Skip to main content
USF Libraries Exhibits

Conducting Research in the CIA Archives

John Loftus, President, Florida Holocaust Museum

I spent a lot of time going through the files. There is a place called Suitland, Maryland. There are twenty vaults underground: each vault is one acre in size. You can imagine the numbers of secrets locked away. But I think, of all the things that upset me the most, was when I discovered, much to my embarrassment, that many of the Nazi war criminals I was supposed to prosecute were already on the government payroll. It was one of those Cold War screw-ups. The British Secret Service said they were sending us anti-communist freedom fighters from Eastern Europe. But the British genius in charge of the freedom fighter project was Kim Philby, the Soviet double agent. So, instead of sending us freedom fighters, we get the dregs of the Nazi war criminals of Eastern Europe. And you know government bureaucrats never admit any mistake, so they hid the files. So you can’t destroy top-secret records—it takes too much paperwork—but you can misfile them. That’s why all the Nazi files ended up down in the nuclear vaults, where I stumbled across them four decades later.

Yeah, what happened is that, as part of my access to all these files, I had to sign security agreements, and I had like a cosmic clearance and ultra top security clearances—Q clearance for atomic secrets, things like that. And everything I would write or say would have to be screened back through the CIA publication review committee before it could be published. But the irony was that most of the people in the American intelligence community, particularly the CIA and the military intelligence, are good decent Americans, and they were horrified when I started hauling these old files out of the vaults. And so many people in our government bent over backwards to help me justify and get permission to go public.

John Loftus
Conducting Research in the CIA Archives