These 11 declassified maps show how the CIA saw the world at the height of the Cold War


Perhaps more so than any other tool used by the clandestine services, an accurate map can mean the difference between success and failure — or between life and death.

The CIA, renowned for its secrecy, has long kept its maps and cartographic methods under wraps.

In honor of the agency's Cartography Center's 75th anniversary last year, however, the CIA put a number of maps online, revealing how "the company" has viewed the world since its inception after World War II.

President Franklin Roosevelt created the agency that would eventually become the CIA in the early 1940s. The map division produced a bevy of maps vital to strategic planning during the war, according to National Geographic.

The agency's mapmakers had a broad mission, supplying maps and data relevant to national security issues facing the country. In doing so, the CIA said in a statement, "Geographers and cartographers amassed what would be the largest collection of maps in the world."

12 PHOTOS
Maps show how CIA used to view the world
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Maps show how CIA used to view the world

Oil transport and refining facilities in the Middle East in the early 1950s.

(Image via CIA)

A map of French and Viet Minh areas of operations during the 1950s.

(Image via CIA)

Chinese railroad construction in the mid-1950s.

(Image via CIA)

Suspected sites of missiles in Cuba, 1962.

(Image via CIA)

Transportation routes in and around West and East Berlin in the 1960s.

(Image via CIA)

Bantustans in South Africa in 1973.

(Image via CIA)

Southern Lebanon and environs in 1977.

(Image via CIA)

Ethnic groups in Afghanistan in 1979.

(Image via CIA)

Central Moscow in 1980.

(Image via CIA)

Yugoslavia in 1981.

(Image via CIA)

Population changes due to refugee movement on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, 1982.

(Image via CIA)
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In a sign of how valuable maps were during the Cold War, the Soviet Union dedicated a great deal of resources to not only making exacting maps of foreign capitals and other cities but also to making misleading maps of their own territory to undermine anyone consulting those maps with nefarious intent.

In the early days, the CIA's maps were produced by hand, drawn in pen on translucent sheets, but the agency was one of the first to adopt digital technology.

"In 1966, a large working group, using a borrowed digitizer, compiled and digitized coastlines and international boundaries for the entire world—in a single weekend," the agency said in a release.

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