Millions of pages of secret historical documents being unveiled to the public

Richard Peterson/

The government’s three-year-old National Declassification Center has completed its task of evaluating a backlog of 361 million pages of classified documents to determine which can be released to the public, the National Archives and Records Administration announced on Thursday.

In its sixth biannual report, the center, which President Obama established by executive order in January 2010 to work across agencies to boost transparency, said the now -complete assessment process has so far resulted in the release or reclassification of 90 million historical pages.

One batch of documents, for example, involved the long-controversial Katyn Forest massacre of 1940, in which thousands of Polish military officers were executed. Historians for years debated whether the Germans or the Soviets were responsible, with consensus settling on the latter.

“To reach that milestone,” said NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger, “our staff voluntarily worked extra hours, deciphering old, sometimes almost indecipherable notes in project folders; cracking open dusty boxes; analyzing their contents for potential equity and quality review concerns; and scrupulously capturing all significant data points.”

Complete processing of the backlog, which covers documents older than 25 years, is to be done by Dec. 31, 2013. Some of the delay, affecting 100 million pages, is related to sensitivities over nuclear weapons information.

In a press release, the NDC said it is improving its data capture and analysis metrics, identifying chokepoints in the process and compiling better statistics on production.

(Image via Richard Peterson/

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