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FOIA Tip No. 5—Interpret a Defense Department Document

December 7, 2009
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Because of the nature of our work here at the Archive, we get a lot of declassified documents from the Department of Defense, military service agencies, and various DoD components.  More than documents from any other agency, DoD records can read like Greek, full of acronyms, abbreviations, stamps, and numbers.  Although DoD uses hundreds of different “codes” and abbreviations (with the same acronyms sometimes having more than one meaning!), we devised some guidance for readers of declassified documents to make sense of at least the basic features of an ordinary DoD headquarters document, in this case a 1971 letter to Henry Kissinger from the Secretary of Defense.

A few additional resources might be helpful to understand the complex DoD system and document markings.  The online DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines hundreds of acronyms used by DoD and the military.  The Department of Defense page on USA.gov links to dozens of DoD component web sites and other reference materials.

For more great FOIA tips and tricks, check out Effective FOIA Requesting for Everyone: A National Security Archive Guide.

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