Gulf War declassification project
Reviews 5.9 million documents

WASHINGTON, August 25, 1997 (GulfLINK) - A declassification effort headed by the Department of Defense (DoD) to identify and make public all information pertaining to health problems experienced by Persian Gulf War veterans has reviewed over 5.9 million documents. As of June 26, 1997, 40,400 documents with actual health-related information have been declassified and placed on DoD's web site, GulfLINK (http://www.gulflink.osd.mil).

Recent figures show these efforts are being noticed by the public. The declassified documents on GulfLINK have been publicly accessed an average of 2,900 times per week.

"We are doing everything in our power to exceed our present goal of digitizing 10,000 pages of documents daily in preparation for declassification," Lieutenant Colonel Steve E. Dietrich, project director, told the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP) at the 1997 ASAP Training Series recently held in Rockville, Maryland. ASAP was founded as a professional forum dedicated to bringing government Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Privacy Act personnel in touch with the requester community, which uses the FOIA and Privacy Act.

According to Dietrich, the DoD's mission in the declassification project, which began in March 1995, is to coordinate various Defense Intelligence Agency records, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) medical records/research/investigation, and operational records from all of the services for public use. As executive agent of the operational records portion of the project, the Army's tasks include coordinating the DoD operational records declassification effort among all of the services, plus locating and declassifying all available Army operational health-related records.

Publishing cleared health-related documents on GulfLINK, responding to Freedom of Information Act requests for the Army, and acting on special requests from the Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI) also are part of the Army's task as executive agent. OSAGWI relies extensively on these declassified documents in the writing of case narratives about reported chemical incidents during the war.

In this declassification process, the services have digitized and reviewed over 3 million pages electronically and reviewed another 3 million pages of paper records. As documents are digitized, computers search for any documents containing health-related key words. All of the documents selected by this search are provided on computer tapes to the OSAGWI Investigation and Analysis Directorate. Meanwhile, all documents selected by this electronic search are also reviewed by declassifiers to find those which, in context, may be useful in improving the understanding of veterans' illnesses.

"It is important to understand," Dietrich told the ASAP audience, "that we are not spending time and money declassifying every document we come across. We are focusing only on health-related records which may help shed light on the illnesses of Gulf War veterans." The pages with health-related information are then declassified and provided to the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) for posting on GulfLINK.

Types of documents reviewed include: unit logs, staff duty journals, commanders' summaries, messages, spot reports, situation reports, operational orders, personnel status reports, after action reports, and lessons learned. These documents provide many processing challenges, including duplication of records, non-transferability of fonts, dictation of audio tapes, translation of intelligence terminology, finding and retrieving the documents, and searches of key words that may be misspelled in the original document.

"Human error provides a big obstacle in our efforts, but in turn we have adapted our declassification process to locate these errors quickly and efficiently," Dietrich told the ASAP Training Series attendees.

"We have learned valuable lessons on record-keeping from this project," Dietrich added, "These lessons are a major factor in improving the records management process Army-wide, especially concerning future military operations."

In the question and answer period following the presentation, an ASAP audience member asked how long the project would last. "We have not been given an end date. I expect we will continue to support all the ongoing investigations as long as is necessary and process any other records which may turn up in the future. We will be here as long as there are records out there which may help us uncover the answers to the health questions from Gulf War veterans," Dietrich replied.

Dietrich asks individuals with knowledge of the whereabouts or disposition of records to e-mail the appropriate service: Army - pgrecords@cmh-gwdp.army.mil, Navy/USMC - yeol@cmh-gwdp.army.mil, or Air Force - gaf@max1.au.af.mil.

 

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