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Records of the Central Intelligence Agency

Introduction

The primary mission of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is to develop and disseminate intelligence, counterintelligence, and foreign intelligence information to assist the president and senior U.S. government policymakers in making decisions relating to the national security. The CIA does not make policy; it is an independent source of foreign intelligence information for those who do. The CIA may also engage in covert action at the president's direction in accordance with applicable law.

The CIA was established effective September 18, 1947, pursuant to the National Security Act (61 Stat. 495). The National Security Act charged the CIA with coordinating the nationís intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating and disseminating intelligence affecting national security. The head of the CIA, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), held responsibilities for the entire Intelligence Community. The agency traces its lineage to the following organizations:

  • Office of the Coordinator of Information (OCOI, 1941-42)
  • Office of Strategic Services (OSS, 1942-45)
  • Strategic Services Unit (SSU), Office of the Assistant Secretary of War (1945-46)
  • Central Intelligence Group, National Intelligence Authority (NIA, 1946-47)

In December 2004, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act restructured the Intelligence Community by abolishing the position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and created the position the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (D/CIA). The Act also created the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which oversees the Intelligence Community and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

As of 2013, the CIA is separated into four basic components: the Directorate of Intelligence, the Directorate of Science and Technology, the National Clandestine Service (formerly the Directorate of Operation), and the Directorate of Support. In addition, the agency includes separate staff offices that deal with public affairs, human resources, protocol, Congressional affairs, legal issues, and internal oversight.

More information is available on the CIA's website.

Accessing the Records

Given the sensitive nature of its work and the length of time before they can be declassified, most CIA records are retained by the agency for a longer period of time than for most other agencies. Even after the records are transferred to the National Archives, many remain classified for a long period of time.

For this reason, it is a good idea to contact the National Archives (NARA) before planning a research visit to use CIA records. Please see this FAQ for more information.

Records in NARA's custody

To locate information on records in the National Archives please see the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives and the online catalog.

In addition to original records, the CIA has deposited collections of copies of selected documents relating to special topics in the National Archives. In most cases, those documents have been redacted to remove information considered sensitive at the time of transfer.

The National Archives at College Park also hosts the CREST System through which the CIA makes available documentation that has been declassified under the provisions of the executive order on declassification.

Access

Some CIA documentation is available for ready use. Described below are records digitized by the National Archives and the CIA's system for making records declassified under the provisions of the executive order on declassification available to the public.

In addition, the FOIA page on the CIA's website provides access to many more documents.

Digitized Records

The National Archives has digitized and placed online the following special topic collections that have been deposited by the CIA.

RG 263 Entry A1-22: Intelligence Publication Files, 1946-1950.
National Archives Identifier 6882518.

RG 263 Entry A1-23: Records of Team A and Team B Estimates of the Soviet Offensive Threat, National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).
National Archives Identifier 6882876.

RG 263 Entry A1-27: Articles from "Studies in Intelligence."
National Archives Identifier 6922330.

RG 263 Entry A1-29: National Intelligence Estimates and Related Reports and Correspondence.
National Archives Identifier 6942952.

RG 263 Entry A1-30: The Law And Custom Of The National Intelligence Estimate.
National Archives Identifier 6948604.

RG 263 Entry A1-37: "Allen Welsh Dulles As Director Of Central Intelligence, 26 February 1953-29 November 1961."
National Archives Identifier 6948411.

CREST (CIA Records Search Tool)

Few of the original records of the Central Intelligence Agency in the National Archives have been declassified. The National Archives at College Park does, however, host the CREST System, which can be accessed in person in the Library on the Third Floor of the Research Complex. CREST is a CIA-created database of images of non-exempt documents from CIA files that have been declassified under the provisions of the executive order on declassification. The database, which is searchable by name, title, date, and text content, includes many finished intelligence reports, records relating to the management and administration of the CIA, and related documentation. CREST is available for use only at Archives II, Monday-Friday, 9AM-4PM.

More information about CREST can be found on the CIA's website.

The CIA has made some remote access to documents in CREST possible by putting metadata about the released records on the CREST webpage noted above. Requests for copies identified there should be sent to directly to the CIA.

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

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