Declassification Briefing

Persian Gulf War Veterans Illnesses
Presidential Advisory Committee
18 October 1995
Paul F. Wallner, Staff Director
DoD Senior Level Oversight Panel

Madam Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. It is a distinct pleasure for me to be here this morning and to talk to you about the Defense Department's declassification program on behalf of the Persian Gulf war veterans. By way of introduction, I am the Staff Director for the Department's Senior Level Oversight Panel, chaired by Deputy Secretary White.

This panel provides direction and resources to accomplish the department's initiatives responding to Persian Gulf War veterans illnesses. Its members are the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs (who spoke to you at your initial meeting), the Under Secretary of the Army, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Director for Current Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff. My job is to ensure that the declassification and investigation teams obtain and apply the resources required to implement the departments Persian Gulf War veterans' initiatives.

The declassification program is only one part of the widespread, integrated, and unprecedented program undertaken by the Defense Department. You will be briefed on the medical, research, investigation, and outreach efforts over the next two days. Our declassification initiative is an important component of the outreach and investigation programs. Its primary objective is to provide all health related information to any interested people or organizations.

Underlying this activity is a new attitude established and consistently endorsed by Secretary Perry, Deputy Secretary White, former Deputy Secretary Deutch, and the Chairman, JCS, General Shalikashvili. The direction for the defense, operational, and intelligence communities is to share all health or illness related information and, where there is any doubt, to err on the side of inclusion.

With me today are Brigadier General Jack Mountcastle, the Army Chief of Military History and head of the center responsible for Army declassification, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Dietrich, who is in charge of the Gulf War operational declassification project, and Mr. Charles Wells of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who lead the Gulf War intelligence declassification team. They will join me in addressing your questions at the conclusion of this presentation.

Last march, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Deutch directed the expansion of the department's Desert Shield/Desert Storm declassification program. This action broadened the program to included all records in the medical, operational, and intelligence arenas that could be related to potential causes of illnesses among Persian Gulf War veterans. Prior to this decision, the focus of declassification and public release was on medical information only. The guidance added that these records would be reviewed, investigated, and made available to the public to the maximum possible extent. The Deputy Secretary also set up the senior level oversight panel and the investigation team, and designated the Army and the Defense Intelligence Agency as offices of primary responsibility for the operational and intelligence declassification projects.

One of the first challenges was to come up with a definition designed to zero in on health-related information, while eliminating all documents that do not pertain to possible causes of illnesses. At the same time, the definition had to be flexible enough to allow for growth as new potential causes surfaced in the course of examinations, research, investigation, and inputs from veterans. Within these parameters, the declassification teams are looking at information prepared or acquired by the United States on storage, deployment, or use of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and outbreaks of diseases, epidemics, or other widespread illnesses that may have resulted from infections or environmental causes among military forces and civilian populations. This definition, although somewhat long, has proven to be highly useful in guiding the teams to those documents that are health-related from the millions of pages of information on the Gulf War.

Army and DIA are only two of many DoD and government producers or acquirers of information on Gulf War developments. As the office of primary responsibility for the operational declassification effort, Army must guide the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, the Joint Staff, and the Central Command, its supporting commands and component organizations in their review and declassification efforts. This task is in addition to declassifying the Army records. With an estimated 11.7 million pages, the Army Gulf War documents constitute the bulk of operational data.

Similarly, DIA is responsible for their documents, those of the four Service Intelligence Centers, the Central Command and its subordinate intelligence organizations, and the National Security Agency. Additionally, DIA was required to coordinate the declassification and release of documents originating with the Defense Nuclear Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and intelligence services of coalition Allies. In intelligence review and declassification, there are stringent requirements placed on each organization for coordination and cooperation.

The investigation team and the declassification projects are unfunded mandates. The people and dollars required to do the various jobs are taken from the service, component or agency with primary responsibility for that activity. For operational declassification, there are about 100 people working full-time on the task. They are from each of the Services, the Joint Staff, and the Central Command. Moneys for hardware, software, and communications links for the operational entities totaled $4 million in FY95 and will come to $4.6 million in FY96. Because the operational declassification project was a new task, resources had to be taken from other missions and activities of the Services. Except for the Army, which will employ 20 new information specialists for the project, these totals do not include salaries of military and civilian employees assigned to the task.

Because the Defense Intelligence Community under DIA leadership is more integrated than the operational elements, and because the vast majority of intelligence information on the Gulf War was already digitized, the intelligence declassification project required fewer resources. They have been able to complete declassification of currently available information in about 6 months. Thirty-two people were dedicated to this task. They came from DIA, to include the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center, the intelligence components of the four Military Services, the defense agencies, and the Central Command. Only $50 thousand in additional funds was required by the intelligence declassification team.

The Department of Defense is taking this extraordinary step of declassifying health-related operational and intelligence information for three key purposes. First is to openly share information and data on possible cause of illnesses with all interested parties. We estimate that less than 10 percent of the nearly 700,000 military personnel who served in the Gulf War have been or are sick, and that some of their family members have experienced illnesses since their return. The Department's first priorities are to make these people well and to determine what caused them to become sick.

Those groups that might be interested in the declassified information include the Gulf War veterans and their health care providers, other government departments who are working on the problem, such as veterans affairs, health and human services, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the public, including the news media.

Another aim of the declassification program is to assist in identifying health or illness related incidents and events that warrant further examination by the government or the medical community. Lastly, the declassified information is intended to serve as one of the primary resources for use by the investigation team as it responds to specific inquires.

The process through which the operational and intelligence information is declassified involves five distinct steps. The amount of resources and time spent on each of these steps will vary from organization to organization depending on the volume and location of the documents involved, the quantity of documents that are digitized, and the sophistication of the available information handling system. Intelligence had a far easier task in this regard because there were fewer total documents, and most of the documents were already digitized and centralized. This process has also been refined and improved since the intelligence team began its efforts last April, and I expect there will be further enhancements now that the operational declassification project has begun.

The first step in the declassification process is to locate and identify all documents that might bear on the problem. The intelligence team initiated two data calls to all intelligence producers in the Defense Department. Although most of the intelligence was found in DIA's central database, the team wanted to insure that all relevant data was located for review and declassification.

The operational effort comprised several data calls to all units and services that participated in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. With nearly 700,000 military personnel engaged in the Gulf War, this has been an enormous task. Operational organizations are still coming forward with relevant documents or records.

The next step is to compile and digitize this material for further screening. Intelligence had a significant head start in this step because most of their data was already available electronically. The relatively small amount of intelligence hardcopy documents consisted of miscellaneous memorandums, background papers and briefings. Softcopy information comprises intelligence assessments and reports, and a variety of unevaluated reports from intelligence collection organizations.

In contrast, with some exceptions, the bulk of the operational information is in hardcopy. These documents are unit or service reports on movement, activities, plans, and developments affecting the organization's mission. Nonetheless, there are two factors that will help the operational declassifiers. One is that there are many purely administrative reports that are not expected to contain health-related information. The second is that a large number of operational documents are already unclassified.

The third step, and one of the most important, is to determine what information is related to Gulf War veterans' health or illnesses. This is accomplished by comparing the reports either electronically or manually to a comprehensive list of topics and subjects. This 13-page list covers a wide range of issues from nuclear weapons to the local insects. In this step, prioritization for further exploitation will be given to those reports on incidents closest to US Forces, the number of personnel that could have been affected, and the seriousness of the reported condition or activity. For example, a document relating a plan for employing chemical warheads on scud missiles against a major allied facility would go to the top of the pile for immediate action.

A critical part of this step is to determine the originator of the document or information. In the declassification of government documents, the originator of the classification is the only authority for declassification of that document. For intelligence, this is a particularly salient point. Intelligence assessments are composed using multiple kinds of information from multiple originating agencies. Each organization with an equity in the information used in a report or assessment must review the document before declassification. Moreover, intelligence assessments often include data on multiple subjects, such as order of battle and physical characteristics of facilities, that have no relevance to veterans' health or illnesses.

The fourth step is to prepare the health or illness related documents or information for public release. Each document is reviewed based on the requirements of security regulations, the classification executive order, the freedom of information act, and the privacy act. Where information in the report falls within the parameters of one or more of these laws, it is excised and the appropriate regulatory exemption code is inserted. All of the exemptions are explained in the introduction to the intelligence and operational part of the public, on-line database.

The final step in the declassification process is the public release of the documents. This is being accomplished through the Department's Gulflink database that is accessible through a World Wide Web home page on the Internet. The address is Managed by the Defense Technical Information Center, Gulflink contains studies, research reports, fact sheets, press announcements, speeches, intelligence documents, and operational records. It is easy to use and has both search and browse capabilities. Searches can be done using key words or boolean queries. In addition to the exemption codes mentioned earlier, a database description and frequently asked questions on using the system are included. Since Deputy Secretary White announced the activation of Gulflink on 3 August, some 6,300 pages of intelligence and operational information have been put on the system. On average, there are some 4,500 queries against the database each week.

The operational records on Gulflink will include daily unit journals and logs, logistics, supply, medical and environmental reports. Also in this group will be unit orders and plans, situation reports on operations and activities, and personnel status reports. In addition to a variety of briefings and publications, the intelligence component includes information from human sources (without any evaluation or assessment), imagery reports, electronic data, bomb damage assessments, and captured and translated Iraqi documents.

The quantity of records to be reviewed in this process is substantial. In the operational program, which is just getting started, there is an estimated 15.9 million pages throughout DOD. Of these, it is estimated that about 2.2 million pages will need to be manually screened. The operational elements estimate that about one million pages may be declassified. This estimate is based on experts judgments that many of the records will deal with administrative details or tactical activities, and, therefore, contain no health or illness related information. I must remind the committee that these numbers are estimates, which will be subject to change as the project evolves. At this early point, there are some 1,000 pages of operational information being placed on Gulflink.

The declassification of available intelligence documents is essentially complete. Nonetheless, the steps of identification, review, and declassification continue as new information is received, data is uncovered by the operational reviews, and documents are returned from cooperating US and allied organizations. There were over 2 million pages of intelligence information on the Gulf War. Of this, some 500,000 pages were manually screened. Six thousand pages have been declassified and placed on Gulflink.

The Department's declassification program is a thorough and detailed initiative to share all health related intelligence and operational information with the Gulf War veterans and the public. We have made significant progress in this effort since its start last April. With the operational component now fully engaged, we expect to complete the job before the end of next year.

This concludes my presentation. My colleagues and I will be happy to answer your questions.

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