DOD digitizes documents

As part of a new contract for declassification services, the Pentagon is creating an electronic catalog of newly available documents, making the historical record more accessible for future users.

As part of the declassification process, McNeil Technologies Inc. will convert each cleared document into a digital image, catalog it and store the image and catalogs on compact discs. The contract, awarded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), is expected to be worth $10 million over five years.

Exactly where the digital files reside and what they will be used for has yet to be determined, said Bob Storer, chief of the declassification historical research branch for Washington Headquarters Services, which serves OSD.

One possibility is that OSD could make the files available to government historians, which would enable the researchers to use the database for key word searches of recently declassified documents and spend more time searching through the documents than searching for the documents themselves, Storer said.

Another option is to make the images and catalogs available to the public on the Internet, similar to the way the Defense Department eventually made declassified documents about Gulf War Syndrome available online, he said.

McNeil Technologies, based in Springfield, Va., has been working with OSD since 1998, reviewing more than 27 million pages to date. So far, the company has captured and cataloged more than 1 million images, said James McNeil, the firm's chairman and chief executive officer.

The company deals with historical records that are at least 25 years old. The records are stored in two government locations: the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Md., and the National Archives in College Park, Md. McNeil said his company has dealt with records from the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Kennedy assassinations, the Arab-Israeli conflicts in 1966 and 1973, and other historical events.

McNeil Technologies' information management division will review for declassification 6.6 million pages a year for OSD, which is more than 33 million pages of documents during the five-year contract.

More than 20 McNeil staffers began working on the new OSD project Feb. 1, reviewing each document — line by line — to determine if it warrants declassification, McNeil said. "Before, we were capturing and declassifying, but now we're storing [the documents] for perpetuity, and the agency can access them whenever they want to."

All of the declassification analysts must complete a three-week certification program and have top-secret security clearance, McNeil said.

The program is followed by an additional week of declassification training provided by the Energy Department. Energy's training focuses on nuclear weapons and related topics. It results in certification as a Historical Record Restricted Data Reviewer.

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