The World Factbook

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World Factbook 2005 cover
World Factbook 2005 cover

The World Factbook is an annual publication by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States with basic almanac-style information about the various countries of the world. The factbook gives a two- to three-page summary of the demographics, location, telecommunications capacity, government, industry, military capability, etc, of all US-recognized countries and territories in the world.

As The World Factbook is prepared by the CIA for the use of U.S. Government officials, the style, format, coverage, and content are designed to meet their specific requirements.



Information is provided by:


The World Factbook website as it appeared in February and March 2005
The World Factbook website as it appeared in February and March 2005

Because the Factbook is public domain, i.e. not under copyright, people are free to redistribute and modify it in any way they like, without permission of the CIA.

The official seal of the CIA, however, may not be copied without permission as required by the CIA Act of 1949 (50 U.S.C. section 403m). Misuse of the official seal of the CIA could result in civil and criminal penalties:

Federal law prohibits use of the words "Central Intelligence Agency," the initials "CIA," the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency, or any colorable imitation of such words, initials, or seal in connection with any merchandise, impersonation, solicitation, or commercial activity in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Central Intelligence Agency. Use of the Central Intelligence Agency Seal

Many sites have used information and images from the CIA World Factbook, because of its public domain status.

Besides the World Factbook, the CIA puts out a directory of Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments each week.

Oddities and controversies


Controversy about the Factbook arose in 1998 when British journalists noticed it contained some oddities - most notably the line "Independence: 1 January 1801 (United Kingdom established)". [1] By 2005 this terse, confusing description had been greatly expanded. [2]

The maps of countries in the Factbook also appear to have strange anomalies. For example, the overall map of the United Kingdom lists the town of Grangemouth in Scotland, although it is only a small town and in no way a major city (this is perhaps due to its status as a major center of the oil industry in Scotland).


The factbook contains many peculiarities resulting from the diplomatic policies of the United States and does not always take a neutral point of view. As an official publication of the United States government, the factbook lists the official policy of the United States government as 'fact' often with little more than a footnote to indicate that the fact is disputed or that a contrary position exists. The factbook often highlights diplomatic disputes that are recognized by the United States but yet ignores or downplays disputes that are not favored by the government's foreign policies. For example:

  • The U.S. does not recognize the renaming of Burma by its ruling military junta to Myanmar and thus keeps its entry for the country under "Burma."
    Note: since 1989 the military authorities in Burma have promoted the name Myanmar as a conventional name for their state; this decision was not approved by any sitting legislature in Burma, and the US Government did not adopt the name, which is a derivative of the Burmese short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw [3]
  • Specific regions within a country or areas in dispute among countries, such as Kurdistan, Kashmir and Kosovo, are not covered, but other areas of the world whose status is disputed, such as the Spratly Islands, have entries.
  • Maps depicting Kashmir have the IndiaPakistan border drawn at the Line of Control, but the region of Kashmir occupied by China drawn in hash marks.
  • Northern Cyprus is not given a separate entry or listed as part of Turkey because "territorial occupations/annexations not recognized by the United States Government are not shown on U.S. Government maps."
  • On December 16, 2004, the CIA added an entry for the European Union. [5] According to the CIA, the European Union was added because the EU "continues to accrue more nation-like characteristics for itself". Their reasoning was explained in this small statement in the introduction:
    The evolution of the European Union (EU) from a regional economic agreement among six neighboring states in 1951 to today's supranational organization of 25 countries across the European continent stands as an unprecedented phenomenon in the annals of history. Dynastic unions for territorial consolidation were long the norm in Europe. On a few occasions even country-level unions were arranged - the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were examples - but for such a large number of nation-states to cede some of their sovereignty to an overarching entity is truly unique. Although the EU is not a federation in the strict sense, it is far more than a free-trade association such as ASEAN, NAFTA, or Mercosur, and it has many of the attributes associated with independent nations: its own flag, anthem, founding date, and currency, as well as an incipient common foreign and security policy in its dealings with other nations. In the future, many of these nation-like characteristics are likely to be expanded. Thus, inclusion of basic intelligence on the EU has been deemed appropriate as a new, separate entity in The World Factbook. However, because of the EU's special status, this description is placed after the regular country entries.

See also

External links

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