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The CIA published a trove of declassified documents online for the first time this week — including reports from as far back as the 1940s on topics like the Cold War, thousands of pages of daily briefings from two presidential administrations and eerie, unexplained UFO sightings.
Roughly 930,000 documents – more than 12 million pages in all – were posted Tuesday to the spy agency’s Reading Room, a searchable database of the documents that was previously only available to the public at the National Archives in College Park, Md.
“Do UFOs fascinate you?” the site reads. “Are you a history buff who wants to learn more about the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam or the A-12 Oxcart? Have stories about spies always fascinated you?”
Users who enter “UFO” into the database can find more than 1,738 results, with publication dates spanning from 1942 through 2009. One document, originally published on Aug. 3, 1966, detailed an “unusual phenomenon” on the horizon near the border between Iran and USSR.
“We suddenly observed a brilliant white sphere approximating the coloration and intensity of [a] full bright moon,” the document reads. “The sphere appeared suddenly and at the first sighting was approximately three times the size of a full moon.”
The sighting lasted for up to five minutes, according to the report.
“Toward the end of this period it became very faint and its enormous size seemed to fill the sky,” it continued. “The base of the sphere appeared to rest on the horizon throughout the period it was observed, indicating that the center of the sphere was rising during the time that it was expanding. The weather conditions were excellent and the unusually clear sky afforded unlimited visibility.”
The CIA had disseminated historical declassified documents to its CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) since 1999, and agency officials said the new searchable documents reflect the CIA’s commitment to increased accessibility.
“Access to this historically significant collection is no longer limited by geography,” Joseph Lambert, the agency’s director of information management, said in a statement. “The American public can access these documents from the comfort of their homes.”
The published documents cover a wide range of other topics, including the early history of the spy agency, the Cold War, Vietnam and the Berlin Tunnel Project, a surveillance program on the Soviet Army Headquarters in Berlin dubbed as one of the most ambitious CIA operations of the 1950s.
There are also documents pertaining to the Korean War and 28,000 pages of declassified presidential daily briefs (PDBs) from the Nixon and Ford president administrations.
“The PDBs contain the highest level of intelligence on the president’s key national security issues and concerns,” according to the CIA’s Electronic Reading Room. “These documents were the primary vehicle for summarizing the day-to-day sensitive intelligence and analysis, as well as late-breaking reports, for the White House.”
The documents also include the unpublished fifth volume of CIA historian Jack Pfeiffer’s history of the Bay of Pigs invasion during April of 1961. Unlike the four earlier versions, the latest draft was not fit for print, according to CIA historians and other reviewers because of “serious shortcomings in scholarship, its polemical tone, and its failure to add significantly to an understanding of the controversy surrounding operation,” according to the document.