according to the Kickstarter page.
"Once those "priority" documents are done, I'll start going through the digital folders more linearly and upload files by section," Best said. The files will be hosted on the Internet Archive, which converts documents into other formats too, such as for Kindle devices, and sometimes text-to-speech for e-books. The whole thing has echoes of Cryptome—the freedom of information duo John Young and Deborah Natsios, who started off scanning documents for the infamous cypherpunk mailing list in the 1990s.
In all, the project will likely take years, and also depends on how frequently the archive workers can replace the paper and ink of the printers.
"If I'm able to make it my full-time focus and keep the scanner going at 15,000 pages a day, like it's rated, then it would take between two and three years," Best said.
As for the files themselves, CREST contains 11 million pages, according to the CIA's website, which Best says make up around 700,000 documents.
"There are about three times as many CIA files in the CREST database as there were diplomatic cables that were leaked by Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks," Best said.
These include high level records from the agency's early years, completed intelligence reports, and daily briefings sent to US policy makers from 1951 up to 1979.
"The Central Intelligence Bulletins and National Intelligence Daily(s)/Dailies give insight into what was known when and what was a focus for the government on any given day, while the files from the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence give a top-down view of how CIA operated," Best said. CREST even includes a wealth of documents on "STAR GATE", the (obviously) failed attempt to use so-called psychics and clairvoyants for military purposes.
"I'm hoping WikiLeaks will want to add the digitized files to their Library of US Diplomacy, that'd be a great way of integrating the documents with other intelligence/diplomacy papers in a searchable database," Best added.
"Information doesn't do any good if it's hidden away in a locked file cabinet," Best said, or, in this case, an intranet server which is a pain to access.