Final Report: Chemical Warfare Agent 'Definitely Not' Present at Camp Monterey

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2000 (GulfLINK) Following the inclusion of additional eyewitness testimony and on the recommendation of the Presidential Special Oversight Board, the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses reissued its Camp Monterey case narrative. This first in a series of "final" reports from the special assistant's office completes their investigation into the reported detection of chemical warfare agents at Camp Monterey, Kuwait, a site previously occupied by Iraqi corps headquarters.

In May 1997, the Defense Department's office dedicated to the investigation of Gulf War illnesses initially released an interim report on specific events that occurred September 12-16, 1991. The Kuwaiti brigade headquarters the American-service members dubbed "Camp Monterey" became the site of an in-depth investigation following reports of chemical warfare agent exposure. Canisters removed from a storage site there and initially identified as containing CS, the riot-control agent known as tear gas, were the focal point of the investigation.

"The Camp Monterey detection was investigated based on information provided by a defense contractor employee responsible for maintaining the mobile mass spectrometer on Fox nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicles under U.S. Central Command's control during Operations Desert Shield and Storm," said Lisa Stark, lead investigator for the narrative. "Since this narrative's initial publication in 1997, new information has been presented that corrects and validates some of the original story."

On the morning of September 14, 1991, members of a chemical company platoon were moving wooden crates containing canisters identified as CS by an explosive ordnance disposal team two days earlier. During that move, one canister broke and spilled its powdered contents, causing several soldiers to experience tearing and eye irritation, breathing difficulties and nausea. Though the substance had already been identified as tear gas by an explosive ordnance disposal team member, the chemical officer made a precautionary order, sending all soldiers present for medical examinations.

The exposed soldiers reported that they recovered from their symptoms within 30 minutes and did not report recurring symptoms, said Stark.

At the same time, the platoon leader had a sample of the contents of the canister tested by a Fox vehicle. The Fox alerted for cyclosarin, a colorless and odorless nerve agent. Following strict protocol procedures, a second Fox vehicle was then called to conduct the same test.

The second Fox's MM-1 mobile mass spectrometer had just been fully calibrated and following a full spectrum analysis, identified the substance as CS tear gas. The first vehicle also ran a full spectrum analysis, which confirmed CS.

Because the soldier's symptoms were consistent with tear gas exposure and the two Fox tests were consistent, the platoon leader was convinced the substance was, in fact, CS. Even so, he delivered tape printouts of the analyses to his executive officer.

The executive officer agreed that the substance posed no threat to soldiers, Stark said, but decided that the headquarters should be notified of the trace cyclosarin detection. After the headquarters was informed, the incident essentially was closed.

Further confirmation of CS, rather than chemical warfare agent presence, came the same day the tape printouts arrived at task force headquarters. Again, during Fox vehicle training, crew members and a civilian contractor conducted additional tests with the same CS container sample.

"Unlike two days earlier, however, the Fox vehicles alerted for sarin instead of cyclosarin," said Stark. "Sarin, like cyclosarin, is an extremely lethal nerve agent. When the Fox crews performed the full spectrum analysis, though, they were sure the substance was CS."

In 1996, the Department of Defense received copies of Fox tapes and sent them to three independent mass spectrometry experts to obtain conclusive and objective analyses. Experts at the U.S. Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command, Bruker Analytical Systems, Inc., and the National Institute of Standards and Technology each confirmed the substance as CS and not a chemical warfare agent.

According to Stark, multiple full-spectrum analyses, medical evaluations of the soldiers exposed to the tear gas powder, and independent evaluations all point to the same conclusion.

"Interviews with the individuals present and their chain of command all verify that CS was in the metal container," said Stark. "Based on first hand accounts, contemporary documents, Fox tape printouts, and independent expert reviews, we've assessed that chemical warfare agent was 'definitely not' present [during this incident] at Camp Monterey, Kuwait."

This case narrative, along with 14 other case narratives, seven information papers and two environmental exposure reports can be found on the GulfLINK web site.( http://www.gulflink.osd.mil ).