MIAMI — If you ever wanted to know the CIA’s secret recipe for invisible ink, how to spot spy messages hidden in suspicious fruit, or which top American spy was asked to appear in Penthouse magazine, you’re in luck. Millions of pages of once-classified agency documents are now available for the first time on your home computer after the agency moved one of its databases online.

The documents run the gamut from classic espionage (a Cold War mission to tunnel into East Germany to tap the Soviet Union’s military telephone system) to borderline-goofball research (trying to see if “psychic” Uri Geller could read the minds of intelligence officers half a mile away) to tediously mundane housekeeping tasks (the opening of the agency’s new child care center).

Recently declassified documents on Israeli psychic Uri Geller, pictured here in the 1970s, suggested the CIA might have needed better management. Associated Press File Photo

Most of the documents have been declassified for decades or even longer. But they were available for viewing only on a handful of computers at an outpost of the National Archives, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. After years of wrangling with open-government advocates, ranging from lawsuits to a mocking Kickstarter campaign to pay for photocopying that was intended to shame the CIA, the agency finally relented this month.

“Now you can access it from the comfort of your own home,” Joseph Lambert, the CIA’s longtime director of information management, said grandly as the database — known as the CIA Records Search Tool, or CREST — went online.

That might sound a bit overblown, but researchers across America saluted Lambert smartly. “I’ve been using that database for years, but it’s not easy flying to Washington and driving out to Maryland to get on their computers,” said Jeffrey T. Richelson, the Los Angeles-based author of several well-regarded academic studies of intelligence. “The last few days, I’ve been finding all kinds of things on it that I didn’t even know existed.”

None of them, at least so far, have been blockbusters, though the bits of intelligence run from the oddly fascinating (East Germany, in the summer of 1973, faced a daunting shortage of barbers) to the monumentally incorrect (a breezy pronouncement that Iran’s Muslim clergymen didn’t constitute “a well-organized threat to the regime,” made barely years before they toppled the government and put the country on a disastrous collision course with the United States that persists to this day).

There are even tantalizing hints of James Bond-ish bang-bang. Who drew that hand-drawn map of an explosives plant in Romania, including a diagram of the wiring of its electronic security gate, and why? Will an answer turn up as journalists and academics plow through the 12 million pages on the database?

The CIA file on Fidel Castro, Cuba’s late military dictator, shown on Jan. 30, 1959, turned out to be less titillating than its headline suggested. Associated Press file photo

But a few days spent sifting random documents reveals a couple of unexpected things. One is the indefinably vast expanse of the CIA’s interests. There are large numbers of documents about UFOs, psychic research and any number of other subjects that would excite a New Age wiccan priestess.

Some are so peculiar as to defy comprehension. What on Earth prompted a CIA officer to even pick up a leaflet advertising the (now defunct) Buffalo Bill Wax Museum and its “107 life-sized wax figures” of Bill, Wyatt Earp and Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall gang (“in living wax!”) — much less to preserve it in an agency file — will likely remain a cryptic secret for generations to come.

What is very clear is that the CIA’s declassification team has the come-on coquetry of a strip-tease dancer and the piquant sense of humor of the editors at The Onion. The title of one document — “Clarifying Statement to Fidel Castro Concerning Assassination” — sent journalistic hearts pounding across the world. It turns out to be an unremarkable 1977 exchange of notes between then-CIA director Stansfield Turner and an agency press public affairs officer about getting a transcript of a television interview of Fidel Castro by Barbara Walters.

Another wisecrack title is attached to a package of files on the CIA’s interest in UFOs: “Top 5 CIA Documents Mulder Would Love To Get His Hands On,” a reference to Fox Mulder, the FBI agent on TV’s The X-Files.

The records are available by visiting

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