Spotlight on Government Information: Classified and Declassified Documents

Feb 8, 2023

Yellow files with documents on wooden table, top viewRecently, classified documents have been a hot topic of conversation, specifically who has access to them and how they are stored. While attorneys, the media, the National Archives, and the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) sort out the details of properly managing government information, individuals can legally inspect a variety of declassified federal documents that once contained national secrets and sensitive materials.

Government agencies are responsible for deciding whether reports, photographs, maps, and recordings are unclassified or classified based on their contents. Eight presidents, from Truman in 1951 to Obama in 2009, issued executive orders outlining the importance of protecting national security, offering guidance to federal agencies and contractors when handling these materials, and establishing rules for declassifying and releasing the information to the public.

In an effort to promote public trust and provide an accurate understanding of events that defined the nation, many agencies offer access to official government records that no longer bear the labels top secret, secret, or confidential. Curious citizens and serious researchers will find a wealth of information about Project Blue Book, the Manhattan District History, satellite surveillance, the Tet Offensive and more on the following websites.

Throughout the year, the National Declassification Center releases a list of declassified documents that are available to the public. Visit the Special Projects section to learn more about the Iran Hostage Crisis, US Navy Command Files from World War II, and the Katyn Forest Massacre.

The Office of the Historian provides online access to the Foreign Relations of the United States covering almost 140 years of diplomatic decisions and foreign policy from the Lincoln through Clinton administrations.

Intelligence agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. State Department, and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) often post documents in virtual reading rooms after processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Discover thousands of files on topics ranging from organized crime to unexplained phenomenon and review investigations related to Emmett Till, Richard Jewell, Jeffrey Epstein, and the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks in the FBI Vault. Explore the CIA Historical Collections for materials about Animal Partners, POW-MIA records, and the Berlin Wall. Examine the NRO’s Major Programs and Projects to better understand how satellites and drones have captured photographs and data from off-limit areas during times of crisis.

Every day federal agencies are entrusted to balance protecting national security and establishing public trust through transparency while managing critical information. The National Archives along with other institutions have created policies and procedures to ensure certain standards are met prior to distributing classified materials to the public. Declassified federal documents contain once hidden treasures and secrets that are waiting to be uncovered. For more information about these and other government resources, please contact the Wyoming State Library at 307-777-6333 or

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