Website Review: National Security Archive

One of the great things of the Internet (among many others) is the availability of primary source material. For the aspiring historian or the investigative reporter, there is no replacement for hard cold facts. Many of the great stories of the last century would have been brushed off for lack of evidence and as a consequence, would have ended up in the great dustbin of “conspiracy theories” (or the X Files). It is the job of the historian, reporter, and archivist (really it is the job of everyone in society) not to allow for this to transpire. As archivists we have a responsibility to document our society’s history and its current existence. A website that is showing us the way (and causing some consternation at the White House), is the National Security Archive.

The National Security Archive has been called “a state-of-the-art index to history,” by the The Washington Journalism Review. The National Security Archive is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University, the Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. 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. The Archive won the 1999 George Polk Award, one of U.S. journalism’s most prestigious prizes, for-in the words of the citation-“piercing the self-serving veils of government secrecy, guiding journalists in the search for the truth and informing us all.”

As described on its website the National Security Archive “obtains its materials through a variety of methods, including the Freedom of Information act, Mandatory Declassification Review, presidential paper collections, congressional records, and court testimony.” Many of these materials pertain to never before seen documents on Iran-Contra, Cuban Missile Crisis, Operation Condor (state sponsored assassination teams by South American governments) and Operation Northwoods {the chilling Pentagon operation, which (called for but never implemented) included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, and even in Washington,” it also included “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban airforce attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage}.

I highly recommend visiting this site, not only to inform one self about the hidden history we sometimes miss (and incorrectly label as conspiratorial); but to get a better understanding of what an archives does and can accomplish for a society.

National Security Archive