30+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Guide for Researchers

The National Security Archive’s holdings total 8-10 million pages of declassified documents.  A growing number of these materials are published or posted online every year.  We also maintain an unpublished inventory — the result of literally thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests over 30+ years and generous donations from scholars, authors and journalists. The latter materials feature several unique sets of records and many other collections amassed over the years that would be extremely hard for individuals to recreate from government files.

We strongly urge that researchers begin by consulting our published collections.  (See below for details.)  We have found that most people are able to locate what they need in this way without having to take any further steps.  If necessary, researchers may contact the Archive to find out what other relevant materials may be in our unpublished holdings. Our address and contact information appear below.  

Please keep in mind that we do not have the staff to provide research services beyond helping to identify the existence of records in our collections. 

 

DOCUMENT COLLECTIONS

The Archive's holdings extend from 1945, with the beginning of the Cold War, up to the present time.  While we also have a few materials from prior to 1945, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Maryland, and NARA’s associated Presidential Libraries system will be the best sources to consult.  NARA’s collections include records going up through the late 1970s, a growing number of which are online.  Other U.S. government resources worth checking are the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) publications series (print and electronic) and various federal agency electronic reading rooms.

Here is a breakdown of our holdings:

Published

  • Electronic Briefing Books (EBBs):  Use the custom search box anywhere on our website, www.nsarchive.org, to find thousands of images of documents that have been collected through our primary research efforts and organized into Electronic Briefing Books on a wide range of topical subjects.  Each document is accompanied by identifying information and a summary of its significance.  
  • Unredacted (blog): More documents along with discussion of their context and implications are on our blog – Unredacted . You can also get to this resource through our website and the search box. 
  • Digital National Security Archive (DNSA):  Click on DNSA to learn about the more than 105,000 documents that are included in the Archive’s widely praised subscription database, the Digital National Security Archive, published by ProQuest.  Your local university library may be a subscriber to DNSA.  Otherwise, access is also provided in the National Security Archive’s Smith Bagley Reading Room in Gelman Library on the campus of George Washington University, Washington, D.C.  Hard-bound guide and index volumes to many of the DNSA sets are also available in our reading room.  They provide detailed catalog descriptions and indices to the materials, most of which the Archive obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.  A reasonable number of documents, approximately 50 per day, can be downloaded from DNSA.

Unpublished 

If you are interested in learning about unpublished collections held by the National Security Archive, send us an email, fax or letter describing your research topic and the time period it covers.  We will search our internal indexes and let you know if relevant materials are available.  

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ADDRESS AND CONTACT:

E-mail: nsarchiv@gwu.edu
Fax:      (202) 994-7005
Mail:    The National Security Archive
              The George Washington University
              Gelman Library, Suite 701
              2130 H Street, N.W. 
              Washington, D.C. 20037

 

INFORMATION FOR VISITORS

Researchers are welcome to visit the Archive's Washington, D.C., location.  In our reading room, visitors may consult a finding aid describing our archived collections, and order documents for review and/or copying.

Most of our archived materials are stored at the Washington Research Libraries Consortium facility in suburban Maryland, and may take several days to retrieve.  This is one reason why visitors are required to make appointments ahead of time.

Another reason is that our capacity for receiving visitors is limited, which means that at times it may be necessary to restrict access.  If space allows, researchers may use our facilities for as many days as they wish.

To seek an appointment to visit our reading room, contact us at least 48 hours (two business days) in advance via e-mail, fax, or letter.  See the contact information provided above.  Please wait for confirmation of your appointment.

 

HOURS OF OPERATION

We are open for research from 10:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, except as noted below.

Note: The Archive is closed at certain times during the year.  These include the week before the start of the George Washington University academic year, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, all federal holidays, and during winter weather emergencies.  Please check our home page for notices before you visit!  (During inclement weather, the Archive follows GWU, the Federal government, and D.C. Public Schools.)

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GENERAL PROCEDURES

Sign-In:  We ask researchers to complete a visitor sign-in sheet during their first visit, and to update this information as appropriate during subsequent visits.  This information will be held in strict confidence.

Use of published collections:  Our staff will provide guidance in using our finding aids to locate relevant documents.  

Use of unpublished documents:  Researchers may gain access to documents in our unpublished collections only through a National Security Archive staff member.  Our onsite finding aid can be consulted to locate collections containing documents of interest.  The relevant archival boxes may then be requested through our public service coordinator.  Boxes are usually retrieved from the joint Washington Research Library Consortium facility within two-to-four days, although logistical problems beyond our control may at times result in delays.

Because of space constraints, researchers or research teams are limited to five (5) boxes at any given time.  After reviewing these boxes, additional boxes may be requested.

Materials in use: Researchers may reserve boxes in the reading room for up to three days.  A “Materials in Use” sign can be attached to ensure that documents are retained.  One renewal of a request to hold materials is allowed.  Researchers who plan to return on subsequent days should inform our public service coordinator so that space in our reading room can be reserved.

Photocopying:  Unpublished documents may be copied at a cost of 15 cents per page.  Since only one copier is available to researchers, we ask that visitors limit themselves to 20 minutes per session when others are waiting.  Our public service coordinator will explain use of the copier.  Payment can be made by cash, check, or travelers check, and will be accepted by our public service coordinator or other staff members at our reception desk.

Cameras, smart phones, and scanners: Researchers are free to use their own equipment to make copies, subject to reasonable limitations and approval by our public service coordinator.  Only single-page, small scanners are permitted.

Telephones: The Archive is unable to handle incoming or outgoing calls for researchers.  Cellular phone calls are not allowed in the National Security Archive, but are permissible in the hallway outside our office, subject to normal library conditions.

Other procedures:  The Archive observes other general archival practices, including restricting the use of personal materials, writing implements, and other items in the reading room, as described in our visitor sign-in sheet.  The Archive provides lockers for researcher use.

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CITING OUR MATERIALS

Note: The National Security Archive follows The Chicago Manual of Style.  The online manual and its "Quick Guide" are located at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html.

Unpublished Collections

I. To cite correspondence such as letters, memoranda, and cables identify as many of the following elements as available and relevant:

Names of sender and recipient
Title or subject
Place at which it was written
Type of communication other than letter, and identifying number
Date of the communication
Name of the collection
Box number and the folder label
Depository and location

Examples:

Robert Hilsman to the Secretary, "Khrushchev's Dispatch of Kuznetsov for the Cuban Negotiations in New York," memorandum. 28 October 1962, Cuban Missile Crisis 1992 Releases, CMC-I-8702115, The National Security Archive, Washington, D.C.

Admiral McCain to Ambassador Swank. "Status Report on Condition of Lon Nol," cable 68340, 19 February 1971, Vietnam/South East Asia Collection, box 4, Cambodia, The National Security Archive, Washington, D.C.

II. To cite documents other than correspondence such as all kinds of reports, memoranda of conversation, and executive orders identify as many of the following elements as available and relevant:

Personal or corporate author
Title of document
Type of document and identifying number
Date of document
Name of collection
Box number and folder label
Depository and location

Examples:

"Codification of Instructions on Cuban Negotiations," report, 5 December 1962, Cuban Missile Crisis 1992 Releases, CMC-I-8702115, The National Security Archive, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: Joint Secretariat, Historical Division, “JCS Recommendations and Secdef Actions with Respect to Cambodia, January 1969-15 February 1975," 26 February 1975, Vietnam/South East Asia Collection, box 4, Cambodia, The National Security Archive, Washington, D.C.  

Published Collections

I. To cite correspondence such as letters, memoranda, and cables identify as many of the following elements as available and relevant:

Names of sender and recipient
Title or subject
Place at which it was written
Type of communication other than letter, and identifying number
Date of the communication
Title of the published collection
Editor of the published collection
Place of publication, publisher, and publication year
Document number

Examples:

John F. Kennedy to Nikita S. Khrushchev, 22 October 1962, The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, ed. Laurence Chang (Washington, D.C.: The National Security Archive and Chadwyck-Healey, 1990), Digital National Security Archive accession number CC00844.

Armin H. Meyer to Secstate, "Iranian Arms for Jordan," Tehran, cable 04494, 2 May 1968, Iran: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1977-1980, ed. Eric HoogIund (Washington, D.C.: The National Security Archive and Chadwyck-HeaIey, 1990), Digital National Security Archive accession number IR00661.

II. To cite documents other than correspondence such as all kinds of reports, memoranda of conversation, and executive orders identify as many of the following elements as available and relevant:

Personal or corporate author
Title of document
Type of document and identifying number
Date of document
Title of the published collection
Editor of the published collection
Place of publication, publisher, and publication year
Document number

Examples:

Harlan Cleveland, "A Most Dangerous Time," speech, 23 November 1962, The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, ed. Lawrence Chang (Washington, D.C.: The National Security Archive and Chadwyck-Healey, 1990), Digital National Security Archive accession number CC02570.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, "Land Reform in Iran: Implications for the Shah's 'White Revolution'," memorandum RNA-3, 8 February 1965, Iran: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1977-1980, ed. Eric Hooglund, (Washington, D.C.: The National Security Archive and Chadwyck-HeaIey, 1990), Digital National Security Archive accession number IR00548.

Bibliographic Entries for Published and Unpublished Collections

Chang, Laurence, ed. The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962. Washington, D.C.: The National Security Archive and Chadwyck-Healey, 1990.

Cuban Missile Crisis 1992 Releases, CMC-I-8702115, The National Security Archive, Washington, D.C.

Hooglund, Eric, ed. Iran: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1977-1980. Washington, D.C.: The National Security Archive and Chadwyck-Hea1ey, 1990.

Vietnam/South East Asia Collection, box 4, Cambodia, The National Security Archive. Washington, D.C.

Based on The Chicago Manual of Style

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Map

National Security Archive
Suite 701, Gelman Library
The George Washington University
2130 H Street, NW
Washington, D.C., 20037

 

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

A fundamental tenet of the National Security Archive's mission is to expand and enhance public discourse on U.S. foreign, intelligence and economic policy. Unless particular materials are specifically restricted as noted on the site, it is the National Security Archive's policy to encourage reproduction and distribution of the materials posted on our site. Your use of this site indicates your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

License to Use Materials Posted on Web Site

You may copy, reproduce and distribute materials from this site pursuant to this nonexclusive, limited license, provided that: 

  1. You maintain all copyright, trademark or other proprietary notices contained in any site content in the course of any use of such content. Copyright is not claimed as to any work of the United States government.
  2. You cite the National Security Archive as the source of the materials in any reproduction, publication, distribution, or transfer of the materials and you link to the www.nsarchive.org Web site in any electronic reproduction, publication, distribution, or transfer of the materials.
    1. When reproducing, publishing, distributing, or transferring a published or unpublished document in the National Security Archive collection, you credit the National Security Archive as the source of the document. For your convenience, we provide citation standards for unpublished and published documents in the National Security Archive collection.
    2. When reproducing, publishing, distributing, or transferring an article or section of the Web site in its entirety, you include the following statement: "These materials are reproduced from www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive."
    3. You may not edit or otherwise change the substance of the content in any reproduction, publication, distribution, or transfer of an article or section of the Web site that is credited to the National Security Archive, except that you may excerpt portions of the content with credit to the author, where applicable, and the National Security Archive.

Limitation of Liability

The National Security Archive site includes information about the Freedom of Information Act and other laws relating to access to government information. This information does not constitute legal advice. The law changes very rapidly and, accordingly, we do not guarantee that any information on this Web site is accurate and up-to-date. Additionally, the law differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and is subject to interpretation of courts located in each jurisdiction. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case and the tools and information provided to you may not be an appropriate fit in your case. Nothing that you read or is provided on this Web site should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.

The National Security Archive, its officers, directors, employees, subcontractors, agents, successors, or assigns shall not be liable for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage of any kind, including any special or consequential damages, resulting in any way from the unavailability or interruption of its site, delays, inaccuracies, errors or omissions on its site, or in the transmission or delivery of all or any part thereof.

Disclaimer of Warranties

The materials contained on this Web site have been prepared and compiled by the National Security Archive as a service to its readers. The National Security Archive endeavors to provide accurate material on its Web site, but it does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy or currency of the information contained in or linked to this Web site. People using these or other government documents are reminded that government records sometimes contain material that is unverified, inaccurate, distorted or untrue. Further, under the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a), federal agencies are not required to verify personal information that may be released under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. Sec. 552). The government records available on this site are merely true facsimiles of government records, to the best of our knowledge, and the Archive has not necessarily verified their content independently. Users of information from the National Security Archive site and related sites or links do so at their own risk. 

THE SITE, AND ALL ITS CONTENTS, AND ALL SERVICES AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE ARE PROVIDED TO YOU "AS IS" AND "AS AVAILABLE," WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, OR NON-INFRINGEMENT OF THE RIGHTS OF THIRD PARTIES. YOUR RELIANCE ON ANY INFORMATION FOUND ON THE SITE IS AT YOUR OWN RISK. BECAUSE SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW THE EXCLUSION OF CERTAIN WARRANTIES, THESE EXCLUSIONS MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU.

Questions?

For any other information about our Web site, please contact nsarchiv@gwu.edu.

(National Security Archive Web Site Terms and Conditions, updated 1/6/2017)

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