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Captured Documents from the Vietnam War

Dear list,

Excuse me for this narrow query. Has anyone on this list ever used the CDEC (Combined Docunment Exploitation Center) files at the US National Archives?
For those who have no idea what these are: these files contain an estimated 200,000 captured documents, now on microfilm, collected from 1966 to 1973 by the US military.

If anyone has used them, I'm curious about how useable and how well indexed these files are.

Shawn McHale
Associate Professor of History and International Affairs
The George Washington University
e-mail address: mchale@gwu.edu

From judithh@u.washington.edu Tue Nov 4 15:43:29 2003
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 12:40:28 -0800 (PST)
From: Judith Henchy <judithh@u.washington.edu>
Reply-To: vsg@u.washington.edu
To: Vietnam Studies Group <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: Captured documents from the Vietnam War


I used to work as Archivist at the Joiner Center with the objective of trying to re-index the collection. We got only a fraction of the way through it, but there are some files there, including some hand-written sheets (which were intended to be entered into a computer system) and some photocopies of important materials we found.

The quick response is: they are not indexed, except by the original "Filesearch" machine, the last working example of which Texas A&M threw out in the 1980s. There are some monthly bulletins in the collection, which I have argued elswhere could possibly be used as a guide, but the materials on the film are not strictly chronological.

I also had a plan to use pattern recognition to read the original 8-bit Filesearch pattern coding on the film. But nothing came of that while I was there. It would probably be easier now to do that, but there are many problems with using the DIA indexing for any useful academic research.

Dan Duffy has also looked at it, and wrote an MA thesis on it I believe. Prof Bill Turley also wrote an report on it.


Judith Henchy
Head, Southeast Asia Section, Box 352900
University of Washington Libraries
Seattle, WA 98195

Telephone: (206) 543 3986
Fax: (206) 685 8049

Web address: http://www.lib.washington.edu/southeastasia/

From wturley@siu.edu Tue Nov 4 15:43:35 2003
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 14:55:26 -0600
From: William Turley <wturley@siu.edu>
Reply-To: vsg@u.washington.edu
To: Vietnam Studies Group <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: Captured documents from the Vietnam War

Yes, I've used it, at least to the extent necessary to write a 15-page description plus 35 pages of appendices for the U Mass/Boston Center on War and Social Consequences, which possesses a complete set of the CDEC microfilms. A summary of this report appeared in CORMOSEA Bulletin, vol. 11, no. 1 (1983), pp. 2-5. I would be happy to send copies of either the summary or the 50-page report to anyone who has a serious interest. I have no idea what the current provisions for access may be, however. Various people over the years have said how nice it would be if the whole thing could be digitized and indexed for academic purposes, but I doubt this has come to pass.

Bill Turley

From dduffy@email.unc.edu Tue Nov 4 15:43:10 2003
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 10:20:07 -0500
From: Dan Duffy <dduffy@email.unc.edu>
Reply-To: vsg@u.washington.edu
To: Vietnam Studies Group <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: Captured documents from the Vietnam War

Judith Henchy and Bill Turley have assessed the value of the CDEC collection in writing. Turley wrote a lengthy and detailed memo about it, and Judith made assays of it when the William Joiner Center acquired a copy of the film. David Elliott actually worked at the CDEC office in the war. One of the chief Vietnamese translators for the office lives in California. RAND researchers used it, and I take it that citations to captured documents in the Pentagon Papers are to CDEC work.

A chief of RVN military intelligence, whose name escapes me just now, wrote a penetrating evaluation of CDEC as military intelligence for one in the series of histories the Army commissioned from exiles after 1975. I believe it possible that an important part of Douglas Pike's collection of documents originated from the CDEC warehouse at Tan Son Nhut. Thank heavens - I have not heard of any others surviving. Nha Trang and Larry Penziger's monumental novel, The Moon Over Bien Hoa, shows the office at work and elaborates on what the documetns can and can't say.

Sorry not to give exact cites. My files on this are in storage. Many of those just cited are active on this list and can speak for themselves. My 1999 master's thesis, "The Combined Documents Exploitation Center: Anthropology of the Archive" is available from Davis library, UNC Chapel Hill. It gives documentation on what I'm saying.

The scope of CDEC is that they attempted to collect and exploit, every day, all the documents collected in USMACV. They would actually helicopter out a photocopy machines to duplicate documents of immediate tactical importance which local US commanders would not surrender. The RVN intelligence chief in his reflections notes that RVN commanders were less interested in documents and less cooperative with CDEC.

Back at Tan Son Nhut they were running a publishing house, putting out for example a wonderful lexicon of North/South divergences in Vietnamese technical language, as well as more topical and timely reports. There are gobs of incredible CDEC publications now easily available at NARA. When I was there the librarians were tripping over themselves to get them out for me. The remains of CDEC are the mother lode on the war, and as late as 1997 were little used.

The big joke of CDEC, analyzed by Turley and valiantly addressed by Henchy, is that although the raw material of the archive is likely the best archive anyone will ever have on the war in the South, it is hard to use. Every day they sought to shoot the day's takings, with rough evaluations, on a continuous photographic film. They used movie stock, rather than microfilm, so they could put bar coding on the sound track.

This bar coding indexed each frame to a thesaurus modified for Viet Nam from the Defense Intelligence Agency's master code, the same kind of library procedure as the familiar Library of Congress subject headings. In theory, an electro-mechanical device could scan the film to stop at every instance of any given code the operator punched in.

In practice, while the war was still on, this procedure was cumbersome and time-consuming. People took to wandering into the warehouse to grope for what they needed. Now, since the war, the machines are broken and dispersed, and the software is gone.

So we've got an unreadable record of the war, a handy metaphor for historical memory. Hence my master's thesis. The fact is, though, that
with determination and ingenuity one can use the remains of CDEC to good effect. Turley offers several methodological suggestions.

Here I ran into another ghost that haunts that machine and dissuades research. As you flip through the frames you are often looking at the dark image of blood on documents taken from wounded or dead bodies. Other researchers have shared their own disgust with me at using the thing.

But that's a matter of taste. The poet Bruce Weigl approached the matter in a more positive spirit. Again, I don't have the citation in hand and must slight the Vietnamese speaker who worked with Bruce translating files of poems which I believe Judith pulled from the film, for a book of translations from U Mass Press to memorialize the poets among those whose documents rest in the film.

I stopped work on CDEC after my master's because I did not want to make friends with CIA staff and get funding to write a doctoral dissertation about them. The people who really started the archive had long since gone on to work for national security. I'll get back to the story when I can pay for it myself. Well, enough. Many of the actors in the CDEC drama are on the list and can tell the story.

Dan Duffy

From christopher.jenner@umb.edu Tue Nov 4 15:44:11 2003
Date: Fri, 31 Oct 2003 11:59:31 -0500
From: Christopher Jenner <christopher.jenner@umb.edu>
Reply-To: vsg@u.washington.edu
To: Vietnam Studies Group <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: FW: Captured Documents from the Vietnam War

Subject: Combined Document Exploitation Center and Combined Military Interrogation Center

Shawn/VSG --

The following notes essentially address your query regarding captured documents but also have bearing on Sam Adam's interesting but frequently erroneous memoir _War of Numbers_ (1994) and some other points raised in the recent Iraq/Vietnam foreign policy planning/ intelligence debate.
The Combined Military Interrogation Center (CMIC) was a joint U.S.-South Vietnamese interrogation operation designed to collect intelligence from the soldiers of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) or People's Liberation Army Forces (PLAF, more popularly known as the Viet Cong, or VC) who were either captured or who had "rallied," i.e., deserted. CMIC was established as a result of a 1965 agreement between the MACV and the Joint General Staff following earlier command changes concerning intelligence and covert operations under OPLAN-34A-64. The OPLAN essentially re-assigned covert operations against DRV from CIA to GEN Harkins command in Saigon and was formally implemented through a joint DOS, DOD, CIA message to the three corresponding mission components in Saigon (Joint Chiefs, MACSOG Doc Study, C-4).

As early as 1959 an Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Military Interrogation Center conducted interrogation duties, and beginning in 1962 an American advisor element was stationed at the ARVN Center. When the CMIC was activated in January 1967 it was the highest level military interrogation center in Vietnam. Its mission was the interrogation of selected captives for strategic-level military information. It also provided field interrogation teams in support of U.S. and Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) tactical units. CMIC quickly became the focal point for tactical and strategic exploitation of intelligence from human sources (HUMINT). The CMIC was only one of several major interrogation centers in Saigon. The CIA sponsored National Interrogation Center (NIC) and the National Chieu Hoi Center for defectors also interrogated PAVN and PLAF soldiers and cadre on a variety of subjects. Unfortunately, while some heavily censored NIC reports are available by FOIA from the CIA, the Agency has not released these historically valuable records as a body.

The Center interrogated enemy soldiers for a wide-range of military information, including Order of Battle, tactics, weapons, and the enemy's political infrastructure. These reports were disseminated widely throughout the intelligence community in both Vietnam and Washington. CMIC reports were held at the "Confidential" level to protect the identity of the "Source" who was providing the intelligence. Each source was assigned a CMIC source number. Following the enemy soldier's interrogation, a report was written using a standard format, including an Intelligence Information Report (IIR) number to aid in processing and retrieval. The IIR number can be found on the upper right hand corner of the original document. [When researching note high quality source IIR numbers]

For a more detailed description of the CMIC you might wish to consult Sedgwick D. Tourison, Jr.'s, _Talking with Victor Charlie, An Interrogator's Story_ and _The Role of Military Intelligence 1965-1967_ by Major General Joseph A. McChristian, Vietnam Studies, Department of the Army, Washington, DC.

The Combined Documentation Exploitation Center (CDEC) was created in October 1966 under the MACV Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (J-2), with the mission of receiving and exploiting captured enemy documents as a source of military intelligence for assessments and planning. Prior to establishment of CDEC document exploitation was primarily handled by the South Vietnamese military. The Center's responsibilities included the initial screening, translation, storage, and retrieval of captured documents. Of the literally millions of pages of enemy documents captured, only about 10% were considered important enough to translate.

Each document was assigned a Log number, consisting of three parts. First was the two digit month, then a sequence number, and finally a year group. For example, a Log number of 07-1234-67 would be a document from July, with a sequence of 1234, from the year 1967.

Documents believed to have significant value were translated in full and disseminated to the intelligence community. A summary of these documents was published several times daily in a publication called a CDEC "Bulletin." Each Bulletin had upwards of ten Log numbers on it. The Bulletins were issued in numerical sequence, starting at 1 and ending roughly at 52,000. No attempt was made to place these documents into categories, or to publish Bulletins on specific topics. The volume was simply to great. Instead, individuals wanting information on a particular subject could access the CDEC computer, which would scan the entire collection for documents on the requested topic. Eventually, the entire CDEC collection was microfilmed and indexed on the CDEC computer. However, the machines capable of reading this index have apparently been either lost or no longer work, so the technological means to re-create the index is seemingly impossible. Because each Bulletin possesses completely unrelated material, ranging from a diary of a PAVN soldier to a high-level Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN) plan for an upcoming strategic offensive, the research effort to scan such a large volume of material for germane documents is quite time consuming.

Documents captured during unit operations were forwarded directly to CDEC in Saigon for processing. They were assigned log numbers, classified by type, date, and circumstances of capture. They were then roughly translated to provide an English language summary and analyzed for general subject classification. Documents were further classified and analyzed and passed on to appropriate units depending upon the cryptological value or the existence of information about Central Intelligence Agency personnel or operations. A variety of documentation was kept at CDEC, including situation reports, circulars, directives, tactical plans, policy statements, after action reports, unit rosters, medical records, propaganda, passes, ID cards, pamphlets, personal diaries, photographs, and letters. Cover sheets were created for each document and summary or full translations prepared depending upon the data content.

The National Archives accessioned 106 File-Search-dependant motion picture reels, each 1,000 ft. in length and divided into ten segments. The individual segments were copied by the National Archives onto 954 rolls of standard 35mm microfilm. Rolls 2-914 contain copies of captured Vietcong and North Vietnamese documents, and rolls 915-955 comprise the CDEC Intelligence Bulletins. The microfilm, assigned the identifier A3354, includes approximately 3,000,000 images of captured documents and materials used by CDEC to process these documents.

There are two ways to access the CDEC material, which is currently housed at NARA II in College Park, MD and some other archives. One is to view the 955 rolls of microfilm, of which the last 40 rolls contain the Bulletins and IIRs. The microfilm collection also contains the original Vietnamese documents, the translation, plus all the CMIC reports and other low-level intelligence reports. The NARA declassified the entire CDEC collection in 1993 and published a booklet, _Special List 60_, which describes the microfilm collection. The other method is to wade through the almost 300 boxes of paper copies of the Bulletins.

Besides the NARA booklet several other sources provide useful information on the CDEC collection. Dr. William Turley published an article in the CORMOSEA Bulletin in June 1988 [Dr. Turley dated this article "1983" in his 10/30/03 VSG post, which might be a typo as his text is a description of Joiner Center's partial CDEC collection, acquired in 1986] and more recently, Michael Unsworth from Michigan State University presented a paper on the wartime use of CDEC at the Vietnam Symposium held at Texas Tech in April 1996.

I have been sporadically mining the complete CDEC/CMIC collections for some years and would be happy to provide further advise if I know your research focus. Feel free to email directly, its likely many VSG are satiated! Contrary to earlier infomation in two previous posts, we have a partial set of 94 10" microfilm rolls here at William Joiner Center/Healey Library, which were acquired seven years prior to the complete declassification of the entire CDEC 1966-1973 (955 rolls) collection in 1993.

Good luck.

-- Chris

William Joiner Center

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