Window into the Soviet Union, 1951/Introduction to CREST

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Recently, I located the following 1951 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report analyzing Soviet nylon stockings:

Technical Examination of Soviet Nylon Stocking, June 29, 1951, p.1.
Technical Examination of Soviet Nylon Stocking, June 29, 1951, p.2.

When I first saw this, I was amused that the CIA would spend time on what appears to be a ludicrous subject. On reflection, however, this report is not so laughable. One must consider the context in which it originated. In 1951, the world economy was still recovering from the devastation of World War II, the Marshall Plan for recovery in Western Europe was still relatively new, and knowledge of the Soviet economy and production methods was very limited. Analysis of all aspects of Soviet production and industry, including nylon stockings, would add to the knowledge base about engineering and production aspects of the economy of the USSR in the same way that the more obvious studying of the quality of the steel and workmanship of a captured tank would.

This document comes from the CREST System. CREST (CIA Records Search Tool) is the way the CIA is making materials declassified under Executive Order 13526 available to the public. In a massive undertaking, the CIA digitized all of its non-exempt records and performed a declassification review on the resulting images. Because the agency created redacted images it was able to declassify much more information than if it had undertaken the more usual pass-fail review on documents. CREST is the resulting electronic search and retrieval system containing the images of the declassified and redacted documents. Since the records have been OCRed, the system allows researchers to locate documents of interest and to print copies of documents in which they are interested. The system is searchable by name, title, date, and text content.

CREST includes a wide variety of records on nearly every topic related to the Cold War and the early history of the CIA. This includes significant collections of finished intelligence from the Directorate of Intelligence; Directorate of Operations information reports from the late 1940s and 1950s; Directorate of Science and Technology research and development files; Director, Central Intelligence Agency policy files and memos; and Directorate of Support logistics and other records. CREST also contains declassified imagery reports from the former National Photographic Interpretation Center, the STAR GATE remote viewing program files, and several specialized collections of translations from foreign media.

CREST is available for use only at Archives II (Room 3000), Monday-Friday, 9AM-4PM. It is important to note that the CREST system has not been accessioned into the National Archives. Rather, the National Archives at College Park serves as the host for the system in order to provide researchers with easy access.

An online CREST Finding Aid to research availability of CIA documents declassified and loaded onto CREST through 2013 is now available. Researchers can search by the title and date, or date span, of documents.

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