Gulf War declassification project nears completion


WASHINGTON, April 17, 1998 (GulfLINK) - A three-year effort to collect and review more than 6.6 million pages of operational documents related to the Gulf War is ready to move in a new direction. The Defense Department's operational records declassification program, with the Army serving as DoD Executive Agent, has been processing documents since March 1995 to help investigators piece together the possible causes of Gulf War illnesses. Now, Defense Department officials say the program will concentrate on filtering the data collected so the investigators can search the document database with more speed and accuracy.

Project director Army Col. Steven A. Raho III says his team is now at a transition point in the effort.

"We feel we have located the bulk of the records and put them through the declassification process. However, we are still prepared to process the few records that are trickling in," he explained.

The declassification process involves digitizing and reviewing each document, and searching for documents containing health-related key words. Once reviewed, all health-related documents, nearly 1.2 million pages to date, are turned over to the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses for use by investigators and eventual posting on their web site, GulfLINK. To date, approximately 55,000 pages have been declassified and posted to GulfLINK.

By all accounts, the team has been very successful in processing the documents and Raho says they're going to make the investigators' jobs even easier in 1998.

"We are going through a major re-indexing effort this year. We are going back and looking at the 2.3 million pages in the Army collection and re-indexing them to facilitate database searches," he said.

The re-indexing process will make database searches much more efficient. Each document reviewed will be sorted by unit, unit identification code, document date and document type. In the past, the documents were broken down to corps, division and separate brigade level. When the re-indexing is complete, researchers will be able to retrieve documents unique to 4,000 individual units and sub-units, totaling more than 1,500 unit identification codes. Raho says the process is painstaking but his team has an edge.

"Every member of our re-indexing team has prior military experience, which is extremely helpful in understanding terminology and messages within the documents so they can process them more quickly," added Raho.

With a re-indexing goal of 17,000-18,000 pages per day, Raho's team plans to finish the project by October 1998, and all documents will be retired to the Washington National Records Center at Suitland, Md., or the National Archives at College Park, Md.

Raho says most of the services have completed their search for records and documents. However, he says the Air Force is still processing new material at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. Along with reviewing all operational Gulf War records for possible declassification and release, the Air Force is reviewing and cataloguing 1,300 video tapes (both Air Force and non-Air Force), and are working closely with the Army to complete the U.S. Armed Services Center for Research of Unit Records Gulf War Personnel Registry database of all Air Force members who were deployed to the Kuwaiti Theatre of Operations. This database is used to identify service members who were in theater during the war and were possibly exposed to low-level chemical agents or Kuwaiti oil well fire fumes.

Air Force members who were deployed to the Kuwaiti Theatre of Operations, including air crew members who flew within, into, or conducted missions over the area of responsibility from August 1990 to December 1991, are urged to contact Capt. Bryn Russell, Staff Sgt. Jack Rainge, or Mr. Jim Milster at (334) 953-6751 extension 6378, or DSN:(334) 493-6751 extension 6378.