A focus on security, intelligence and related topics has been a major feature of ERI since its inception. Monographs on "The Human Cost of Communism in China," "The Case for Internal Security," "Trotskyism and Terror," and "The CIA and the Media" are among the early titles in our publication series.
In 1988, concerned that important historical documents on the conduct of the Cold War and nature of the Soviet/Communist challenge were in danger of being lost, ERI established its Center for Security Research. The object of the Center was to gather and conserve, for scholarly and journalistic purposes, official records pertaining to these matters.
Over the years the Center has acquired collections of congressional hearings and reports on Communism, espionage, terrorism, front groups, attempts to penetrate the U.S. Government, and numerous related issues. Sources of relevant documents include House and Senate committees, the Subversive Activities Control Board, reports from the intelligence community, State Department, Department of Defense, and others.
More recently, with the release of secret records from the former USSR and its satellite countries, as well as from the vaults of our own intelligence/security agencies, the Center has been engaged in collecting documents from these sources. In particular, ERI has in its possession more than 100,000 pages of once highly classified records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation pertaining to Cold War security cases.
Formerly secret FBI data on these cases are available under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). While not all such files are open to inspection, large quantities of useful information can be obtained through FOIA actions. A good deal of this material may be found in the FBI/FOIA Reading Room, while still other files have been obtained on specific request by ERI researchers.
In certain cases, only portions of the relevant files have been declassified. In still others, while the files have been made public, many pages have been held back or “redacted” (blacked out). ERI continues to work at getting access to these data.
Also, the FBI itself has a Website featuring some of this material, which is a useful resource. However, this site generally speaking offers only selections from the records, rather than complete files about the cases. As some of the most significant data are in out-of-the-way corners of the archive, more detailed access to the files as provided by ERI is essential to researchers.
A further difficulty in working with these data is that the files are in many cases not indexed (though reports and summaries usually are). The main organizational principle used by the FBI was chronological sequence, and even this wasn’t strictly adhered to. Also, the Bureau for its own purposes used a “serial” numbering system difficult for the lay researcher to fathom.
To help cope with these problems, the ERI/Security Center site will comprise three main components: (1) the raw FBI file, or as much of it as we have been able to obtain under FOIA; (2) volume-by-volume or section-by-section summaries highlighting key names and cases; and (3) a searcheable index, permitting researchers to check for specific data on particular issues, groups, or individuals, and the context in which these are mentioned.
Using this system, researchers will be able to scan the site for names and cases, check out summaries in which they appear, and if these prove of interest explore in greater depth the files that these pertain to.
How to Use the Summaries
Because the FBI files are so voluminous, and repeat so many case names in so many places, a mere namecheck of the records may be of limited value. For instance, the name of some subject of investigation may simply appear as part of a more general listing or show up in irrelevant context not helpful to researchers. On the other hand the name may be linked to extensive discussion of the subject's activities and contacts, or the occasion for a detailed biographical essay. Also, while the name of the subject will be given in the FBI's own indices, the data referred to may be blacked out, as occurs in many cases.
To help deal with such problems, file summaries provided on this site seek to give some idea of context, the relative extent of the information, the prevalence of redactions, and the like. While the sheer quantity of the data makes it impossible to be anything close to comprehensive, we have sought to highlight matters related to the major cases, and also to some not so major that nonetheless developed into security issues in the nation's domestic Cold War.
By searching these summaries for cases of interest, and the context of discussion, the researcher can decide whether to consult the complete volume that the summary refers to. And of course, for those inclined that way, a direct approach to the larger files themselves is a further, if more labor-intensive, option.
To view a file volume after reading its summary, select "VIEW FILE" at the end of the summary. (To download a copy of the volume to your computer, right-click "VIEW FILE" and select "Save Target As...") These volumes are reproduced as PDF files. To view them, you need Adobe Reader. (You can download the latest version free here.) Note: Many of the volumes are very large, and may take some time to download, depending upon your connection speed.
Silvermaster and Beyond
The largest single file available in the FBI/FOIA archive is that pertaining to Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, a major security suspect of the 1940s whose case is explained below. Because this file is so extensive and is in some ways the most important of the Bureau's security records, it is also the first to be posted on this Website. In future, other such files will be posted also -- the Institute of Pacific Relations, Amerasia, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Hiss-Chambers, Harry Dexter White, and more.
As explained above, summaries of the Silvermaster file are also being posted for the benefit of researchers. As preparation of such summaries is labor-intensive, this has not yet been done for the additional files referred to, but will be in the future. In the meantime, as copying schedules permit, the raw files in these additional cases will be posted.
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