Remembering Hurricane Katrina (Photos)

Many Americans living along the Gulf Coast do not need an anniversary to reflect upon Hurricane Katrina.  The natural disaster caused overwhelming hardship for thousands, irreparably damaging houses, businesses and entire cities.  Katrina left a legacy that they will never forget.


New Orleans, LA-September 8, 2005- Neighborhoods and roadways throughout the area remain flooded as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Local ID: 311-MAD-192002. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Yet for some, the ten years since the hurricane has blunted Katrina’s gravity.  While we may know that the hurricane was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, it is hard to put that into perspective.  Memories of the event are largely a blurred hodgepodge of political criticism, stories of survival, and the ever-ongoing recovery effort.

The images of Katrina reflect the power of photography.  A camera, whether manned by a government photographer or casual bystander, captures a moment in time.  At the National Archives, our goal is to preserve these moments.  We preserve photos so generations to come will be able to look back on events like Hurricane Katrina and understand its impact on American lives.

New Orleans, LA, August 30, 2005--Resuce operations continue at a staging area set up for local, state and federal operations. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

New Orleans, LA, August 30, 2005–Resuce operations continue at a staging area set up for local, state and federal operations.
Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Ten years removed, the photos remind us of two things. First, is the unprecedented impact of the hurricane.  Images of overturned boats, demolished houses, and shattered windows remind us (for those that need reminding) of the magnitude of the storm.  Yet also, and perhaps more importantly, we are reminded of the way our nation came together in the aftermath of Katrina.  In these photos, the bravery of rescue workers, volunteers, fire fighters, and ordinary people shines through.  Faced with crisis, Americans united to help one another.

The photos below come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  In the weeks following the hurricane, FEMA photographers documented the physical and social impact of the storm.  These photos, and others related to Hurricane Katrina, can be found on our online catalog.

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For more historical background on the levee system and flood control along the Gulf of Mexico check out our recent blog post, Taming the Mississippi.

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Taming the Mississippi

This post was written in collaboration with Ellen Mulligan.

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was the worst flood in U.S. history.

RG 23 Mississippi Flood Map 1927 NAID 2436794

RG 23 Mississippi Flood Map 1927 NAID 2436794

Following the mass destruction caused by the flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expanded the existing levee system to more than 3,500 miles, making it the longest in the world. Plans and progress from 1938 are illustrated below.

RG 77 Flood Control Maps NAID 1078584, Mississippi River Basin 1938

RG 77 Flood Control Maps NAID 1078584, Mississippi River Basin 1938

The levees were meant to decrease flooding along the river, but after subsequent major floods some believe that this altering of the course of the Mississippi has increased flood damage during storms. The films below show construction of levees along the Mississippi.

Levee Construction, Mississippi River, Vicinity Arkansas City, NAID 21331650, Local ID: 77-GENERAL-119*

This film includes intertitles describing the project, including levee specifications. I found it interesting that in addition to providing information regarding the height of the tower and the generator used, at 2:28 they also tell the cost of running the levee. I was pretty amazed at the cost to operate one levee, which is listed as $20,000/month. In today’s dollars that is $274,000.

Methods of Levee Construction on the Mississippi River, NAID 22377367, Local ID: 77-GENERAL-120*

Levees also attempt to control the river’s ever-changing course. Channels change course due to the constant movement of sediment and erosion of banks. Compiling survey information from 1765 to the 1930’s, this map shows changes in the river channel in the Arkansas City area featured in the film above.

Click on the images above for a slide show at full size.

Levees are also intended to prevent flooding from storm surges like the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. A follow-up post will feature records related to that storm. More records relating to levees on the Mississippi River can be found by searching our catalog.

*The links to these catalog entries are currently broken. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Posted in Cartographic Records, Films, Motion Pictures | Tagged , | 1 Comment

NARA Holdings Well-Represented at Archival Film Symposium


The Alamo Theatre in Bucksport, Maine is the home of Northeast Historic Film and the site of their Summer Symposium.

In late July, Audrey and I traveled to Bucksport, Maine, to attend the Northeast Historic Film (NHF) Wunderkino 5 symposium. The theme for the annual event was “Images of War and Peace,” which aligns perfectly with the types of films preserved at the National Archives (NARA).  We were delighted to see several presentations that highlighted NARA films.

The symposium kicked off with a service project during which we tested a portion of NHF’s collection of donated 16mm projectors. Although the first projector tested threatened to burst into flames, we accomplished a lot. At the end of four hours, participants had identified a number of working projectors, set aside those that needed repair or could be salvaged for parts, and collected and organized working projector bulbs and lamps.

The first presentation we encountered featuring NARA films came from Christine Gorby, a professor of architecture at The Pennsylvania State University. Her presentation “Preserved Food, Identity, and Experience in Post-WWI” was built around an analysis of how material culture and space were used in American Home Canning in France (1919) to shape cultural food practices during French postwar reconstruction. Gorby has done extensive research on films of the United States Department of Agriculture. Other NARA films referenced in her presentation include Cured by Canning and How to Eat Cottage Cheese.

The subsequent presentations also touched on films preserved at NARA. Timothy Wisniewski of the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives at Johns Hopkins University used an Army Film Bulletin titled The General Hospital to introduce his presentation on films shot by physicians stationed at Army general hospitals during World War II. Devin Orgeron, film studies professor at North Carolina State University, gave a presentation titled “P is for Patriot: The Manufacturing of Americans from WWII-Vietnam” and showed a film from NARA’s United States Information Agency record group titled 200, which was made by animator Vincent Collins as part of the USIA’s Young Filmmaker Bicentennial Grant program. Sharon Thompson, founder of the Lesbian Home Movie Project, presented on lost WWII women directors and showed Elizabeth Wheeler’s 1943 film It’s Up to You!, available here on the NARA YouTube channel:

Fred Pond, Reference and Instruction Librarian at the University of Vermont’s Bailey/Howe Library, spoke about the local WWII home front as captured in different types of films, such as an amateur film showing the activities of the Vermont State Guard. Pond was working with films held at the Vermont Historical Society, but two of the titles also have a home at NARA. A Town Solves a Problem and Dorothy Thompson’s 1941 Farm Work is War Work both featured Vermont communities as their setting. The first demonstrates democracy in action through the small-town meeting process and the second promoted a program for young people who wanted to support the war effort by providing labor assistance to farmers.

NHF’s Wunderkino 5 demonstrated how researchers from diverse backgrounds draw on the motion picture holdings of the National Archives in their work. We take pride in our work preserving these films and making them accessible, and always appreciate seeing the research and productions that they inform.

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Witness to Destruction: Photographs and Sound Recordings Documenting the Hiroshima Bombing

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later another bomb was detonated over Nagasaki. Whether the United States needed to use the bomb to ensure a Japanese surrender is a point that is debated to this day. It is not controversial to acknowledge that the actual results of the bomb were horrific. Two cities were flattened and hundreds of thousands of Japanese, mostly civilians, died or suffered terrible injuries.


Destruction near the hypocenter of the Hiroshima bombing. The domed building at the center of the photograph was one of the only buildings in the area that, despite severe damage, remained standing. It has been preserved as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. (NAID 243-HP-I-31-2, Photographs Used In The Report Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, 1947 – 1947.)

When U.S. officials decided to drop atomic bombs on Japan, they also planned to study the effects as part of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. The Strategic Bombing Survey was initiated in late 1944 to determine if bombing campaigns in Nazi Germany were effective. For example, how much effect did the bombing of ball-bearing factories have on the outcome of the war? (Not much, as it turned out.) Data from the survey would be used to determine the future of U.S. military development and strategy.

Similarly, every angle of the devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was examined by the Strategic Bombing Survey. How did the landscape or placement of hospitals affect the number of casualties? (Hiroshima fared much worse because of the density and terrain of the city.) The resulting report is clinical in its description of damage and ghastly injuries. It’s unsettling to read the “effectiveness” of the bomb measured in the number of dead.

While the report is cold and unfeeling, the Strategic Bombing Survey also recorded the destruction in photographs and film, and with interviews with survivors. In these records we come face-to-face with the true devastation that occurs when one combatant chooses to use an atomic bomb against an enemy.

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Photographs of Hiroshima after the bomb. The original caption for these photos is simply “A-bomb Hiroshima” From series 243-HP: Photographs Used In The Report Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, 1947 – 1947)

Only one of the interviews was conducted in English. Kaleria Palchikoff came to Japan as a baby, when her family fled communist Russia. As a result, she was living just outside Hiroshima when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city. Her first-hand account of the bombing and the days that followed allows the listener a window into the experience of survivors. After the bombing, Palchikoff and her family made their way to a military hospital and she spent some time helping dying patients. Her descriptions of radiation burns, peeling skin, and bleeding eyes are horrifying. Interviewers also asked Palchikoff about the attitudes and beliefs of the Japanese people during the war. Her position as a white “foreigner” means that she makes racially-based generalizations about the Japanese, but she did grow up in the country and lived through the war, so her eyewitness account may have helped U.S. officials understand the impact of the bomb better.

Listen to Palchikoff’s interview below, or read the transcript (Part 1, Part 2).

Palchikoff Interview Part 1

Palchikoff Interview Part 2

Palchikoff Interview Part 3

There is much more about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan at the Truman Library website, including hundreds of pages of original documents. Photographs and more biographical information about Kaleria Palchikoff are available online at Sound Portraits.

Photographs for this post were selected and scanned by Richard Green.

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Pushing the Limits: The NASA Space Shuttle (Photos)

For more than half a century, the people at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have captured the hearts and minds of the American people.  From man’s initial voyages through Earth’s atmosphere, to the recent exploration of Pluto, NASA has continued push the limits of scientific exploration. While NASA’s accomplishments are too numerous for any blog to recount, perhaps one of the agency’s greatest feats was developing a reusable space shuttle.

STS-116 Launch, 12/9/2006; Local ID: 255-ESD-ksc-306d-1348_0029

Photos featured in this blog have been recently processed by the Still Photos Branch.  STS-116 Launch, 12/9/2006; Local ID: 255-ESD-ksc-306d-1348_0029

The idea of a space shuttle was a radical departure from NASA’s previous space-exploratory vehicles.  Unlike its predecessors, the shuttle was the first spacecraft with wings.  The revolutionary shuttle was also launched by rockets and landed like a plane.  Most importantly, however, the shuttle was the first reusable spacecraft.  By creating a reusable ship, NASA was able to continually send astronauts into low Earth orbit, greatly enhancing our knowledge of the solar system.

Richard Nixon formally launched the Space Shuttle program on January 5, 1972.  It took another nine years for engineers and scientists to successfully launch what many believed was the greatest machine ever developed.  On April 12, 1981, exactly twenty years after Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, NASA launched Columbia from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  After orbiting the Earth thirty-six times, the shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on April 14.

STS-118 Launch, 8/8/2007; Local ID: 255-ESD-ksc-307d-1104_0021

STS-118 Launch, 8/8/2007; Local ID: 255-ESD-ksc-307d-1104_0021

For thirty years, NASA’s Shuttle program exposed the potential of human exploration, and the harsh reality of space travel.  Two disasters, the Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003, will forever tarnish the legacy of the Space Shuttle program.  Yet the vast majority of shuttle missions were successful.  Between 1981 and 2011, NASA launched 135 missions, many of which helped to build and service the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station (ISS).  Both the Hubble and the ISS are unquestionably two of mankind’s greatest accomplishments, all made possible by NASA’s Shuttle program.

Although the Space Shuttle program has ended, its legacy continues to live on at the National Archives. The Still Photos branch has recently processed digital photographs taken from Space Transportation System (STS) 114 through 135.  These photos span from 2005 to 2011 and represent the last twenty-two missions of the Space Shuttle program.  The photographs depict pre-flight procedures, shuttle launches, and shuttle landings.  The National Archives also houses photos related to earlier shuttle missions and other NASA activities.

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All photos from 255-ESD will be made available on the NARA website shortly.

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Wealth Comes in Many Forms: William Greaves’ USIA Films

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. 

I’m fortunate that my job allows me to make a difference every day. Most days it’s because I’ve preserved a piece of history, made something accessible for research, or contributed to the archival community. It’s rare, however, that I see how my work has made a difference in the life of a single person. This past spring I had that chance along with the opportunity to bring attention to two great films and the life of their multifaceted and talented director. A simple request from the Film Society of Lincoln Center for a 16mm theater print of William Greaves’Wealth of a Nation(1964) began it all.

NARA gets requests for theater prints on a regular basis, so I didn’t give much thought to it until, a couple of weeks after sending the print out, I received an email from Louise Greaves. She’d attended the screening at Lincoln Center and was delighted to know that her husband’s film was preserved at the National Archives as there wasn’t a copy in his personal archive.

William Greaves was a prominent African-American filmmaker and producer from the 1960s through the 2000s. He won an Emmy Award for the groundbreaking TV newsmagazine series Black Journal and is perhaps best known for his films Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (1968) and Ali, the Fighter (1971). Mr. Greaves began as an actor, becoming a member of The Actors Studio in 1948. His career led him everywhere from the National Film Board of Canada, to Africa, to India and around the world. One of the stops along the way was with the United States Information Agency (USIA).

The USIA’s primary goal was to promote understanding, “inform, and influence foreign publics in promotion of the U.S. national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions and their counterparts abroad.” The USIA was particularly prolific in the 1950s and 1960s, during the post World War II period and throughout the Cold War. It was during this period, in the mid-1960s, that William Greaves produced and directed Wealth of a Nation and The First World Festival of Negro Arts for the USIA. NARA holds the original negatives for both of these titles along with 54 reels of outtakes for First World Festival.

Both films are beautifully shot and composed and highlight the joy found in personal and collective expression. Wealth of a Nation explores how freedom of speech is afforded to all Americans, showing freedom of expression in art, music, dance, architecture, and science. The film emphasizes the importance of the individual’s contribution to the whole of society and shows how a productive and creative society is formed by the open and respectful exchange of ideas.

The First World Festival of Negro Arts documents the 1966 festival in Dakar, Senegal, which was put on by UNESCO, with the participation of forty-five African, European, Caribbean, and North and South American countries. The festival featured black literature, music, theater, visual arts, film and dance. Greaves filmed international performers, along with American artists Duke Ellington, Alvin Ailey, and Langston Hughes.

Providing digital copies of the films to Louise Greaves for inclusion in her husband’s archive was an immensely rewarding experience.  NARA was also fortunate to gain more information about these two titles from Mrs. Greaves. In one email exchange she wrote, “Wealth of a Nation is not just a beautiful film, it is actually the first film that Bill made independently after he returned to the States. So, in effect, the USIA helped launch his career as an independent filmmaker. George Stevens, Jr. was the person in charge of the program at that time and deserves credit for having made this happen – a fact that Bill always referred to whenever he was asked how he started his career as an independent filmmaker.”

Louise was able to provide some production information for us as well – the 35mm copies of First World Festival of Negro Arts were likely released in black and white and 16mm copies of the film were released with a sepia tone (all of NARA’s copies are 35mm). Without our conversations with her, this information may have been lost.

Collaboration and an exchange of information helped bring to light the legacy of art and freedom of expression that William Greaves illustrates in these two films. Personal moments like these that make my job worth so much more to me. Being able to provide increased access to important content is part of the job, but being able to make an impact in the life of an individual is a gift.

Many thanks to Louise Greaves for filling in details and fact-checking this post. You can find out more about William Greaves at Wealth of a Nation will be screened at the National Archives’ McGowan Theater in Washington, D.C. September 10th at noon.

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When Slates Attack: A Shark Week Surprise

In most cases, film slates provide basic information about the scene that follows. In our military holdings, the slates tell us the unit, who the cameraman is, and the film’s subject. Sometimes the camera model is identified and the location and date are included.

They usually look like this, an example taken from reel 8 of the unedited footage for Training During Combat:


This 1944 film slate includes a title, the name of the military unit (9th Combat Camera), the name of the cameraman (Lt. W.T. Blume), and a headless assistant. (Still from 18-CS-2538, Reel 8)

Slates are meant to be functional and pass by quickly. In fact, we usually barely notice them at all.

Last week was an exception. After spending a good chunk of time transferring a researcher request that consisted of half-hour long reels of silent unedited footage of Vietnam-era river patrol boats (also called PBRs for their official name, “Patrol Boat, River“), I came across this slate:


In this slate, the cameraman decided to include an artistic rendering of the PBR as a shark, complete with a scary set of chompers and two muscular arms. One hand is gripping the hilt of a large knife, while the other clutches a Viet Cong soldier. (Still from 111-LC-53808)

I think I can safely say that in all the hours of unedited footage I’ve inspected or transferred, I have never before seen a shark boat. This slate serves as a reminder that when dealing with moving images, even the most ordinary aspect can contain extraordinary detail. Don’t blink or you might miss it!

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Re-establishing Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (Historic Photos)

It has been 54 years since the U.S. Embassy in Havana closed its doors.  Upon ending diplomatic relations with our neighboring island nation, President Eisenhower announced, “It is my hope and my conviction that it is in the not too distant future that it will be possible for the historic friendship between us once again to find its reflection in normal relations of every sort.” Although it has taken more than half a century, President Obama recently announced that the United States would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Coincidentally, the National Archives Still Photos Division recently acquired a large collection of photos from the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations.  The collection includes photos of embassies, consulates, and diplomatic residencies from all over the world.  Included in this collection are a number of photos from the original U.S. embassy in Cuba.  These photos were processed earlier this month and can be viewed below:

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Photos from the Overseas Building Operations are currently being processed and will be made available to researchers in the near future.

Posted in Digitization, Photographs | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Happy July Fourth! John Huston’s “Birthday Present” to America

“All films are created equal. I don’t think there is such a thing as a small film. We’re not pulling any punches here. Scene for scene, everything is being done to the best of our abilities. Each scene as we make it is the best scene I’ve ever made—in my imagination.” –John Huston, on Independence

In June of 1975 director John Huston and a team of Hollywood professionals rolled into Philadelphia to make a film at Independence Hall. Four decades later, the film still screens at Independence National Historical Park, with twelve shows a day.


John Huston directed Independence as a bicentennial “birthday present” to America.

How, you might ask, did a little government film draw stars like John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), and cinematographer Owen Roizman, (The Exorcist)? The answer is that it was never a “little” film in the sense that so many government productions were quickly out of date and replaced. The National Park Service commissioned the film as a centerpiece to its Bicentennial celebrations and intended that it would be in use at Independence National Historical Park for twenty years. NPS budgeted nearly $400,000 for the production, a fortune for a non-theatrical film, even if it would have been low-budget by 1975 Hollywood standards.

Independence tells the story of our nation’s beginnings by bringing back the founding fathers from “a cask of Madeira wine” where, as a result of a wish by Benjamin Franklin, they had apparently been preserved for two hundred years so they could see how we turned out.

In a letter to Orson Welles, Huston called the project his “200th birthday present to the United States,” and he threw around a lot of weight in order to create the best possible product, including asking Welles to star as Benjamin Franklin, and bringing on board an Academy Award nominated cinematographer. Welles turned the role down, but Eli Wallach did not, telling a Philadelphia newspaper that working with John Huston again was “part of the lure, but that he also wanted to make the film because the Park Service planned to show it “for years and years”. Wallach said that he and his wife (who plays Abigail Adams) “turned down a lot to do it.”

With all the pieces in place, Huston fought to maintain a high level of quality for the production. In an article in the Philadelphia Bulletin, producer Lloyd Ritter noted that a John Huston film cannot be made “with a Bell and Howell and a candle.” He recounted one time when Huston arrived to find that there were not nearly enough extras in a scene of a room full of delegates. Ritter told Huston that the production could not afford more extras, “but Mr. Huston is perfectly capable of sitting in his camp chair until the 20 extras show up. And he did so.” Ritter added that Huston also found creative ways to keep costs down. Still, Independence ran $125,000 over budget, resulting in a dispute between producers Twentieth Century Fox and the government over who should pay the difference (all of the information for this post comes from a one and a half inch thick file labeled “Cost Overrun”).

The production clearly meant a lot to Huston and the other participants. The actors and crew famously received union scale rather than their usual asking price, and when Fox fired the producer and shut the production down on the seventh day of shooting, Huston offered $5000 of his own money and held a midnight meeting in Congress Hall to get everyone to come back the following day for no pay.

The result of John Huston’s “birthday present” is a film that holds up remarkably well and continues to serve its original purpose twenty years beyond its expected lifespan—the only other government film that comes close is John Ford’s Sex Hygiene, which I have been told was still in use in the 1960s, but would have been dreadfully dated even by then (you can’t really compare the two, of course).

If you have time this holiday, have a look at Independence. Even if you don’t learn something, I promise you’ll be entertained!

Why Do I Know That Face?

Most of the actors starring in Independence may not have well-known names, but you’ve probably seen their faces. Their IMDb pages feature hundreds of credits over decades of working as character actors. Most of them played more than one part in Murder She Wrote, apparently the Law and Order of its day. Click through the slideshow to find out why you might recognize them.

Note on sources: Most of the information for this post came from the “Cost Overrun” file, including photocopies of newspaper articles from June of 1975. In some cases, the full date or title was not copied and I’m guessing, but the articles I referenced are below.

-“Bicen Movie Rolls at Historic Site.” Naedele, Walter F. Philadelphia Bulletin. June 24, 1975

-“Huston Told to Halt Bicen Film 5 Days Early.” Naedele, Walter F. Philadelphia Bulletin. June 29, 1975.

-“Independence No Easier To Win Today Than in 1776.” Seltzer, Ruth. Philadelphia Inquirer.  June 30, 1975.

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Declassified Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings – 3rd Quarter

In an effort to provide information on recently declassified motion pictures and sound recordings the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch will publish a quarterly list of newly declassified records.

This quarter’s list includes a film from a series of Air Force Intelligence Reports (Local Identifier 341-IR/National Archives Identifier 5964869). The reports cover countries around the world during the 1950s and 1960s. The film below shows the pomp and circumstance of a military parade in Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia May Day Parade, 1953 (Local Identifier 341-IR-98-53/National Archives Identifier 18559968) *This catalog entry is not currently live in our catalog. We apologize for the inconvenience and will repair the link for this entry as soon as possible.


From April 1, 2015 through June 30, 2015 the following records were declassified.

Motion Pictures:

Local Identifier           Title

341-IR-98-53              May Day Parade, Yugoslavia, 1953

342-USAF-28653      Operational Systems Test Facility for ICBM Titan at Vandenberg

                                      AFB, April 1960

342-USAF-34616      TAC Operations, McCoy AFB, November 1962

342-USAF-49604*  Operation Eagle Pull / Operation Frequent Wind

*Only Reels 5, 12, 49, 69, 106 and 164 have been declassified


Sound Recordings:

Local Identifier           Title

No sound recordings were declassified during this quarter.


Descriptive information for declassified records can be accessed by searching for the item number, ex. “341-IR-38-56”, in NARA’s catalog. You may also search on the Declassification Project Number (NND), if you know one. For example, searching on the declassification number “NND 64803” returns entries that are part of Declassification Project 64803. A list of declassified textual records can be found on the National Declassification Center’s web page.

Check out the post “From Top Secret Vault to Open Stacks: Declassification of Moving Images” to learn more about the declassification process. Lists of other recently declassified moving images and sound recordings can be located by clicking on the Declassification Quarterly Reports category on the left side of the blog.

Posted in Declassification Quarterly Reports, Military, Motion Pictures | 1 Comment