The Search for Biological Weapons[27]

During the 1991 Desert Storm time period, the US ability to detect biological weapons in the field was extremely limited and consisted of only experimental sampling systems and laboratory testing. This was in stark contrast to the multiple, standard issue CW detection systems (e.g., CAMs and M256 kits) that were deployed by the thousands down to the lowest level of most field units. The BW field testing capability for the entire theater (vice laboratory testing, which by definition is done in a laboratory) was performed by the 9th Chemical Detachment of the 9th Infantry Division, Ft. Lewis, Washington. An overview of the 9th’s equipment, manning, and mission follows:

The 9th Chemical Detachment provided point biological and stand-off chemical detection capabilities using the XM2 biological sampler and the XM21 chemical detector. The detachment was attached to the Foreign Material Intelligence Battalion (FMIB) for operations, rations, administrative, training, UCMJ, personnel, and logistical support. The Detachment was attached to FMIB due to similar missions to collect chemical and biological samples. FMIB had already established the procedures for the evacuation of samples from the KTO to CONUS [Continential United States] laboratories for detailed analysis. The Detachment consisted of a eight man headquarters section, seven biological detection teams and five chemical/biological detection teams ... Each [biological team] consisted of a team chief and two biological detection NCO’s. Three of the teams had XM2 biological detectors and the remaining four teams had the PM-10 commercial samplers. The PM-10’s were deployed to the units covering Riyadh and Dhahran due to its awkward size and shape. The five chemical/biological detection teams consisted of team chief and two chemical/biological detection NCO’s. Although biological detection was the primary mission, both systems were deployed simultaneously providing dual mission coverage.[28]

This unit deployed to Saudi Arabia in January 1991. After receiving their equipment and logistics support, on February 1, 1991, sampling teams were dispatched to several locations to test for potential threats. Teams deployed to Kuwait City, Kuwait, and collected eight biological samples in Southern Iraq. One team was transported via a UH-60/Blackhawk helicopter to the An Nasiriyah SW ASP to collect BW samples. No BW agents or munitions were found.[29]


An Nasiriyah Biological Sampling Mission

A 513th Military Intelligence Brigade Task Force Kuwait Restoration SITREP reported the following on this biological sampling mission:

1. Significant activities for 7 March 1991:

a. Nuclear, Biological, Chemical: On 6 Mar the Brigade chemical officer, the CENTCOM Medical Intelligence officer, and a sampling team from the 9th Chemical Company acted upon a request from CENTCOM J2 to sample a suspected biological warfare storage bunker, vicinity of An Nasiriyah, IZ [Iraq]. The team flew to the bunker complex which appears to have been destroyed by "special munitions" [Precision Guided Munitions]. The team took soil samples, a solidified substance exuding from a projectile, and some liquid present in one of the bunkers. The samples have been sent to a CONUS laboratory for analysis.[30]

All four UH-60/Blackhawk crew members who transported the sampling mission team to the An Nasiriyah SW ASP were located and interviewed. Due to the similar geographic locations and bunker types, two of the Blackhawk’s crew members believed that they might have flown to Khamisiyah.[31] This belief was not unexpected or unusual - the Intelligence Community also confused the An Nasiriyah SW ASP and the Khamisiyah ASP in the 1991 time frame.[32] (Khamisiyah narrative)

The Blackhawk aircrew members ferried the sampling team to the site. According to the pilot, the mission departed Kuwait International Airport on March 6, 1991, and flew to Tallil and the ASP. Weather hindered navigation, with the ceiling being partially obscured, visibility at 0.25-0.5 miles, with light rain and blowing sand. The mission was on the ground at the ASP for approximately two hours.[33]

The Blackhawk co-pilot remembers that the decision to support this mission was made on short notice. The sampling team members did not wear any insignia or identifying patches. The sampling location was a bunker located several miles east of Tallil Air Base. The ASP coordinates were programmed into Blackhawk’s Doppler radar navigation system. However, when they flew to the programmed location, the gusty wind and poor visibility made it difficult to find the site. They then flew to Tallil, reoriented, and flew back to the correct site. The ASP bunker complex had been hit by numerous bombs, with munitions scattered all over the area. He also noticed that there were shells in the area that had an unknown residue on them. The sampling team donned MOPP 4 and departed the landing site to test and sample. While they were waiting, some of the aircrew discovered that one of the bunkers was wired for demolition, with explosives and detonation cord fixed to boxes of 155mm artillery shells. After they went back to the helicopter, a Humvee with one or two people came up - neither were in MOPP gear. They talked with the chem/bio people while they were burning their MOPP gear. When the sampling team finished, they boarded the Blackhawk and departed.[34]

This sampling mission was the subject of a July 23, 1995, Belleville, Il. News-Democrat article, Gulf War Veteran Details his Illness. In it, the Blackhawk’s crewchief is quoted at length concerning his observations and concern that his current health problems have been caused by this mission.[35] The interview with the door gunner revealed similar concerns.[36]


Figure 5A. Blackhawk crew members in front of bunker


Figure 5B. Demolition rigging inside ASP bunker


Figure 5C. BW sample team members discarding MOPP gear


Figure 5D. BW sample team burning MOPP gear

The 513th MI Brigade chemical officer who was in charge of the CW/BW sampling team remembers taking another officer and two enlisted technicians. The mission was to test for CW and take samples at a suspected BW bunker, which he discovered had been obliterated ("it was a hole in the ground") by a direct hit from an aerial-delivered precision guided munition. They took several samples for laboratory testing. While in the ASP, they ran into several other EOD/engineer types rigging the bunkers for demolition, one of which was an officer. Prior to departing, they burned their MOPP gear as a precaution to eliminate the possibility of contaminating the Blackhawk. This was done at the request of the helicopter crew. He was not briefed on the results of the laboratory tests.[37]

The second officer on the team, a medical intelligence officer assigned to the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center (AFMIC), remembered that, due to poor visibility, damage from aerial bombing, and munitions scattered throughout the area, they had a difficult time locating the right area, as well as a good spot to land. Samples were taken at random in the area by the 513th MI Brigade chemical officer - the medical intelligence officer did not personally collect any samples. As a former artillery officer, he was familiar with chemical artillery round characteristics and did not observe any CW in the area. As he walked through the area inspecting debris, destroyed munitions, and damaged bunkers, he saw melted HE, powder canisters, and artillery caps on the ground. He also was not briefed on the laboratory testing results for this or his other missions.[38]

One of the senior enlisted members of the 9th’s Chemical Detachment’s BW sampling team indicated that the teams were sent anywhere that intelligence indicated the possibility of CW or BW. While he went through a number of buildings and bunkers in various locations during Desert Storm and the cease-fire period, he did not experience positives of either type.[39] A sergeant accompanied him on the March 6, 1991, Tallil/An Nasiriyah SW ASP sampling mission. They did not take their dedicated BW testing equipment (XM2 or PM-10), only M256 CW testing kits. The major who sent them on the ASP mission made the decision on what to test. After they arrived, they tested the indicated bunker. The readings registered negative and he did not observe any artillery shells with an unusual appearance - which, as a qualified technical expert, he would have noticed. He also mentioned that it was only after the mission that he learned the bunker had a biological weapons association.[40]

Several of those interviewed mentioned that they were greeted at the landing site by an engineer, who warned them that these remaining ASP bunkers were being wired for demolition, and that they should exercise caution. This individual was the operations officer for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 307th Engineer Battalion. The battalion had been conducting demolition operations in the ASP since March 1, 1991, without wearing MOPP gear.[41] There was no advance notice that the sampling team was coming. After the team landed, the operations officer walked over to the helicopter and a person came out in MOPP 4. He was a major in the Chemical corps. The chemical officer related that they had received some reports about leaking shells in the ASP. The HHC, 307th Engineer Battalion operations officer stated that he had not seen anything of the sort, and told them the depot was being rigged to be blown. The helicopter then left.[42]

The 9th Chemical Detachment and its BW sampling mission fell under the direct operational command of the Joint Captured Material Exploitation Center (JCMEC), which in turn was subordinate to the 513th MI Brigade. The JCMEC operations officer and the 9th Chemical Detachment Commander developed a list of potential BW sampling locations, which was then reviewed by the 513th MI Brigade operations officer and Brigade chemical officer. Prior to conducting operations, these sampling sites were also coordinated with division intelligence. According to the JCMEC Commander, all of the collected samples tested negative.[43]

The JCMEC operations officer was interviewed concerning BW sampling and the mission to the An Nasiriyah SW ASP. He stated that BW sampling criteria, procedures, and tasking were determined primarily by the JCMEC operations officer (i.e., himself) from US unit locational data passed from joint operations. Based on the proximity to US forces, he divided the 9th Chemical Detachment into teams for each region. They had experimental air samplers for BW sampling positioned at Riyadh, Dharhan, and King Khalid Military City, locations selected based on weather patterns and the locations of US forces. Soil samples were also collected. According to the operations officer, these were sent to Ft. Detrick, Maryland, for laboratory testing. Samples were taken from approximately 30-60 in-theater locations.[44]

Biological samples collected in-theater were tested at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. A total of five samples were collected at the An Nasiriyah SW ASP and tested by USAMRIID; one was a melted liquid from an artillery shell, one was a liquid from a different artillery shell, and three were soil samples from two different bunker sites (within the ASP). These tests were negative for BW associated substances.[45]

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