Spies and Secret Writing

Iodite of potassium, sulphate of iron, nitrate of silver, rice starch, ferro cyanite of potassium, and even lemon juice. These are some of the ingredients necessary to reproduce the secret writing techniques described in the six documents declassified by the CIA last week as part of the work of the National Declassification Center (NDC). The Center was established within the National Archives at the direction of the President in late 2009 with the mandate to review more than 400 million pages of classified records by the end of December 2013.

The job is difficult and complex because a single document can contain classified information drawn from several agencies, and each one of these agencies may have its own standards for classifying and declassifying documents. The process has benefited from having representatives of the agencies at our facility in College Park, Maryland, so these referrals and decisions can be made quickly.

The review process has very much been driven by user demand. The prioritization of records to be reviewed was established after public meetings and online review by the user community. The results are posted on the NDC website.

So far the news is good. More than 84 million pages have passed the quality review process, the first step. Of the 14.5 million pages which have been fully reviewed, 91% were declassified and made available to researchers.

The six documents declassified by the CIA date to 1918 and are the oldest of the records being reviewed.  In addition to the secret writing recipes you can find a technique for opening a sealed letter without detection. Check it out!

Secret Writing Document One
Secret Writing Document Two
Secret Writing Document Three
Secret Writing Document Four (Pages 1-3)
Secret Writing Document Four (Pages 4-6)
Secret Writing Document Five
Secret Writing Document Six