When you’re looking for basic, up-to-date details and stats on any country on the planet, no matter how small, even you can turn to the CIA — yes, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Unsure how to pronounce a country’s name? Want to know what its flag looks like, or what form of government it has, plus all sorts of other minutiae? Well, federal intelligence agents are sometimes good for something, like compiling basic data. The Factbook was created by the CIA for U.S. government officials 50 years ago this month (August 1962 — but it wasn’t declassified until June 1971), and there is a printed version available from the Government Printing Office if you really want to shell out $83 for it. But since mid-1997 it has also been available for free to anyone — online — and the web-based version is actually better than the printed version because it’s updated weekly.
(Originally published 18 January 2004)