This paper profiles the structure, use, and ultimate fate of the Intelligence Data Handling System which was used by the Combined Documents Exploitation Center (CDEC) in Saigon from 1966 to 1972. CDEC employed the FileSearch automatic document storage and retrieval system that was manufactured by FMA, Inc. File- Search was an imaginative integration of computer and film tech nology. 35mm motion picture stock was used: documents were filmed on the picture portion while indexing was recorded on the adjoining soundtrack section. Both the original document and an English translation or summary were filmed. These documents were captured from Liberation Forces' sources; they included reports, orders, rosters, maps, photographs, letters, and diaries. The paper copies became the property of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Viet Nam.
The indexing was detailed, covering at least 36 potential categories. Retrieval of information from this database was sophisticated and rapid and could be tailored to a requestor's needs. The Center also produced a daily Bulletin which listed abstracts of the recently filmed documents.
CDEC material was extensively used by the major commands in South East Asia as well as by the National Command Authorities. Dissemination to lower-level units was hampered by security procedures and financial constraints.
As with most early computer systems, FileSearch information can not be accessed as originally designed. FileSearch was used primarily by the defense and intelligence communities and was not adopted by the civilian sector in any numbers. Thus, there was no commercial commitment to maintain this particular system. It thus became obsolete by the late 1970s and was abandoned by its users. Moreover, FileSearch systems were customized for individual tasks; machines of one agency could not run the film of another.
In the 1980s the National Archives concluded that the File- Search system could not be replicated without a major commitment of funds. The Archives opted for a cheaper expedient: re-filming the CDEC material onto archival microfilm. Access to the CDEC documents is now restricted to the Bulletin, an imperfect solution. Historians should resign themselves to facing similar frustrations with computer databases.
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