There are periodicals/journals, newspapers and of course stacks of books (around 100,000) on “international affairs and political science, business and economics, science and technology, and topics of general and scholarly interest” included in The Library’s print collection.
In addition to the collections that are “unclassified”, The Library also houses “the literature of secrets” that are “classified” with restrictions on who can access them.
Besides the printed collection, the CIA Library’s all-source reference and research services include “more than 200 domestic and foreign online databases that together include over 90,000 full-text electronic periodicals, dissertations, photographs, biographical resources, and public records.”
Among the printed and digital collections, The Library also boasts “special collections on topics such as denial and deception.” Another valuable resource is the participation in “interlibrary loans of circulating items with other government and public libraries.”
Historical Intelligence Collection
One very unique collection only found in the CIA Library is the “Historical Intelligence Collection (HIC), which is primarily an open-source library dedicated to the collection, retention, and exploitation of material dealing with the intelligence profession.” This collection consists of over “25,000 books and extensive press clippings.”
For example, a vellum bound book on cryptography. This codebook is written in Latin and Greek. According to the blog article, it was published in 1606, but a CIA article titled, “The Historical Intelligence Collection: Applying the Past to the Present and Future” gives the publishing date as 1605 (3).
Other intriguing and historically significant items include the “Revolutionary War holdings” and feature those of Nathan Hale and Major John André. These holdings are “extensive and provide a view of basic intelligence operations when good instincts rather than training were the only prerequisites.”
In the mid-1959s, Walter Pforzheimer, CIA legislative counsel started a private collection of intelligence and espionage memoirs and would pass on reading material recommendations to Allen Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence.
Dulles made inquiries about the CIA’s Library and discovered that according to Pforzheimer this type of reading material hadn’t been included yet. Dulles tasked Pforzheimer to “come up with a plan for creating and operating a special collection of all important books on intelligence — in all languages” and made him Curator.
Some of the treasures included in the HIC were very rare with limited copies. A CIA website featured story tells about a 1699 book published in London by a disgruntled British crown agent. The agent, Matthew Smith, felt that his pay wasn’t adequate, but the crown felt it was in line with services rendered.
Smith’s response was Memoirs of Secret Service. The books were confiscated by the British government and burned. However, a handful of copies survived and it so happens that the CIA HIC includes one of the rare surviving copies. It is considered to “give a picture of espionage, counterintelligence, and conspiracies from the earliest times” and is considered to be “a good example that some things change little.”
Secrets the Library Holds
According to the CIA, The Library “focus of interest shifted to Afghanistan” after 9/11. Two books that became part of the reading in order to understand the “unchanging Afghan culture and military practices” were Travels to Bokhara by Alexander Burnes (London: 1834) and The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk (London: 1990).
Other valuable books in the HIC are the 75 volumes of classified documents published by the Iranian students that overthrew the Tehran Embassy in 1979.
Not all of the books in the HIC are antiquated or out-of-date. Between 150 and 200 “intelligence books — in English alone — are published each year” and added to the HIC.
The CIA Library isn’t just about the mass quantity of resource materials housed in various collections. It’s all about the quality to be found in these obscure and often rare copies of books and documents. For example, strategies of “Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist from before the Chin Dynasty” can be found in The Library (4).
Other notable materials include:
–> 150 different volumes on the Dreyfus affair
–> Reilly, ace of spies
–> Unriddling of Enigma and the discoloring of Purple are laid out in decrypted splendor
–> 7 December 1941 is illustrated with full-color photographs of Pearl Harbor
–> Over 50 volumes “explain the intelligence failure that took place on that date”
The Library serves CIA employees and agents in the same manner that a law library serves lawyers. Those seeking information are often directed to specific documents, books and other materials and usually a summary of these when available is given as a way to save valuable reading time.