CIA releases decades of once-classified maps on 75th anniversary

Dec 19, 2016

A 1970s-era map of ethnic and tribal groups in Afghanistan.
Credit CIA

History and geography buffs will rejoice at the opportunity to view once top-secret maps being released by the Central Intelligence Agency.

As the Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic reports, in celebration of the CIA’s 75th anniversary, the agency has declassified and made decades of once-secret maps online.

As Smithsonian Magazine reports, pre-Internet and computer technology, the CIA and other intelligence agencies relied on geographers and cartographers for planning and executing operations around the world, so a plethora of maps from a number of historic timeframes in American history exist – even those used following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. And they can now be viewed by the public.  

National Geographic reported last month that CIA cartographers created a map of Afghanistan to track terrorist networks and support U.S. military operations following the Sept. 11 attacks. During such operations, the classified maps could only be seen by people in the intelligence community and the highest levels of government.

According to National Geographic, the CIA was formed just prior to the United States’ entry into World War II and one of its first recruits was 26-year-old Arthur H. Robinson, who went onto become one of the 20th century’s most influential geographers. Robinson headed the CIA’s map division after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and produced maps the U.S. used for strategic planning during the war.

Early on, maps were hand drawn on large translucent sheets that could be stacked in layers, but a digital database formed in 1966 automated map making.

The online maps now available include maps for ever decade since the 1940s.