TEN QUESTIONS FOR
To inquire into allegations that the Defense Department has engaged in a cover-up in its handling of Gulf War Syndrome, FRONTLINE asked the Pentagon to respond to 10 questions. The department's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs replied as follows:
What did the Army and Air Force learn from pre-war studies commissioned from the Sandia and Livermore national laboratories about the risks of fallout from the bombings of Iraqi chemical weapons storage sites and what precautions did the US forces take to minimize the risks?
In 1990 the Defense Department (DOD) did have the Livermore laboratory calculate probable geographic dispersal of unspecified chemicals that might be released from Iraqi territory by bombing. The study was conducted using generic information. No specific targets or types and quantities of chemicals were studied.
Throughout the war, U.S. and coalition forces were very much aware of chemical and biological threats posed by Iraq. During the air campaign the U.S. Air Force took precautions to ensure that coalition forces were not in the vicinity when it was conducting air attacks on known storage sites for chemical and biological weapons.
Additionally, U.S. forces were fully prepared for chemical and biological warfare if chemical weapons were used by Iraq. Forces received training in self-protection responses to exposure and were issued personal protective equipment prior to deployment. Chemical detection equipment and operators were deployed with units down to, and including, squad level.
Combat logs compiled by officers working for General H. Norman Schwarzkopf and newspaper interviews with Czech chemical weapons specialists who served in the Gulf War show that American commanders ignored Czech warnings, in the early days of aerial bombing, that low levels of nerve and mustard gas had been detected in the vicinity of American troops. Why did American commanders react in this way to the Czech detections?
The Central Command's (CENTCOM) nuclear, biological and chemical weapons logs do show that CENTCOM teams did respond to Czech reports. There were five reported Czech detections during the period of Jan. 19 to Jan. 24, 1991. Our review of currently available records indicates that on Jan. 19 the Czech troops, operating in support of the Saudis, detected "G" nerve agent in the Wadi-Al-Batin area.
The Czechs also reported mustard agent on Jan. 24, 1991, after being led to a desert area by a Saudi liaison officer. The reported mustard detection was approximately one square meter, located 10 kilometers north of King Khalid Military City.
The other three reports of Czech detections were made between Jan. 20 and 21. None of the five reported detections was able to be confirmed by US chemical detection units. However, these reported detections were inconsistent with other operational events at the time.
There is no indication what caused these detections or whether they are part of any larger use of chemical weapons. While not substantiated, the remaining three reports of Czech detections have not been discounted.
Our investigations continue to look at these detections, although it is difficult to substantiate them some five years later. Additionally, the CENTCOM logs show that coalition commanders responded to the Czech reports by requesting that U.S. chemical teams monitor the area. Because the Czech-reported detections were of such low level and were made using very sensitive equipment, any chemical agent would have only been present for a short period of time.
The agents at such a low level would have dissipated so quickly that, in all cases in which U.S. forces were called on to confirm the detections, not enough of the agent remained to confirm the Czech report. DOD continues the inquiry into the Czech-reported chemical detections.
Newspaper accounts quote Czech Gulf War veterans as saying that they informed the Defense Department for years that some of the Czech troops who served in the war were sick. Yet as recently as August of 1996 the Pentagon denied that Czech veterans were complaining of unusual health problems. Why?
The Czech government did not report any Gulf War veteran health problems until 1996. The conclusions posted on GulfLINK in August 1996 - that Czech Gulf War veterans were not ill - was based on relevant information received from the Czech Ministry of Defense in April 1996.
It is now our understanding that Czech authorities have reopened their medical evaluation program for their Gulf War veterans in order to investigate these recent complaints. As in all cases of events and circumstances surrounding the Gulf War, we consider all new evidence as it becomes available and will cooperate with governments of the coalition forces in their investigation into Gulf War-related illnesses.
In various statements before June 1996, Pentagon officials denied that Iraq had stored chemical weapons in the Kuwaiti "theater of operations" south of Baghdad or that allied troops had detected chemical weapons there. Why did the Pentagon adhere to the position for five years even though, in 1991, US chemical-detection specialists believed they had found Iraqi nerve agents in Kuwait and United Nations inspectors found them at Kamisiyah in southern Iraq.
Both during and after the war, Iraq engaged in widespread deception with regard to where it stored its chemical weapons. Iraq never declared Kamisiyah a chemical weapons storage site. After the war, in October 1991, Iraq reported that it moved some chemical weapons to Kamisiyah in January 1991 and said that the weapons were blown up by coalition forces in March 1991.
Because Iraq engaged in widespread deception with regard to where it stored its chemical weapons, many reports received during this time were viewed with skepticism by government analysts who were investigating the possibility of chemical exposure to American troops.
When Iraq led United Nations inspectors to the Kamisiyah site in October 1991, the inspectors were skeptical of the Iraqi reports that coalition troops had destroyed chemical weapons at the site. The United Nations team was unable, at the time, to corroborate that a demolition had occurred at Kamisiyah in March 1991, as the Iraqis claimed.
In March 1995, based on the President's directive to leave no stone unturned, the Department of Defense established the Persian Gulf Investigation Team and ordered it to begin a broad review of all information, including intelligence findings and operational records, that might help explain the health problems being experienced by many Gulf War veterans. It was in October 1995 that the Central Intelligence Agency asked DOD's investigation team to look into whether troops were located at the Kamisiyah site.
DoD and the CIA researched the issue together, and by early 1996 had developed information that led us to believe that U.S. troops did, in fact, destroy munitions stored at Kamisiyah. Able to place U.S. troops in the location of the Kamisiyah explosions, a United Nations team re-inspected the site in May 1996. During this inspection they documented the presence of high-density polyethelene inserts and other material normally associated with handling and storage of chemical munitions.
Based on the new information, DOD announced on June 21, 1996, that it appeared that a bunker at Kamisiyah contained chemical weapons and that U.S. forces had destroyed the bunker on March 4 and some chemical munitions in a nearby pit on March 10, 1991.
In March 1994, when the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs asked for the headquarters logs of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf relating to possible chemical detections, the Pentagon said no such reports could be found. But a year later some of the documents were released to a veterans' group. Why were the logs not produced for the committee in 1994?
The Senate Banking Committee requested five categories of documents in March 1994. The second category of this request was for CENTCOM logs prepared during the Gulf War. In April 1994, Stephen W. Preston, the DOD Acting General Counsel, responded to former Sen. Donald Riegle (who was then chairman of the committee) in a letter stating that CENTCOM conducted a search and identified no documents that met the description provided by the senator.
Moreover, Mr. Preston asked Sen. Riegle if he could provide a more specific description of the documents in order for CENTCOM to conduct another search. We have no documentation that Sen. Riegle ever provided a more detailed description. Nine other documents were nevertheless provided to the Senate Banking Committee in September 1994.
In April 1995, under the Freedom of Information Act, the Gulf War Veterans of Georgia requested a copy of the CENTCOM Headquarters chemical logs. CENTCOM conducted another search, using different search criteria, and found 36 pages of the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons log, which they provided to the veterans' organization. No pages were withheld.
Some logs kept for the purpose of noting detection of chemical exposure are still missing, including those of March 4 and 10, 1991, when US troops demolished chemical weapons at Kamisiyah. Which other days are still missing and how could the logs have been lost?
The CENTCOM nuclear, biological and chemical weapons log was maintained from some time in August 1990 to at least March 12, 1991. The log does not include entries for August to December, 1990, and the following days in 1991: Jan. 1 to16, 24, 25, and 28 to 30; Feb. 3, 6 to 11 and 13 to 20; and March 2 and 4 to 11.
The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illness is still investigating the issue of missing entries. When our review is completed, we will announce the findings.
The Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses [its final report will be available online in February] says the Defense Department "did not act in good faith" and has been "slow and superficial" in the way it has investigated the possibility that American troops were exposed to Iraqi chemical agents? Your response?
Most of the criticism in the PAC report was in the context of what we didn't do previously. We accept those criticisms. Even before the report was released the newly formed Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War illnesses had begun to make extensive changes. We clearly didn't initially understand the dimensions of the problem and our response was inadequate.
The Department of Defense recognizes that the issues surrounding Gulf War illnesses are very complex. In November 1996, DOD greatly expanded its efforts to better understand Gulf War illnesses while continuing to provide effective medical care to our Gulf War veterans. We have expanded the investigation team by some tenfold and initiated a proactive two-way communication program between DOD and the Gulf War veterans.
Dr. Joshua Lederberg, who headed an official inquiry by the Defense Science Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects, has complained about a lack of information his panel received from the Pentagon on the Czech reports and other possible indications of chemical weapons exposure. Your response?
The task force was provided all the information DOD had at the time of their investigation. Nothing was withheld. All the information DOD had concerning the Czech reports of detection were provided to the panel. However, the significance of Kamisiyah was not realized before June of 1996, two years after the task force completed its work.
The task force was established by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology and was chartered to review all risk factors associated with Gulf War service. It reviewed intelligence reports; reports of chemical or biological agent detection; and other environmental exposures during the war.
It reviewed scientific and medical evidence relating to exposure to nerve agents at low levels and possible long-term effects, as well as other potential health consequences resulting from low-level chemical exposure, environmental pollutants, Kuwaiti oil fires, endemic biologics and other health hazards attributed to Gulf War service. The Task Force was active from February to June, 1994.
In repeated statements Defense Department officials have stressed that the scientific literature indicates that no chronic health effects can result from exposure to nerve agents where there are no immediate symptoms. Yet an Institute of Medicine committee that considered the scientific literature suggests that the question is far more open than settled, and it urged more study "to be completed as rapidly as is feasible." Your response?
DOD recognizes the need for additional research. In 1996 we funded $5 million in research to study the long-term effects of chemical and other hazardous exposures, including low-level chemical exposure. In 1997 we plan on funding up to $15 million on this endeavor.
Former Defense Secretary William J. Perry called "dead wrong" what he identified as "the perception among some that the Defense Department is deliberately holding back information" about Gulf War sickness. If there is no basis for the perception, why does it exist?
This is a very complex issue and there are no simple answers. We are dealing with events that happened years ago and with documents that have come to light through many different channels. The Gulf War involved hundreds of thousands of people and there are literally millions of pages of documents available to review.
Late last year, we reassessed our whole program regarding Gulf War illnesses. We found we hadn't devoted sufficient resources. We did not have a strong enough emphasis with respect to the operational aspects of the war and the implications of those operations.
The newly formed Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses has refocused our efforts to look at all operational, intelligence and medical documentation with Gulf War illnesses as our primary concern. Dozens of agencies are involved and millions of dollars in research. including hundreds of researchers are actively seeking answers to the causes of veterans' illnesses.
DoD is working hard to get the most accurate and complete information out as quickly as possible. We are committed to an open, through investigation of all facets surrounding Gulf War illnesses.
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