Mata Hari, Call Your Office!

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Margaretha Geertruida Zelle MacLeod, aka "Mata Hari," executed by the French in 1917 for allegedly spying for the Germans / Wikimedia

Moving at the speed of sludge, the CIA this week declared it has finally declassified its oldest still-secret documents it has: spy documents from World War I. One outlines the chemicals and techniques necessary for developing certain types of secret writing ink and a method for opening sealed letters without detection. Another memorandum dated June 14, 1918 – written in French – reveals the formula used for German secret ink.

“These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent advancements in technology made it possible to release them,” CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said. “When historical information is no longer sensitive, we take seriously our responsibility to share it with the American people.”

Not everyone viewed this so grandly. “It is unknown what `recent advancements in technology,’ if any, might have occurred…to compel a complete reversal in CIA’s view on declassification of these records,” says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. The agency, he noted, fought a 1988 lawsuit seeking their release, and a federal court sided with the CIA.

Well, thank God for small favors: the released documents were not written in invisible ink:

— This one contains the secret German recipe for invisible ink.

More on the ink, zut alors!

Secret Writing, in English.

— How to open a sealed envelope, clandestinely.

— Potential hidden inks.

Invisible Photography and Writing, Sympathetic Ink, Etc.

If you can’t figure out why these somewhat crytic and sometimes confusing documents should have been kept classified for nearly a century, forget it — you’re plainly not cut out to be a spy.