National Security Archive

The National Security Archive
Abbreviation The Archive
Formation 1985, U.S.
Type 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
Legal status Foundation
Purpose Freedom of Information, Journalism, Transparency, Open Government, Research
Headquarters Washington, D.C., U.S.
Website The National Security Archive

The National Security Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-governmental, non-profit research and archival institution located on the campus of the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1985 to check rising government secrecy, the National Security Archive is an investigative journalism center, open government advocate, international affairs research institute, and is the largest repository of declassified U.S. documents outside of the federal government.[1] The National Security Archive has spurred the declassification of more than 10 million pages of government documents by being the leading non-profit user of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), filing a total of more than 50,000 FOIA and declassification requests in its nearly 30-year history.

Organization history and accolades

Of all the FOIA requests made each year to the National Archives, one item has been requested more than any other: the December 21, 1970, photograph of Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon shaking hands during Presley's visit to the White House.
The declassified August 6, 2001, President’s Daily Brief warning "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US."

Journalists and historians founded the National Security Archive in 1985 to enrich research and public debate about national security policy.[1] The National Security Archive continues to challenge national security secrecy by advocating for open government, utilizing the FOIA to compel the release of previously secret government documents, and analyzing and publishing its collections for the public.

As a prolific FOIA requester, the National Security Archive has pried loose a host of seminal government documents, including: the most FOIA’d document at the U.S. National Archives – a December 21, 1970 picture of President Richard Nixon’s meeting with Elvis Presley;[2] the CIA’s “Family Jewels” list that documents decades of the agency’s illegal activities;[3] the National Security Agency’s (NSA) description of its watch list of 1,600 Americans that included notable Americans such as civil rights leader Martin Luther King, boxer Muhammad Ali, and politicians Frank Church and Howard Baker;[4] the first official CIA confirmation of Area 51;[5] U.S. plans for a “full nuclear response”[6] in the event the President was ever attacked or disappeared; FBI transcripts of 25 interviews with Saddam Hussein after his capture by U.S. troops in December 2003;[7] the Osama bin Laden File,[8] and the most comprehensive document collections available on the Cold War, including the nuclear flashpoints occurring during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1983 “Able Archer” War Scare.[9]

The CIA's declassified map of Groom Lake/Area 51 disclosed to the National Security Archive thanks to a FOIA request.

In February 2011, the National Security Archive won Tufts University’s Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award[10] for “demystifying and exposing the underworld of global diplomacy and supporting the public’s right to know.” In September 2005, the Archive won the Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in news and documentary research.[11] In 1998, the National Security Archive shared the George Foster Peabody Award for the outstanding broadcast series, CNN's Cold War. In April 2000, the National Security Archive won the George Polk Award,[12] for “facilitating thousands of searches for journalists and scholars. The archive, funded by foundations as well as income from its own publications, has become a one-stop institution for declassifying and retrieving important documents, suing to preserve such government data as presidential e-mail messages, pressing for appropriate reclassification of files, and sponsoring research that has unearthed major revelations.”


The National Security Archive relies on publication revenues, grants from individuals and grants from foundations such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations, for its $3 million yearly budget. The National Security Archive receives no government funding.[1] Incorporated as an independent Washington, D.C. non-profit organization, the National Security Archive is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt public charity.

Program areas

The National Security Archive operates eight program areas, each with dedicated funding. The National Security Archive’s (1) open government and accountability program receives support from the Open Society Foundations. The Archive’s (2) international freedom of information program in priority countries abroad and in the Open Government Partnership has been supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Archive’s (3) human rights evidence program, providing documentation for use by truth commissions and prosecutions, receives funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Archive’s (4) Latin America program, with projects on Mexico, Chile, Cuba and other countries, is supported by the Ford Foundation, the Reynolds Foundation, and the Coyote Foundation. The Archive’s (5) nuclear weapons and intelligence documentation program is supported by the Prospect Hill Foundation, the New-Land Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which also funds the Archive’s (6) Russia/former Soviet Union program. The Archive’s (7) Iran program is supported by the Arca Foundation and through a partnership with MIT Center for International Studies. The Archive’s (8) publications program, creating public access to declassified documents both online and in book formats, relies on publication royalties from libraries that subscribe to the Digital National Security Archive through the commercial publisher ProQuest.


The National Security Archive publishes its document collections in a variety of ways, including on its website, its blog Unredacted, documentary films, formal truth commission and court proceedings, and through the Digital National Security Archive, which contains over 40 digitized collections of more than 94,000 meticulously indexed documents, including the newly-available 'CIA Covert Operations: From Carter to Obama, 1977-2010' and 'Argentina, 1975-1980: The Making of U.S. Human Rights Policy,' published through ProQuest.

National Security Archive staff and fellows have authored over 70 books, including the winners of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize, the 1995 National Book Award, the 1996 Lionel Gelber Prize, the 1996 American Library Association's James Madison Award Citation, a Boston Globe Notable Book selection for 1999, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2003,[13] and the 2010 Henry Adams Prize for outstanding major publication on the federal government's history from the Society for History in the Federal Government.

The National Security Archive regularly publishes Electronic Briefing Books [14] of newsworthy documents on major topics in international affairs on the Archive's website, which attracts more than 2 million visitors each year who download more than 13.3 gigabytes per day. There are currently over 400 briefing books available.

The National Security Archive also frequently posts about declassification and secrecy news on its blog, Unredacted.


The National Security Archive has participated in over 50 Freedom of Information lawsuits against the U.S. government, of which 30 have been successful. The suits have forced the declassification of documents ranging from the Kennedy-Khrushchev letters during the Cuban Missile Crisis[15] to the previously censored photographs of homecoming ceremonies [16] with flag-draped caskets for U.S. casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The National Security Archive has also settled two seminal lawsuits regarding the preservation of White House emails. The original White House e-mail lawsuit [17] against Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton found that e-mail had to be treated as government records, consequently leading to the preservation of more than 30 million White House e-mail messages from the 1980s and 1990s. The second White House e-mail lawsuit, filed in 2007 and settled in 2009,[18] sought the recovery and preservation of more than 5 million White House e-mail messages that were deleted from White House computers between March 2003 and October 2005.


The Archive has conducted annual FOIA audits since 2002. Modeled after the California Sunshine Survey and subsequent state "FOI Audits," the Archive's FOIA Audits use open-government laws to test whether or not agencies are obeying those same laws. Recommendations from previous Archive FOIA Audits have led directly to laws and executive orders which have: set explicit customer service guidelines, mandated FOIA backlog reduction, assigned individualized FOIA tracking numbers, forced agencies to report the average number of days needed to process requests, and revealed the (often embarrassing) ages of the oldest pending FOIA requests. The surveys include:

Rosemary Award

Every year the National Security Archive nominates a government agency for the Rosemary Award for worst open government performance. The award is named after President Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, who erased 18 12 minutes of a crucial Watergate tape. Past “winners” include the Department of Justice, the Federal Chief Information Officer’s Council, the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, the Air Force, and the CIA.[31]


The Archive has organized, sponsored, or co-sponsored a dozen major conferences. These include the historic conferences held in Havana in 2002 and in Budapest in 1996 respectively. For the Havana conference, which took place during the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuban president Fidel Castro and former US secretary of defense Robert McNamara discussed newly declassified documents showing that US president John F. Kennedy, in meetings with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's son-in-law Adzhubei in January 1962, compared the US failure at the Bay of Pigs to the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The Budapest conference of 1996, carried out by the Archive's "Openness in Russia and East Europe Project" in collaboration with Cold War International History Project and Russian and Eastern European partners, focused on the 1956 uprising was a featured subject at an international conference which the Archive, CWIHP, and the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung organized in Potsdam on "The Crisis Year 1953 and the Cold War in Europe." Oxford University historian Timothy Garton Ash called the conference “not ordinary at all.... this dramatic confrontation of documents and memories, of written and oral history...."[32]

Other noteworthy conferences the National Security Archive took part in include a conference held in Hanoi in 1997, during which Defense Secretary Robert McNamara met with his Vietnamese counterpart, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, and a series of conferences on U.S.-Iranian relations.


Based at George Washington University's Gelman Library, the Archive operates under an advisory board that is directed by the Archive’s Executive Director, Thomas Blanton, and is overseen by a board of directors.

Board of Directors
Advisory Board

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "About the National Security Archive". The National Security Archive.
  2. "The Nixon-Presley Meeting". The National Security Archive.
  3. Thomas Blanton. "The CIA's Family Jewels". The National Security Archive.
  4. Nate Jones (25 September 2013). "FOIA Request Filed for National Security Agency Watch List that Included "Threats" MLK, Muhammad Ali, and Senator Church". Unredacted.
  5. Jeffrey T. Richelson (15 August 2013). "The Secret History of the U-2 — and Area 51". The National Security Archive.
  6. William Burr (12 December 2012). "U.S. Had Plans for "Full Nuclear Response" In Event President Killed or Disappeared during an Attack on the United States". The National Security Archive.
  7. Joyce Battle (1 July 2009). "Saddam Hussein Talks to the FBI". The National Security Archive.
  8. "The Osama Bin Laden File". The National Security Archive. 2 May 2011.
  9. Nate Jones (7 November 2013). "Able Archer 83 Sourcebook". The National Security Archive.
  10. "Annual Report for 2011" (PDF). The National Security Archive.
  11. "National Security Archive Wins 2005 Emmy Award". The National Security Archive.
  12. "National Security Archive Wins 1999 George Polk Award for Journalism". The National Security Archive.
  13. "The Pinochet File A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability". The New Press.
  14. "Electronic Briefing Books". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  15. Robert Pear (January 7, 1992). "The Cuba Missile Crisis: Kennedy Left a Loophole". The New York Times.
  16. "Return of the Fallen". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  17. "National Security Archive/White House E-Mail". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  18. "Untold Story of the Bush White House Emails". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
  19. Michael Evans (2003-03-14). "FOIA Audit - Press Release". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  20. Michael Evans (2003-11-17). "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  21. "Press Release: A FOIA Request Celebrates Its 17th Birthday". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  22. "Press Release - Pseudo-Secrets: A Freedomf of Information Audit of the U.S. Government's Policies on Sensitive Unclassified Information". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  23. Archived September 8, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  24. "40 Years of FOIA, 20 Years of Delay". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  25. "Mixed Signals, Mixed Results: How President Bush's Executive Order on FOIA Failed to Deliever". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  26. "The National Security Archive : Sunshine and Shadows:The Clear Obama Message for Freedom of Information Meets Mixed Results". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  27. "Glass Half Full - The Knight Open Government Survey 2011". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  28. "Eight Federal Agencies Have FOIA Requests a Decade Old, According to Knight Open Government Survey". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  29. "Freedom of Information Regulations: Still Outdated, Still Undermining Openness". Retrieved 2015-04-30.
  30. Josh Hicks (December 4, 2012). "Agencies lag on transparency, report says". The Washington Post.
  31. "Federal Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council Wins Rosemary Award". National Security Archive.
  32. "Praise and Comments about the Openness Project". The National Security Archive.

Coordinates: 38°54′03″N 77°02′47″W / 38.9007°N 77.0463°W / 38.9007; -77.0463

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