<style type="text/css"> .no-show { display: none; } .disable-fade-in{ opacity: 1 !important; transform: none !important; visibility: visible !important; } </style>

A Brief History of Basic Intelligence and The World Factbook

The Intelligence Cycle is the process by which information is acquired, converted into intelligence, and made available to policymakers. Information is raw data from any source, data that may be fragmentary, contradictory, unreliable, ambiguous, deceptive, or wrong. Intelligence is information that has been collected, integrated, evaluated, analyzed, and interpreted. Finished intelligence is the final product of the Intelligence Cycle ready to be delivered to the policymaker.

The three types of finished intelligence are: basic, current, and estimative. Basic intelligence provides the fundamental and factual reference material on a country or issue. Current intelligence reports on new developments. Estimative intelligence judges probable outcomes. The three are mutually supportive: basic intelligence is the foundation on which the other two are constructed; current intelligence continually updates the inventory of knowledge; and estimative intelligence revises overall interpretations of country and issue prospects for guidance of basic and current intelligence. The World Factbook, The President’s Daily Brief, and the National Intelligence Estimates are examples of the three types of finished intelligence.

The United States has carried on foreign intelligence activities since the days of George Washington but only since World War II have they been coordinated on a government-wide basis. Three programs have highlighted the development of coordinated basic intelligence since that time: (1) the Joint Army Navy Intelligence Studies (JANIS), (2) the National Intelligence Survey (NIS), and (3) The World Factbook.


During World War II, intelligence consumers realized that the production of basic intelligence by different components of the US Government resulted in a great duplication of effort and conflicting information. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought home to leaders in Congress and the executive branch the need for integrating departmental reports to national policymakers. Detailed and coordinated information was needed not only on such major powers as Germany and Japan, but also on places of little previous interest. In the Pacific Theater, for example, the Navy and Marines had to launch amphibious operations against many islands about which information was unconfirmed or nonexistent. Intelligence authorities resolved that the United States should never again be caught unprepared.


In 1943, Gen. George B. Strong (G-2), Adm. H. C. Train (Office of Naval Intelligence – ONI), and Gen. William J. Donovan (Director of the Office of Strategic Services – OSS) decided that a joint effort should be initiated. A steering committee was appointed on 27 April 1943 that recommended the formation of a Joint Intelligence Study Publishing Board to assemble, edit, coordinate, and publish the Joint Army Navy Intelligence Studies (JANIS). JANIS was the first interdepartmental basic intelligence program to fulfill the needs of the US Government for an authoritative and coordinated appraisal of strategic basic intelligence. Between April 1943 and July 1947, the board published 34 JANIS studies. JANIS performed well in the war effort, and numerous letters of commendation were received, including a statement from Adm. Forrest Sherman, Chief of Staff, Pacific Ocean Areas, which said, “JANIS has become the indispensable reference work for the shore-based planners.”


The need for more comprehensive basic intelligence in the postwar world was well expressed in 1946 by George S. Pettee, a noted author on national security. He wrote in The Future of American Secret Intelligence (Infantry Journal Press, 1946, page 46) that world leadership in peace requires even more elaborate intelligence than in war. “The conduct of peace involves all countries, all human activities – not just the enemy and his war production.”


The Central Intelligence Agency was established on 26 July 1947 and officially began operating on 18 September 1947. Effective 1 October 1947, the Director of Central Intelligence assumed operational responsibility for JANIS. On 13 January 1948, the National Security Council issued Intelligence Directive (NSCID) No. 3, which authorized the National Intelligence Survey (NIS) program as a peacetime replacement for the wartime JANIS program. Before adequate NIS country sections could be produced, government agencies had to develop more comprehensive gazetteers and better maps. The US Board on Geographic Names (BGN) compiled the names; the Department of the Interior produced the gazetteers; and CIA produced the maps.


The Hoover Commission’s Clark Committee, set up in 1954 to study the structure and administration of the CIA, reported to Congress in 1955 that: “The National Intelligence Survey is an invaluable publication which provides the essential elements of basic intelligence on all areas of the world. There will always be a continuing requirement for keeping the Survey up-to-date.” The Factbook was created as an annual summary and update to the encyclopedic NIS studies. The first classified Factbook was published in August 1962, and the first unclassified version was published in June 1971. The NIS program was terminated in 1973 except for the Factbook, map, and gazetteer components. The 1975 Factbook was the first to be made available to the public with sales through the US Government Printing Office (GPO). The Factbook was first made available on the Internet in June 1997. The year 2023 marks the 76th anniversary of the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency and the 80th year of continuous basic intelligence support to the US Government by The World Factbook and its two predecessor programs.

The Evolution of The World Factbook

National Basic Intelligence Factbook produced semiannually until 1980. Country entries include sections on Land, Water, People, Government, Economy, Communications, and Defense Forces.


1981: Publication becomes an annual product and is renamed The World Factbook. A total of 165 nations are covered on 225 pages.

1983: Appendices (Conversion Factors, International Organizations) first introduced.

1984: Appendices expanded; now include: A. The United Nations, B. Selected United Nations Organizations, C. Selected International Organizations, D. Country Membership in Selected Organizations, E. Conversion Factors.

1987: A new Geography section replaces the former separate Land and Water sections. UN Organizations and Selected International Organizations appendices merged into a new International Organizations appendix. First multi-color-cover Factbook.

1988: More than 40 new geographic entities added to provide complete world coverage without overlap or omission. Among the new entities are Antarctica, oceans (Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific), and the World. The front-of-the-book explanatory introduction expanded and retitled to Notes, Definitions, and Abbreviations. Two new Appendices added: Weights and Measures (in place of Conversion Factors) and a Cross-Reference List of Geographic Names. Factbook size reaches 300 pages.

1989: Economy section completely revised and now includes an “Overview” briefly describing a country’s economy. New entries added under People, Government, and Communications.


1990: The Government section revised and considerably expanded with new entries.

1991: A new International Organizations and Groups appendix added. Factbook size reaches 405 pages.

1992: Twenty new successor state entries replace those of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. New countries are respectively: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan; and Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia. Number of nations in the Factbook rises to 188.

1993: Czechoslovakia’s split necessitates new Czech Republic and Slovakia entries. New Eritrea entry added after it secedes from Ethiopia. Substantial enhancements made to Geography section.

1994: Two new appendices address Selected International Environmental Agreements. The gross domestic product (GDP) of most developing countries changed to a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis rather than an exchange rate basis. Factbook size up to 512 pages.

1995: The GDP of all countries now presented on a PPP basis. New appendix lists estimates of GDP on an exchange rate basis. Communications category split; “Railroads,” “Highways,” “Inland waterways,” “Pipelines,” “Merchant marine,” and “Airports” entries now make up a new Transportation category. The World Factbook is first produced on CD-ROM.

1996: Maps accompanying each entry now present more detail. Flags also introduced for nearly all entities. Various new entries appear under Geography and Communications. Factbook abbreviations consolidated into a new Appendix A. Two new appendices present a Cross-Reference List of Country Data Codes and a Cross-Reference List of Hydrogeographic Data Codes. Geographic coordinates added to Appendix H, Cross-Reference List of Geographic Names. Factbook size expands by 95 pages in one year to reach 652.

1997: The World Factbook introduced onto the Internet. A special printed edition prepared for the CIA’s 50th anniversary. A schema or Guide to Country Profiles introduced. New color maps and flags now accompany each country profile. Category headings distinguished by shaded backgrounds. Number of categories expanded to nine with the addition of an Introduction (for only a few countries) and Transnational Issues (which includes “Disputes-international” and “Illicit drugs”).

1998: The Introduction category with two entries, “Current issues” and “Historical perspective,” expanded to more countries. Last year for the production of CD-ROM versions of the Factbook.

1999: “Historical perspective” and “Current issues” entries in the Introduction category combined into a new “Background” statement. Several new Economy entries introduced. A new physical map of the world added to the back-of-the-book reference maps.

2000: A new “country profile” added on the Southern Ocean. The Background statements dramatically expanded to over 200 countries and possessions. A number of new Communications entries added.

A new century

2001: Background entries completed for all 267 entities in the Factbook. Several new HIV/AIDS entries introduced under the People category. Revision begun on individual country maps to include elevation extremes and a partial geographic grid. Weights and Measures appendix deleted.

2002: New entry on “Distribution of Family income – Gini index” added. Revision of individual country maps continued (process ongoing).

2003: In the Economy category, petroleum entries added for “oil production,” “consumption,” “exports,” “imports,” and “proved reserves,” as well as “natural gas proved reserves.”

2004: Bi-weekly updates launched on The World Factbook website. Additional petroleum entries included for “natural gas production,” “consumption,” “exports,” and “imports.” In the Transportation category, under “Merchant marine,” subfields added for foreign-owned vessels and those registered in other countries. Descriptions of the many forms of government mentioned in the Factbook incorporated into the Definitions and Notes.

2005: In the People category, a “Major infectious diseases” field added for countries deemed to pose a higher risk for travelers. In the Economy category, entries included for “Current account balance,” “Investment,” “Public debt,” and “Reserves of foreign exchange and gold.” The Transnational issues category expanded to include “Refugees and internally displaced persons.” Size of the printed Factbook reaches 702 pages; the nine categories in each country entry receive distinctive colored headings.

2006: In the Economy category, national GDP figures now presented at Official Exchange Rates (OER) in addition to GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP). Entries in the Transportation section reordered; “Highways” changed to “Roadways,” and “Ports and harbors” to “Ports and terminals.”

2007: In the Government category, the “Capital” entry significantly expanded with up to four subfields, including new information having to do with time. The subfields consist of the name of the capital itself, its geographic coordinates, the time difference at the capital from coordinated universal time (UTC), and, if applicable, information on daylight saving time (DST). Where appropriate, a special note included to highlight those countries with multiple time zones. A “Trafficking in persons” entry added to the Transnational Issues category. Representative photographs introduced to as many online country entries as possible. The effort to expand the photo collection to include all Factbook entries continued in subsequent years. A new appendix, Weights and Measures, (re)introduced to the online version of the Factbook.

2008: In the Geography category, two fields focus on the increasingly vital resource of water: “Total renewable water resources” and “Freshwater withdrawal.” In the Economy category, three fields added for: “Stock of direct foreign investment – at home,” “Stock of direct foreign investment – abroad,” and “Market value of publicly traded shares.” Concise descriptions of all major religions included in the Definitions and Notes. Responsibility for printing of The World Factbook turned over to the Government Printing Office. After an 11-year run of being printed in color, and to hold down the cost of the ever-expanding Factbook, the maps, flags, and category headings in each country entry revert to black and white.

2009: The online Factbook site completely redesigned with many new features. In the People category, two new fields provide information on education in terms of opportunity and resources: “School Life Expectancy” and “Education expenditures.” Additionally, the “Urbanization” entry expanded to include all countries. In the Economy category, five fields added: “Central bank discount rate,” “Commercial bank prime lending rate,” “Stock of narrow money,” “Stock of broad money,” and “Stock of domestic credit.”


2010: Weekly updates inaugurated on the The World Factbook website. The dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles results in two new listings: Curacao and Sint Maarten. In the Communications category, a “Broadcast media” field replaces the former “Radio broadcast stations” and “TV broadcast stations” entries. In the Geography section, under “Natural hazards,” a Volcanism subfield added for countries with historically active volcanoes. In the Government category, a new “National anthems” field introduced. Concise descriptions of all major Legal systems incorporated into the Definitions and Notes. In order to facilitate comparisons over time, dozens of the entries in the Economy category expanded to include two (and in some cases three) years’ worth of data.

2011: The People section expanded to People and Society, incorporating ten new fields. The Economy category added “Taxes and other revenues” and “Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-),” while the Government section introduced “International law organization participation” and “National symbols.” A new African nation, South Sudan, brings the total number of countries in The World Factbook to 195.

2012: A new Energy category introduced with 23 energy-related fields. Several distinctive features added to The World Factbook website: 1) playable audio files in the Government section for the National Anthems entry, 2) online graphics in the form of a Population Pyramid feature in the People and Society category’s Age Structure field, and 3) a Users Guide enabling visitors to navigate the Factbook more easily and efficiently. A new and distinctive Map of the World Oceans highlights an expanded array of regional and country maps. Size of the printed Factbook’s 50th anniversary edition reaches 847 pages.

2013: In the People and Society section five fields introduced: “Demographic profile,” “Mother’s mean age at first birth,” “Contraceptive prevalence rate,” “Dependency ratios,” and “Child labor – children ages 5-14.” In the Transnational Issues category, a new stateless persons subfield embedded under the “Refugees and internally displaced persons” entry. In the Economy section two fields added: “GDP – composition by end use” and “Gross national saving.” In the Government category the “Judicial branch” entry revised and expanded to include three new subfields: highest court(s), judge selection and term of office, and subordinate courts.

2014: In the Transportation category, the “Ports and terminals” field substantially expanded with subfields for major seaport(s), river port(s), lake port(s), oil/gas terminal(s), LNG terminal(s), dry bulk cargo port(s), container port(s), and cruise/ferry port(s). In the Geography section, the “Land boundaries entry” revised for all countries, including the total country border length as well as the border lengths for all neighboring countries.

2015: In the Government category, the first part of the “Legislative branch” field thoroughly revised, expanded, and updated for all countries under a new description heading. This subentry includes the legislative structure, the formal name(s), the number of legislative seats, the types of voting constituencies and voting systems, and the member term of office. In the Geography category, the “Land use” entry expanded to include agricultural land, forest land, and other uses. Area Comparison Maps introduced online for about half of the world’s countries. These graphics show the size of a country in relation to a part of the United States. (More maps to follow as they become available.)

2016: In the Government section for all countries, a new “Citizenship” field added to describe policies related to the acquisition of citizenship and to the recognition of dual citizenship. Also, under the “Country name” entry, etymologies (historical origins) added to explain how countries acquired their names. In the Energy section, an “Electricity access” field introduced with subfields summarizing total access to electricity within a country, as well as for urban and rural populations. In the Transportation category, an expansive “National air transport system” field presents info on the number of registered air carriers, number of operating aircraft, annual passenger traffic, and annual freight traffic.

2017: In the Government category, the “Constitution” entry revised and expanded with new subfields for history and amendments. Information on piracy moved from the Transportation category to a new “Maritime threats” field in the Military and Security category. In the Transportation section, the “Merchant marine” entry revised to not only include the total number of ships, but also the major types: bulk carrier, container ship, general cargo, oil tanker, and other. A new “Population distribution” field added to both the Geography and People and Society categories. The Government Printing Office discontinued printing The Word Factbook, but annual online editions may be downloaded from the Factbook site.

2018: One-Page Country Summaries introduced for selected countries in the Factbook; more to follow in the future. The Summaries highlight key information from lengthier World Factbook entries and are intended for use by teachers, students, travelers, researchers, news reporters, or anyone with an interest in geography. Dozens of additional area comparison maps added; about two-thirds of country entries now include these popular maps. In the Communications category, a “Broadband – fixed subscriptions” entry now included.

2019: The Factbook‘s World entry acquires many new Top Ten listings including those for the largest forests, largest deserts, longest mountain ranges, and climate extremes (Top Ten driest, wettest, coldest, and hottest places on earth). Also in the World entry, seven new continent area comparison maps compare their size to that of the US. In each of the five ocean entries, under the Economy section, a “Maritime fisheries” field includes info on major fishing regions, total tonnage caught, and principal fish catches. A Travel Facts feature added to every country entry; this one-page summary compiles important facts to know before travelling to a country and it quickly becomes one of the most popular features on the website. A new Appendix H: Strategic Materials lists all of the compounds, metals, non-metals, and rare earth elements deemed to be of critical importance to US national security.


2020: Three new fields added to the Military and Security category for every country: “Military and security service personnel strengths,” “Military equipment inventories and acquisitions,” and “Military deployments.” One-Page Summaries completed for all of the World’s countries and more than two dozen territories and possessions.  Capital city name etymologies entered for all national capitals. A new Terrorism category with a “Terrorist group(s)” entry added to more than 60 countries where the US State Department has these groups operating. A supplemental Appendix T: Terrorist Organizations provides details on each cited group’s history, goals, leadership, organization, areas of operation, tactics, weapons, size, and sources of support. Completion of the multi-year effort to add area comparison maps for all countries.

2021: A new Environment category introduced with fields that include information on air pollution, water supplies, revenues from natural resources, food insecurity, and waste and recycling. Fields from other Factbook sections – climate, land use, urbanization, and major infectious diseases – also gathered into this new category. In the People and Society section, under “Languages,” new major-language sample(s) and audio sample(s) added. Four new water-related fields appended to the Geography category: “Major aquifers,” "Major watersheds,” "Major lakes,” and “Major rivers.” The Travel Facts for all countries acquired additional entries on Tipping Guidelines, Tourist Attractions, and Major Sports.

2022: In the Government section, a new “National heritage” entry added that introduces a country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Links appended to photos of the sites where possible. Larger, revised, and more detailed country maps entered for 50 countries; more to be added in the future. In the People and Society category, new fields included for “Child marriage,” “Tobacco use,” and “Alcohol consumption.” Travel Facts for all countries acquired new information on Traditional Cuisine and Souvenirs. The five Oceans entries supplemented with data on “Volume,” “Major ocean currents,” and “Icebreakers.” Five new two-page Special Products introduced in the World entry that condensed fascinating data on: The Human World, The Connected World, The Energy World, The Physical World, and The Economic World. Additional fields inserted in the Energy category for “Carbon dioxide emissions” and "Energy consumption per capita.” A Fact of the Day – with an accompanying graphic – launched on the home page.

2023: The United States' recognition of the Cook Islands and Niue as independent states raises the number of countries in The World Factbook to 197. New fields introduced in various categories: the Economy section adds info on "Average household expenditures" and "Remittances": the Energy section provides detailed numbers on "Nuclear energy"; and the Environment section includes descriptions, photographs, and a map on "World biomes." An Africa Demographic Atlas link added for over 50 African countries. A new Daily Facts Archive displays all of the facts that have appeared on the website over the previous 30 days. The Factbook's photo collection continues to grow and surpasses 5,000 images. Three new appendices unveiled on: Language Data Codes, Population Pyramids by Region, and Space Programs. Appendix H: Strategic Materials dramatically expanded with information on alloys and photos of strategic minerals. A Wonders of the World field in the World entry presents the Ancient and New Seven World Wonders, as well as the Factbook's Seven Natural Ultra-Wonders.