U.S. Chemical and Biological Exports to Iraq and Their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War

Committee Staff Report No. 3: Chemical Warfare Agent Identification, Chemical Injuries, and Other Findings.

A. BACKGROUND

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs is responsible for U.S. government legislation and oversight as it effects "dual use" exports -- those materials and technologies that can be converted to military uses.

During the Cold War, United States export policy focused primarily on restricting the export of sensitive "dual use" materials and technologies to the Soviet Union and its allies. This myopic approach to the non-proliferation of these materials ultimately resulted in the acquisition of unconventional weapons and missile-system technologies by several "pariah nations" with aggressive military agendas. For the United States, the reality of the dangers associated with these types of policies were realized during the Persian Gulf War. Recognizing the shortcomings of existing policies, and with the dissolution of the Soviet empire, an inquiry was initiated by the Committee into the contributions that exports from the United States played in the weapons of mass destruction programs that have flourished under the direction of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

On October 27, 1992, the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held hearings that revealed that the United States had exported chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile-system equipment to Iraq that was converted to military use in Iraq's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons program. Many of these weapons -- weapons that the U.S. and other countries provided critical materials for -- were used against us during the war.

On June 30, 1993, several veterans testified at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. There, they related details of unexplained events that took place during the Persian Gulf War which they believed to be chemical warfare agent attacks. After these unexplained events, many of the veterans present reported symptoms consistent with exposure to a mixed agent attack. Then, on July 29, 1993, the Czech Minister of Defense announced that a Czechoslovak chemical decontamination unit had detected the chemical warfare agent Sarin in areas of northern Saudi Arabia during the early phases of the Gulf War. They had attributed the detection to fallout from coalition bombing of Iraqi chemical warfare agent production facilities.

In August 1993, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Donald W. Riegle Jr. began to research the possibility that there may be a connection between the Iraqi chemical, biological, and radiological warfare research and development programs and a mysterious illness which was then being reported by thousands of returning Gulf War veterans. In September 1993, Senator Riegle released a staff report on this issue and introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 1994 National Defense Authorization Act that provided preliminary funding for research of the illnesses and investigation of reported exposures.

When this first staff report was released by Senator Riegle, the estimates of the number of veterans suffering from these unexplained illnesses varied from hundreds, according to the Department of Defense, to thousands, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is now believed that tens of thousands of U.S. Gulf War veterans are suffering from a myriad of symptoms collectively labeled either Gulf War Syndrome, Persian Gulf Syndrome, or Desert War Syndrome. Hundreds and possibly thousands of servicemen and women still on active duty are reluctant to come forward for fear of losing their jobs and medical care. These Gulf War veterans are reporting muscle and joint pain, memory loss, intestinal and heart problems, fatigue, nasal congestion, urinary urgency, diarrhea, twitching, rashes, sores, and a number of other symptoms.

They began experiencing these multiple symptoms during and after -- often many months after -- their tour of duty in the Gulf. A number of the veterans who initially exhibited these symptoms have died since returning from the Gulf Perhaps most disturbingly, members of veteran's families are now suffering these symptoms to a debilitating degree. The scope and urgency of this crisis demands an appropriate response.

This investigation into Gulf War Syndrome, which was initiated by the Banking Committee under the direction of Chairman Riegle, has uncovered a large body of evidence holding the symptoms of the syndrome to the exposure of Gulf War participants to chemical and biological warfare agents, chemical and biological warfare pre-treatment drugs, and other hazardous materials and substances. Since the release of the first staff report on September 9, 1993, this inquiry has continued. Thousands of government officials, scientists, and veterans have been interviewed or consulted, and additional evidence has been compiled. This report will detail the findings of this ongoing investigation.

On February 9, 1994, Chairman Donald W. Riegle, Jr. disclosed on the U.S. Senate floor that the U.S. government actually licensed the export of deadly microorganisms to Iraq. It was later learned that these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and recovered from the Iraqi biological warfare program.

Throughout this investigation, the Department of Defense has assured the Committee that our troops were never exposed to chemical or biological agents during the Persian Gulf War. They have repeatedly testified in hearings and have made public statements that, at no time were chemical and biological agents ever found in the Kuwaiti theater of operations.

In February of this year, the Chairman wrote a letter asking them to declassify all information on the exposure of U.S. forces to chemical and biological agents.

Then on May 4, 1994, the Chairman received assurances in a joint letter from Secretary Perry, Secretary Brown, and Secretary Shalala, that

"there is no classified information that would indicate any exposures to or detection of chemical or biological weapons agents."[1]

Also in May, Undersecretary of Defense Edwin Dorn in sworn testimony in a hearing before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, claimed that all chemical agents were discovered

"a great distance from the Kuwait theater of operations"[2]

During the same hearing, another senior Defense Department official was forced to recant part of the statement when confronted with the highly publicized discovery of chemical agents by U.N. inspectors near An Nasiriyah, which was very close to areas in which U.S. forces were deployed.[3]

In fact, we have received reports from Persian Gulf War veterans that U.S. forces actually secured this chemical weapon storage area.

Also during the hearing, a joint memorandum for Persian Gulf War veterans from Secretary of Defense Perry and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was presented. The memorandum stated, in part

"there is no information, classified or unclassified, that indicated that chemical or biological weapons were used in the Gulf."[4]

Then, the Department of Defense announced on June 23, 1994, that the Defense Science Board found that

"there is no evidence that either chemical or biological warfare was deployed at any level or that there was any exposure of U.S. service members to chemical or biological warfare agents."[5]

This report raises serious questions about the integrity of the Department of Defense position. It describes events for which the Department of Defense explanations are inconsistent with the facts as related by the soldiers who were present, and with official government documents prepared by those who were present and with experts who have examined the facts.

 

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