Their skeletons, our closet Print
Written by Cody Powell   
Thursday, 23 March 2006

U of S librarian catalogues declassified CIA documents

The first presentation in the Library Lecture Series saw the launch of a new web-based resource that contains a massive collection of declassified CIA documents from the Vietnam war.  
Vinh-The Lam is the man responsible for the construction of this new web-based research catalogue. He was born in South Vietnam and graduated from Saigon University in 1963, just prior to the start of American military involvement in Vietnam.  After earning his first degree, he moved to New York, where he completed a Masters in Librarian Studies in 1973.  The following year, he returned to the Saigon to become head of the Library department at the Saigon University.  A year later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the Americans began their evacuation. 
After the war, Mr. Lam spent four years trying to leave the country along with thousands of refugees.  By 1981 he was able to emigrate to Canada where he was involved in several libraries before joining the University of Saskatchewan’s special collections department.
Lam’s personal connection to this historic war has inspired him to compile this database, which is now available through the library’s online resource section.  In co-operation with the Information Technology Service Department, Lam has been able to coherently compile thousands of documents published by the CIA during the war.  Although it would be nearly impossible to post every document released during the war, Lam has made an amazing effort in collecting and posting thousands of CIA documents that have now been declassified.
Lam gave a public lecture last Wednesday on how the database can be utilized. The advanced search engine contains several options: the open term selection is capable of locating any document containing the chosen term;  this applies to personal names such as political officials, military officers, and leaders.  It can also locate place names including regions, provinces, and districts.  Lastly, the general term search includes specific combat units and names of certain battles. 
Another advanced search option is the classification of document types, this includes “Confidential”, “Secret”, and “Top Secret”.  Don’t get too excited though.  For those of you who thought that this meant you would have access to America’s declassified dirty little secrets, you will be disappointed to learn that a vast portion of the documents released have been ‘sanitized’.  This means that any potentially damaging information has been blacked out of the document.  This potential problem is also considered in the search option, which allows you to restrict the search to documents that remain clean.  (Of course the thrill of trying to decipher America’s little white lies and best-kept secrets in a completely blacked out paragraph is half the fun for any half-baked conspiracy nut.)
A final and immensely helpful addition to the website are the provided abstracts and summaries, allowing one to get an overview of the document before you dive into a military briefing that might be 30 pages long. 
Vinh-The Lam’s contribution to the university database collection is a powerful tool of research and will benefit many students  (especially many paranoid schizophrenics who think they are being watched by the CIA).

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