Welcome to the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL)
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command's Central Identification Laboratory (JPAC CIL) is the only facility of its type in the world. As the largest forensic anthropology laboratory in operation, the CIL is home to a staff of more than 30 civilian forensic anthropologists. These individuals have advanced degrees with expertise in skeletal analysis as well as archaeology. Additionally, the staff includes 3 forensic odontologists (or dentists) who are all military officers.
At a recovery site, the anthropologist directs the excavation much like a detective oversees a crime scene. Each mission is unique, but there are certain things that each recovery has in common. The first step is for the anthropologist to define the site or determine the site perimeter. Once that has been defined, a grid system is established. Careful excavation occurs using that grid system. Every inch of soil that comes out of the site is screened for any potential remains, any life support equipment or personal effects. Initial analysis occurs at the site, and the material is then brought back to the lab for further examination.
The forensic anthropologist assigned the case in the laboratory is not the individual who completed the recovery in the field. This entire procedure is carried out “blind,” meaning that the anthropologist does not know the suspected identity of the individual under analysis and only those details that are required to select the appropriate scientific techniques (e.g. the approximate era of the loss incident). The blind analysis is completed in order to prevent any subconscious bias from influencing the scientist's analysis.
CIL anthropologists examine all recovered skeletal remains in order to produce a "biological profile." This profile includes the sex, race, age at death, and height of the individual. Anthropologists also analyze any trauma caused at or near the time of death and pathological conditions of bone such as arthritis or previously healed fractures.
Dental remains are also extremely important to the identification process, both because they offer the best means of positive identification of an individual and because they are durable and may contain surviving mtDNA. An individual's dental records are often the best means of identification due to the unique characteristics that are available from teeth, including commonly observed dental treatments such as extraction, fillings, crowns, and partial dentures. The dental records from an individual's personnel file are compared with remains received at the laboratory by the forensic odontologists. Ideally, the forensic odontologist will have antemortem (before death) X-rays to use for comparison, but even handwritten charts and treatment notes can be critical to the identification process.
JPAC uses mtDNA in more than half of its cases. Successful use of mtDNA for identifications requires a family reference sample and the process of obtaining these can add over a year to the identification process. All mtDNA samples taken at the CIL are analyzed at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL), located in Rockville, Md. AFDIL extracts and amplifies surviving mtDNA, and determines the genetic pattern present. This pattern is then compared with those patterns from family reference samples given from each (suspected) unidentified service member's family.
All items relating to an unresolved case, excluding skeletal or dental remains, are considered "material evidence" and may include such items as aircraft data plates, ordnance, and pieces of issued items such as weapons, packs, mess kits, and uniforms. All such artifacts are examined in the field, and those lacking evidentiary value are photographed and left behind. Items considered relevant to the identification are selected by the anthropologist or life-support technician and brought back to the laboratory for analysis. Through the work of JPAC archaeologists, this material evidence may aid in the identification of sought-after missing Americans.
Until they are home...