The Most Redacted Men In America

The Declassification Engine searched nearly a million pages of once-secret documents to find the men the Eisenhower administration wanted the world to know the least about.

“America's Most Redacted” is the first article in a BuzzFeed series written with help from Columbia University's History Lab. This team of historians and data scientists is developing a “Declassification Engine” that turns documents into data and mines it for insights about the history and future of official secrecy. The stories draw from the lab's searchable database of over 2 million declassified government documents. CC BY-SA / Via Flickr: opensourceway

Last week, the U.S. government released a tranche of documents related to the 2011 raid on the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where Osama bin Laden spent the last years of his life. The declassification of the papers, which included bin Laden's correspondence and his reading materials, was incredibly public — advanced to the press and immediately scrutinized, not just for their content but for their timing, shortly after Seymour Hersh's expose in the London Review of Books called into question many of the basic facts that support the government's story about the operation.

Such commotion hardly greets the declassification of most American government secrets, which pass into the public record years after the information they contain would have caused a stir. And yet beyond their specifics, the patterns of information contained in these declassifications can yield enormous insight into the priorities of government and the nature of official secrecy.

Analyzing the data behind these patterns can answer a fascinating question: Who are the people the American government was most likely to conceal in its official documentation? Politicians? Diplomats? Spies?

With an archival platform that combines visual and textual analysis, the History Lab queried over 117,000 documents — more than 765,000 pages from the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department — declassified at presidential libraries over the past 40 years. What they were looking for: names that were proportionally more likely to be blacked out — redacted — during the Eisenhower administration, to start. (Go here for a closer look at the Lab's methods.)

The resulting list of 10 men contains major world leaders and fairly obscure officials alike, and reflects the dominant foreign policy concern of the time, Soviet influence. And they are all linked by a single factor: The American government thought they were involved with things that should not be released to the public.

“There are diplomats as well as spies, and not all are enemies of the state,” Matthew Connelly, a Columbia University history professor and the principal investigator at History Lab, told BuzzFeed News. “U.S. officials often erase names simply to save embarrassment. Now we are beginning to have the technology to measure this problem.”

Here in order, are America's 10 most (proportionally) redacted names from 1953 to 1961:

Ismet Inonu

Ismet Inonu

U.S. Army Signal Corps/Library Of Congress

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