The Government Printing Office has just recently released its latest edition of the CIA’s World Factbook–which marks its 50th anniversary in 2012 for the classified version and more than 40 years of publishing the public version.
The 810-page public edition of the CIA’s World Factbook provides not only a timely and valuable source of global information, it also allows us a glimpse into the times and events that necessitated its production.
The Factbook has its origins in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the realization by Congress and the White House that lack of coordinated intelligence across all Governmental departments had left the United States woefully unprepared for the attack, and determined to correct this as a national security necessity and priority.
Detailed and coordinated information was needed not only on such major powers as Germany and Japan, but also on places of little previous interest. In the Pacific Theater, for example, the Navy and Marines had to launch amphibious operations against many islands about which information was unconfirmed or nonexistent.
To correct this deficiency, in 1943, General George B. Strong (G-2), Admiral H. C. Train (Office of Naval Intelligence – known as ONI), and General William J. Donovan (Director of the Office of Strategic Services – known as OSS, the precursor of the CIA) oversaw the formation of a Joint Intelligence Study Publishing Board to assemble, edit, coordinate, and publish the Joint Army Navy Intelligence Studies (JANIS).
JANIS was the first cross-departmental basic intelligence program to fulfill the needs of the US Government for an authoritative and coordinated appraisal of strategic basic intelligence.
All groups involved in the war agreed that finished basic intelligence was required that covered territories around the world where the war was being fought. They needed detailed, up-to-date maps and geography; basic understanding of the cultural, economical, political and historical issues of the people and the region.
Compiling and publishing this information for the Allied intelligence needs, JANIS became an indispensable reference for war planning and execution.
The Cold War Gives Birth to the CIA… and the National Intelligence Survey
But the Cold War that immediately followed World War II showed that there was just as much need for continued intelligence gathering as ever. In the 1946 publication “The Future of American Secret Intelligence,” national security author George S. Petee wrote: “The conduct of peace involves all countries, all human activities – not just the enemy and his war production.”
In acknowledgement of this, the Congress established the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947 which immediately took over responsibility for JANIS. The next year, the National Security Council authorized the National Intelligence Survey program as a peacetime replacement for the wartime JANIS program. By 1955, the Hoover Commission evaluating the CIA advised Congress that: “The National Intelligence Survey [NIS] is an invaluable publication which provides the essential elements of basic intelligence on all areas of the world. There will always be a continuing requirement for keeping the Survey up-to-date.”
Subsequently, the World Factbook was created as an “annual summary and update to the encyclopedic NIS studies.”
Originally published only as a classified publication starting a half century ago in August 1962 (just prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962), the World Factbook was first published in its declassified version for public consumption in June 1971, 40 years ago.
Today’s World Factbook is the declassified version of the finished basic intelligence compiled by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and coordinated across all the U.S. intelligence community.
It uses only recognized, authoritative sources, not only CIA-gathered intelligence, but also a wide variety of U.S. Government agencies from the National Security Agency, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Agriculture, Defense Intelligence Agency, and hundreds of other published sources around the world.
Printed Version Provides an Annual Snapshot
Once a year, the Government Printing Office takes a snapshot of this information from the CIA as of January 1 and produces a printed version of the World Factbook. The Factbook has been available from GPO since 1975.
An online version of the World Factbook, which is updated continuously, can be found on the CIA’s website and among other features, it now includes a new audio function that allows users, for instance, to listen to most of the world’s national anthems.
The Factbook, however, provides an unparalleled and succinct collection of information about hundreds of countries in a format that provides an easy-to-use comparison.
The 2011 version just published provides a two- to three-page summary of the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities, including U.S.-recognized countries, dependencies, and other areas in the world.
Each country has its own basic map and shows its flag, but of particular interest are the maps of the major world regions, as well three pull-out maps included in the publication: Physical Map of the World, Political Map of the World, and Standard Time Zones of the World Map, all of which can be used as wall maps.
You don’t have to be an intelligence junkie to benefit from the World Factbook. A perennial best seller in the GPO bookstore, the World Factbook is used by not only US Government officials, but is a must-have reference for researchers, news organizations, businesses, geographers, international travelers, teachers, professors, librarians, and students.
In short, after 40 years, the World Factbook is still the best source of up-to-date, summarized intelligence about the world for any “thinker, traveler, soldier, or spy” of any age!
Facts related to the CIA’s World Factbook: What separates “intelligence” from “information”?
Answer: According to the CIA: The Intelligence Cycle is the process by which information is acquired, converted into intelligence, and made available to policymakers. Information is raw data from any source, data that may be fragmentary, contradictory, unreliable, ambiguous, deceptive, or wrong. Intelligence is information that has been collected, integrated, evaluated, analyzed, and interpreted. Finished intelligence is the final product of the Intelligence Cycle ready to be delivered to the policymaker.
Michele Bartram is promotions manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.