Youth Perspectives

15 of the CIA’s most intriguing declassified maps

Cartographic support was key to the US war effort Image: CIA/Flickr

Alex Gray
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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During key events in history, maps created by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have helped US presidents and their advisors make critical decisions.

These maps, usually top secret, were produced by the CIA’s own Cartography Center, which was set up in 1941 to provide maps, geographic analysis and research to support the work of the Agency, the White House, senior policy-makers and the intelligence community at large.

The Center started life with only one employee, but such was the demand that one year later there were 28 people working there.

In order to celebrate the Center’s 75th anniversary, the CIA has released a series of maps, from the 1940s up to the 2010s.

War planning

Cartographic support was key to US war planning.

By December 1941 the Americans had joined World War II, and were producing maps such as this one of the Russian Front, to support the war effort.

The Russian Front 1941
Image: CIA/Flickr

This map, meanwhile, shows key information used during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

 Cuban missile crisis
Image: CIA/Flickr

The maps became more sophisticated as time went on, such as this 3D map of Afghanistan from 2001.

Afghanistan 3D map
Image: CIA/Flickr


But the CIA’s maps aren’t just geographical, they also tell us about governments and people, such as this 1950 map of administrative regions in Africa.

Africa administrative divisions
Image: CIA/Flickr

Or this 2000 map of the Balkan region.

Balkan region

This 1980 map shows ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

Ethnic groups Afghanistan
Image: CIA/Flickr


The CIA also produced maps that track the world’s commodities – both legal and illegal.

This 1980s map shows the oilfields, pipelines and tanker terminals of Indonesia.

 Indonesia oil and gas
Image: CIA/Flickr

And this 1992 map shows China’s coal deposits.

China's Coal
Image: CIA/Flickr

This 1950s map shows the production and trade of vegetable tannins across the world.

1950s vegetable tannins
Image: CIA/Flickr

This map shows cocaine trafficking routes across the US, South America and Europe in 1989.

Cocaine trafficking routes
Image: CIA/Flickr
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The natural world

The CIA’s maps have also helped to keep track of the natural world, such as the state of the elephant population in Africa in 2013.

2013 African elephant population
Image: CIA/Flickr

As well as key information on the ivory trade.

Ivory trade
Image: CIA/Flickr

There are maps containing geographical data, such as the depth of water in the East China Sea, and the path of a hurricane.

 South China Sea depth
Image: CIA/Flickr

This map shows the route of hurricane Mitch which hit Central America in 1998.

Path of Hurricane Mitch
Image: CIA/Flickr


The CIA also mapped health issues, such as this 2013 map which shows malaria risk across South and Southeast Asia.

Malaria risk in South and Southeast Asia
Image: CIA/Flickr

You can see more of the Center’s maps here.

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