Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC) Collection Digitization Project
Accessing the CDEC Virtual Vietnam Archive
What is the CDEC Collection
The Combined Document Exploitation Center was created by the US Army in 1966 to handle the increase in materials captured from North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces. A wide variety of types of documents were captured and kept, including diaries, letters, reports and photographs. CDEC summarized and translated documents that contained valuable intelligence. Many thousands of pages of non-useful materials were destroyed. Each kept document was assigned a log number consisting of the the two digit month, followed by the number in sequence of the document, and finally the two digit year. CDEC then filmed the files captured each day, in the order in which they were captured, on movie stock with a 8-bit coding on the soundtrack. This coding is the only real "index" to the CDEC collection. CDEC used a Filesearch machine to access the filmed items. In theory the Filesearch machine could be used to search the entire collection of filmed documents for requested subjects.
Since the end of the war, all the Filesearch machines have become either lost or unusable, making the 8-bit coding useless for researchers. Following the war, over 100 reels of the Filesearch film were transferred to the National Archives. The National Archives has since copied the materials onto 954 reels of 35mm microfilm. Reels 2-914 (there is no reel 1) contain the captured documents and summaries. Reels 915-955 include monthly CDEC bulletins. The collection was declassified in 1979, and copies of the entire microfilm collection are available to researchers at numerous libraries and archives around the country, including the Vietnam Center and Archive.
What has been done so far
In 2004 the Vietnam Center and Archive received a grant to purchase a high-speed microfilm scanner from the Houston Endowment. In September of that year work began on digitizing the 954 reel collection. This process took approximately 4 months and resulted in over 2.5 million Tiff images.
At the same time, staff began adding records for CDEC documents to the Virtual Vietnam Archive. First, the Tiff images were combined using Adobe Capture to create PDFs of each document. Database records were then created. Metadata collected in each record include the title from the document cover sheet, date of the document, and applicable subject terms, including the CDEC log number. Currently over 39,000 files have been made available online, comprising documents off of the first 130 reels of the collection and totaling over 325,000 pages. Thousands of new pages are added each month.
Searching the CDEC Collection
As the digitized Tiff images from the CDEC collection are converted to PDF and records are created, the files become available through the search page of the Virtual Vietnam Archive. To search documents in the Virtual Archive:
- Go to the CDEC Virtual Vietnam Archive Search Page
- Enter keywords or search terms in the "Keyword/Item #" field and/or dates in the "Date/Date Span" field.
- Click "Start Search"
- If the results are too numerous, enter more keywords; otherwise click "Display Search Results"
In cooperation with the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office, the Vietnam Center and Archive has undertaken the development of software to read and translate the filesearch pattern coding off of the CDEC microfilm. This software will produce text files containing the information in the coding, which will then be imported into the Virtual Vietnam Archive, making the entire CDEC collection available online to researchers. We anticipate, but do not guarantee, that this phase of the project will be completed sometime in 2013.
Once the CDEC filesearch translation project is complete, the Vietnam Center and Archive will create and make available a search page specifically tailored for the CDEC collection.
Information about the CDEC collection on this page came from the following sources:
- Vietnam Studies Group (University of Washington): Captured Documents from the Vietnam War
- POW Network: CDEC Description
- University of Massachusetts at Boston Joseph P. Healey Library: Combined Document Exploitation Center, Saigon: Captured documents from the Vietnam War, 1966-1973
- Ed Moise's Vietnam War Bibliography (Clemson University): Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC)