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DoD NewsBriefing: Dr. John White, Deputy Secretary of Defense

Presenters: Dr. John White, Deputy Secretary of Defense
August 04, 1995 1:40 PM EDT

Thursday, August 3, 1995 - 1:40 p.m.

(NOTE: Participating in this briefing are Dr. White; Dr. Stephen Joseph, ASD,Health Affairs; Mr. Paul Wallner, staff director, Senior Level Oversight Panel;Molly Lyman, Defense Technology Information Center, and Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon,ATSD for Public Affairs.)

 

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Sorry we're late, but we're ready to go now.This is another test of the wonderful technology in this briefing room.

This afternoon Deputy Secretary John White will introduce our initiative toget declassified Gulf War documents out to veterans and others. It's calledGulfLINK. There's its address, [http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/] and he'llexplain that to you.

 

He, unfortunately, has another engagement -- in fact, he's already late forit, so he will make his remarks and then leave. Dr. Steve Joseph is back bypopular demand to answer questions on this, as well as Paul Wallner who is incharge of the declassification project. After the briefing, there will be alive demonstration of GulfLINK, and then I will be available to take questionson non-Gulf War illness and GulfLINK issues.

 

Dr. White?

Dr. White: Thank you, Ken. Good afternoon. This is another of ourinitiatives as it relates, as Ken said, to the President's commitment withrespect to the Gulf War veterans and their families who have suffered illnessafter the war. We are working closely with HHS and with the Veterans AffairsDepartment, and now with the President's new committee on Persian Gulfveterans' illnesses. We will be testifying later this month in that regard.

Let me remind you that there are basically four elements to our program.First, and most importantly, is caring for these people. That's ourfundamental and initial emphasis, and will continue to be our emphasisthroughout: that is, to treat people who are sick.

The second emphasis is the clinical information. That is, we are aggressivelygathering clinical information and analyzing it to try to understand better whythese people are suffering illness as a result of this experience.

You heard from Dr. Joseph the other day -- on Tuesday -- in this regard whenhe talked about the first 10,000 people, and you will hear more about that aswe go forward. He's in a position today, if you have any followup questions,to deal with that.

The third issue in all of this is a research program, which again, Dr. Josephcan address. That has to do with following various kinds of medical researchto try to better understand what is going on here.

The fourth element in the search for information that may help illuminatethese problems is the major declassification program that we have. What we aretalking about today is a critical element in that declassification program.That is, GulfLINK is the ability to provide on-line -- through the WorldwideNet in a user-friendly way -- a capability so that people anywhere can get onthe Net, go into all of this data and look at it, access it, move it around,put things together, make their own arrangements in terms of how it's providedand so on. We want to do that, A, because we want to be open and get all thisinformation out; B, because we don't clearly have a corner on knowledge here.We're trying to, all of us, find out as much as we can. And to the extent wecan have other people participate in that effort, that's very, very welcome.

So we think this is the way to get the largest number of people access to themost information. Now the information that we're releasing today as the firststep on GulfLINK, and I think they'll be able to see that here. [It] will beabout 3,700 pages -- mostly intelligence-related information. It comes fromthe intelligence community, from the services, from CENTCOM, some of it fromcaptured Iraqi information.

The intelligence part of this will probably be completed next month -- inSeptember. The largest part of it, though, has to do with the Army data, andthat is literally millions of pages of documents, and we are working on that.All of this information, we think, will be available by December of '96. Thatis, by the end of '96. But we will be continuing to release information as itis declassified, and we will provide it, put it up, and allow people access toit, because we are committed to being open in this regard. We want to find outwhat happened. We're using this multiple-prong strategy to do that. This isone element in that. So I think it reflects again where we are. I'd beinterested in your reactions to the GulfLink setup -- to the particularprogram.

I personally fooled around with it a bit the other day. I was very impressed.It is more than just the information. There are research documents there,there are press releases -- other forms of analysis. It's got a terrific indexso you can go in and search for different things and so on.

So that's where we are. We're pleased to be able to make this announcement.We think it is a step in the right direction. As was indicated by Ken, Dr.Joseph and Mr. Wallner will answer any questions. Again, my apologies, I'vegot to run to a meeting with the Secretary.

I want to leave you, though, with where I started. That is, our commitment isto find out as much as possible about why these people have suffered illness.And, of course, fundamentally, our most important goal will continue to be, aswe are today, to treat them and take care of them and their families.

Thank you very much.

Q: One quick question. Could you give us an example of the kind of detail ofintelligence? Is it, for instance, going to tell people that sarin gives youblisters on the bottom of your feet, and if you've got blisters, tell us?

A: We can give you demonstrations of what's in there. I went through it. Itgives you various kinds of information in terms of... It's a little hard tocharacterize because it's kind of all over the place because it's various kindsof information.

Q: Is this a two-way street, in which people will put information in, or justbe able to access information?

A: People will be able to access information. I don't think...

Thank you all.

 

Mr. Wallner: It's interactive in that people will be able to access thedatabase and pull information off of there and do queries on that database asit exists. It's large, it will be large. There's 3,700 documents in it rightnow. As the Secretary said, they're mostly from the intelligence community.

Q: I have just a technical question. Do these documents, which eventually yousay would be millions of pages... How are they transferred into a computerform? Are these things that were originally computer databases? Are theypaper documents that have to be transcribed and inputted? How do you guardagainst...

A: They're mostly paper documents. Some of them come in digital form already,but those that are paper have to be scanned into a database, and then that iswhat they use to redact and sanitize and declassify it. That is transferred tothe Defense Technical Information Center, which manages the database for us andputs it on the GulfLINK.

Q: Given the suspicion that some have about this whole thing, how do youguarantee the accuracy of these documents, that in entering them into thedatabase that they're not altered in any significant way?

A: They will have some gaps in them where obvious security concerns have beendeleted for the usual sorts of information, but it's the judgment of theprofessionals that are looking at them, and the guidance to them is to be asforthcoming and share as much as possible -- not only in the number ofdocuments, but in the kinds of information that we protect -- that we take outof there. It's their honest opinion that this is relevant to possible causesof health problems by the Gulf War veterans. So it's a judgment call.

Q: Can you give us an example of what would have been classified that is nowgoing to be released, and explain why it was classified originally, what wassaid to them about it, and why somebody has decided...

A: In the case of the intelligence documents, most of the reason why it wasclassified in the first place had to do with sources and methods of how wegathered that information at that time. That is, by and large, most of theinformation that's going to be excised from these particular reports. We'renot trying to get to the substance of the report. We're trying to keep thatintact so it will make sense to the veterans.

Q: In itself, it's not sensitive information?

Dr. Joseph: In the sense of the operational documents, they're mostly Armydocuments. Let me give you a sense of what that is like, because we wentthrough some of that when we were looking for medical links early on in this.

There are unit logs; there are scraps of paper that are reports; there areafter-action reports; debriefing of pilots on big pieces of paper, small piecesof paper, handwritten pieces of paper, typewritten... This is a myriad of allthe documents that in the midst of war would normally be classified. There'sno way you could go through it any other way -- going back to your previousquestion -- than to redact it onto a computer format.

Q: What's the level of classification of some of the more sensitive documents?Did you meet any resistance within the bureaucracy to declassify all this stuffso quickly?

Mr. Wallner: The classification level ultimately will go all the way up tothe highest levels in the intelligence community.

Q: What are there?

A: Well, they're top secret, and there are some special caveats associatedwith them. And the answer to resistance: within the Department of Defensethere hasn't been too much resistance, because this is largely an initiative.We're having a little more resistance from our friends out at CIA, but that'sgoing to change as well, because someone by the name of Deutch is out therecalling the shots now. So we're going to have greater cooperation, I think,from Langley.

Q: ...to health matters?

Dr. Jospeh: Not at all. There's no restriction of this to the health issues.These are classified documents broadly written. That's one of the issues.Indeed, to look for that needle of health documents in the haystack of allclassified documents would be an enormous task not worth the effort withoutgoing through the entire stack.

Q: Can you give us any sort of generic example of how some affected personmight... What they might be able to find in here that could be of someinterest or use to them? What kinds of things are we talking about? One wouldenvision this vast array of documents, and there would be no way to start, orwhere would you find anything in there? Like you said, the needle in thehaystack. So give us an example of how, in some way, someone might be able tomake use of this.

A: One way tremendous use can be made of this is in a demonstration of thenegative. If, indeed, in the mass of declassified material there are not thoseunicorns that we talked about on Tuesday that indicate some pattern ofconnection of anything with demonstrable illness, that's a very importantfinding.

Looking at it from the other side: individuals who have a particular theorywhich may be right or may be wrong that something is connected to illness, willbe able to look at what bears on that, something in these documents, and trymake their case.

There's also the issue of the pattern analysis -- which I think is somewhatunlikely. But if we, or somebody else, can connect some pattern of events oractivities or substances with what we have in the clinical study, that's ofobvious value. So I think those three ways.

Q: Is this more geared to somebody with an existing technical knowledge thanthe wife of somebody that might be sick? If you're talking about searchingthrough pages and pages of technical documents, you're not talking about a taskthat Mr. or Mrs. Joe Average could easily accomplish.

Mr. Wallner: It is reasonably user-friendly as a system, and you'll see that.It's designed to make it so someone with a modicum of education and technical,computer competence, could do it. It's not that difficult.

Q: What are they able to get...

Dr. Joseph: I'll tell you what I would do. If I were persuaded that a certainthing was of importance and I saw some evidence of that thing -- event,process, substance -- in the declassified documents, I would then call the GulfWar Incident Line and say. Look, I'm convinced that such and such happened tome, and there is this document, and now I want you to investigate it as anincident. These three things -- the investigation capability through theincident hotline, and the investigating team, and the declass of documents andthe clinical investigations, all come around in a circle.

Q: Isn't it a bit of a two-edged sword though, in the sense that you openyourself up to yet more conspiracy theories. We know that a lot of thetheories about what might have resulted in some sort of Gulf War syndromeresulted from actual evidence, but sometimes in a very narrow context. Forinstance, the veterans who believed that they were exposed to chemical warfarebased on alarms going off or something; but that evidence, if not taken in thecontext of all the other evidence, can give a very distorted picture. Aren'tyou opening yourself up to people who go in there, find some piece of evidence,and believe it supports their particular theory?

A: Absolutely, we are opening ourselves up. The President of the UnitedStates and the Department of Defense made a commitment that we are going to beopen about this issue, get the information out to people, try to get to thebottom of whatever is there. If one is accusing the Pentagon of being too openin this situation, I think we welcome it. That's a rare event, and we'd beaccused of far worse if we didn't do this. [Laughter]

[Demonstration]

Lyman: We're looking at the home page for the GulfLINK Worldwide Web system.This is the starting point for all the information that we have tried to bringtogether under GulfLINK.

We've organized it into several main sections. Initially, we have someinformation that users can come and take a look at that describes briefly theGulfLINK system itself, what sorts of information will it contain, how can Iuse it. It also contains information about the Persian Gulf War VeteransIllnesses Task Force itself. That gives the user some context about thisinitiative and the context in which GulfLINK was created.

This sort of information should orient the user as they begin to useGulfLINK.

The first major section within GulfLINK are Persian Gulf War IllnessesReports. This is background information and up-to-date research and analysis.These are health affairs reports -- as you can see, federal activities relatedto the health of Persian Gulf veterans. You can go in and take a look and readthese reports and get some background on the issues involved in Persian GulfWar illnesses.

For example, you can see the Veterans Affairs report that was put out in Marchof 1995, and read the entire document right here on-line.

The next section within GulfLINK is the meat of GulfLINK itself. This is thedatabase of recently declassified Gulf War documents.

We allow two avenues into this database. You can search GulfLINK and everydocument within GulfLINK. As you can see, we provide a lot of helpdocumentation for those who want to search the database because, as youmentioned, this is raw data from the field. It's difficult to read through --and there's going to be a lot of it within GulfLINK -- so we're going to need alittle help provided for the user to do successful searches against thedatabase.

We provide search help in a technical standpoint as far as connectors and howdo I write my search and that sort of information. We also provide frequentlyasked questions. So when a user conducts a search and brings back a listing ofhits, that they can make sense of it. That's what this frequently askedquestions is all about.

We provided database descriptions that people can read through and see thatthese are intelligence reports, these are operational reports, and it givesthem a context with which they can do successful searches and browses of thedatabase.

So, for example, if we wanted to go in and do a search, we can see what sortof information do we have about anthrax in here. I have a theory that anthraxhad something to do with my sicknesses, and I want to take a look at what we'vegot in here that deals with that issue.

 

So what has happened here is we've done a full text search against everydocument within the database, and we've brought back hits of documents thatcontain the word anthrax in them, and we have a listing of them here, as youcan see.

As was mentioned earlier, right now GulfLINK contains primarily intelligencerecords. So as you can see, if I click on this document it brings up theactual record itself. This is an IIR, an intelligence information report. Youcan see that anthrax will be highlighted throughout this document because thatwas my search term.

As I scroll down, you can see the actual document itself. Assessment ofanthrax and botulinum.

That is the search capability. We also supply browsing for those people thatwant to do a more thorough investigation of the database. You can browsethrough the entire collection.

Obviously, this is a lot of information, and this is a heavy task. But thisis available so that everyone can be sure that they can look through all of theinformation if they so chose. We have listed the documents as they'rereleased.

As you can see, we've been releasing them all the way up to now, and willcontinue to do so as they are declassified and made available to us at DTIC.So if I wanted to browse through... The documents themselves are listed on thedates that they are posted. We've provided the title of the document, as youcan see here, and also identifying numbers. Each document contains anidentifying number for the ease of users going in and being able to identifythe document when they are conducting a FOIA request or asking questions. Asyou can see, here's the identifying number. That is the browse capability.

For example, we also mentioned that Iraqi-captured documents are includedwithin GulfLINK and we have provided them as well. You can see they are inASCII text as well as their original Word Perfect format -- because offormatting issues, tables and so forth.

We'll go back to the GulfLINK home page. We also provide additionalinformation resources. These are official DoD information resources out on theInterNet. For example, press releases, fact sheets, speeches, that sort ofthing -- many of which come from DefenseLINK itself, which is the DoD WorldwideWeb Information System.

So you can see, Dr. Joseph's press briefing that happened just this pastTuesday is included in GulfLINK.

What we've tried to do with GulfLINK is bring together information related toGulf War illnesses -- and not just the database itself -- so as to create ascomplete a picture as possible. Lastly, you can see speeches, features,bibliographies, National Library of Medicine bibliographies that relate to thisissue, and other related servers.

GulfLINK is connected directly to DefenseLINK, which, again, is the DoDWorldwide Web information resource, so users will easily be able to findGulfLINK.

 

That's the system.

[End of Demonstration]

Q: What's the cost involved in setting up this system?

Mr. Wallner: As was mentioned by Dr. Joseph earlier, this is an unfundedactivity on the part of the Department of Defense, so all of these costs willbe taken out of hide -- salary and equipment, all of that stuff is beingoffered up by...

Q: Excuse me, sir. Would you please step to the mike?

A: I'm sorry.

Q: Your name?

A: Paul Wallner, W-A-L-L-N-E-R.

Q: You are?

A: I'm the staff director of the Senior Level Oversight Panel on Persian GulfWar Illnesses. This is chaired by Dr. White.

Q: How many people had to go through all of these documents? How big a staff,to declassify them? Or did you do it through the normal security reviewsystem?

A: The intelligence team that has done the bulk of the work thus far iscomposed of 16 individuals from the services and from DIA. The operationaldeclassification effort, which has not yet started, will constitute about 30officers within the various services, and they will be dedicated full time todoing this.

Q: It strikes me that people may end up being keenly interested in this mightbe historians researching things completely unrelated to Gulf War disease. Isthere going to be, for example, are you prepared to expand the database, toinclude more Gulf War material that may or may not be...

A: No, we're not. We want to keep it focused as much as we can on informationrelated to possible causes of illnesses. If some historian wants to look at itthere, fine. It's out on the net, it's public. But we're not going to expandit and change it to meet some academic's requirements.

Q: These first 3,700 documents, do they include any operational items?

A: No, we haven't gotten any operational in there yet, but there will probablybe some, principally from the Joint Staff, in our next update in September.

Q: Have the Iraqi documents been translated?

A: Yes, they have.

Thank you very much.

Anyone who would like to play around with the system, we have a laptop set upacross the hall, and you're welcome to go over and see what you can do withit.

Thank you very much. Mr. Bacon: If you wanted to get Molly Lyman's name who did the demonstration,it's L-Y-M-A-N.

Also on this topic, I wanted to announce that the President's AdvisoryCommittee on Persian Gulf Veterans Illnesses will meet on August 14th. If youwant more information, Jim Turner can provide that.

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