Researchers Unlock Index To 550,000 Secret Documents
How many secrets does the US Air Force have? OK, let's steer
away from current, operational secrets like missile targeting data,
or the cost of the coffee maker on the C-17. How many old, possibly
out-of-date, possibly declassifiable secrets? According the
researchers at The Memory Hole, more than half a million.
That's the number of classified or restricted documents that are
in the hands of the Air Force Historical Agency (AFHRA): 550,000.
These sensitive documents date from the 1920s to about 1981.
That immediately raises a number of questions. Like, what secret
from the 1920s could still have any value?
Perhaps you'd like to look and see for yourself -- because the
index to the archive is gradually being made available, thanks to
The Memory Hole and the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Just the index, mind you -- to actually see any of these documents,
you'll have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request
with the AFHRA yourself. If you've never done it before, there's
nothing to worry about: the Memory Hole explains how.
You can now download the first several files (at the Memory Hole
AFHRA link below), and the remainder of them should be available
Where did these indexes come from? In 2001, researcher Michael
Ravnitzky used a FOIA request to secure a master tape of the index
to all these documents. But that was only half the battle. The
master tape was an odd type, with an even more peculiar format, and
Memory Hole expert Brett Milner had to decode the data and
"translate" it into a more accessible format. It's still not for
those of you suffering from dial-up disease: the downloads average
12 to 13 MB.
The AFHRA gets these documents
routinely from the active Air Force, as USAF historians complete
their work documenting Air Force history -- or in great batches as
offices or programs close. "[A]pproximately 2,000,000 pages of
historical material each year," the agency says, is added to its
collection -- making it unlikely that even the most dedicated
reader could keep up. The documents include, according to The
Memory Hole, "reports, memos, directives, histories, daily
operations reports, oral histories, interviews, situation reports,
intelligence summaries, speeches, chronologies, logs, minutes,
briefings, correspondence, press clippings, newsletters, photos,
slides, audiotapes, and more."
Documents that are classified are, or were at one time, national
security information. The documents that are unclassified but
restricted may include such items as accident reports, that may
have been tightly controlled to protect the privacy of victims.
Some documents that seem on their face to be quite outdated
might be withheld, for instance, if they might provide clues to
intelligence sources and methods that are still used, or war plans
that are still on a shelf somewhere. But many older documents have
been declassified, and declassified documents from the US, Russia,
and other countries frequently cast new light on history. It is
likely that many, if not most,
But it's still pretty hard to believe a secret from
1920-something is worth keeping secret eighty years later.