Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC)

Document exploitation was another method of acquiring intelligence on the enemy. Before October 1965, document exploitation was primarily handled by the South Vietnamese military. With the build-up of U.S. military forces and their subsequent engagement in heavy combat, the volume of captured enemy documents dramatically increased. This led to the establishment of a Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC), which translated and summarized into English captured documents deemed to possess intelligence value. 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. CMIC IIR's follow the same numbering system. Documents believed to have significant value were translated in full, given an IIR number, and disseminated to the intelligence community. Again, by clicking on the IIR number, the full text appears. 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 been either lost or no longer work, so the technological means to re-create the index is impossible. Therefore, because of the scanning process, some Bulletins will have Log numbers which have no relevance to the POW/MIA issue. 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 documents dealing with PAVN policy on captured U.S. soldiers has been quite time consuming. The documents presented here are the results of searching only a small sample of the massive CDEC collection. The translations are scanned copies of the originals, and any markings or mistakes are exactly as they appear on the original.
There are two ways to access the CDEC material, which is currently housed at the NARA II in College Park, MD. One is to view the 955 rolls of microfilm, of which the last 40 rolls contain the Bulletins. 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 and IIR's. Besides the NARA booklet and Major General McChristian's book mentioned earlier, several other sources provide important information on the CDEC collection. Dr. William Turley published an article in the CORMOSEA Bulletin in June 1988, 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.

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