A.  Background

Camp Monterey is located north of Kuwait City, as shown in Figure 2.[2] Camp Monterey is the American name given to a Kuwaiti brigade headquarters taken by Iraq in August 1990 and used as an Iraqi corps headquarters.   The area was partially destroyed by US and Coalition bombing during the Air War in January 1991.  The first US unit to occupy the camp was the US Army 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment of the Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Armored Division, in March 1991.  Later, in June 1991, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Camp Doha, outside Kuwait City, used the area as a forward camp for training exercises.  In August 1991, as part of Task Force Victory, the 3rd Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division (3-77) moved to the camp and was the only US combat unit at Camp Monterey, although there were engineering units stationed there which were involved in recovery operations.[3,4]

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Figure 2.  Kuwaiti theater of operations: Camp Monterey

B.   Incident Location Background

On August 31, 1991, the Task Force chemical officer arrived at Camp Monterey. He asked to see where Iraqi/Kuwaiti NBC gear was held because, if chemical warfare agents were present, this site would be the most probable place for their storage. The NBC equipment was located in the basement of a building that was to house US troops. Even though explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) personnel had evaluated the area previously and uncovered nothing suspicious, the officer conducted an M256[5] test to ensure the site was clear.  The M256 produced negative results; no chemical warfare agents were present.[6]

Two weeks later, on September 12th, members of the 25th Chemical Company, who were attached to the Task Force, and the chemical officer began to remove the basement’s contents to make room for their own NBC gear.  They identified approximately 200 canisters containing a dark gray or black powder.  Believing the contents to be gunpowder, they called in EOD specialists.  An EOD member analyzed the substance and identified it as a non-threatening riot control agent.  The clean up resumed in the building without incident until the morning of September 14th.[7]

C.  Detection of Chemical Agents at Camp Monterey

On the morning of September 14, 1991, members of a platoon from the 25th Chemical Company were moving wooden crates containing these canisters out of the building when one of the cans broke open and spilled powder.  In the presence of the substance, several soldiers became sick, experiencing tearing and eye irritation, breathing difficulties, and nausea.[8]   None of the soldiers was wearing mission oriented protective posture (MOPP)[9] gear at the time of the incident.[10]  Individuals present assessed that the soldiers all had riot control agent (tear gas) symptoms, but as a precaution, the chemical officer sent everyone at the site of the incident to the physician’s assistant for examination. The soldiers fully recovered with no recurring symptoms and, according to the commander, everybody was okay.[11]

Earlier that morning, the 25th Chemical Company platoon leader took samples of various substances in the basement, including one of the canisters, for use later in Fox nuclear, biological, and chemical reconnaissance vehicle[12] training. After the canister spilled and the soldiers developed symptoms, the platoon leader took the canister sample to one of the Fox reconnaissance vehicles for testing.  In initial inspection, the Fox’s MM-1 mass spectrometer alerted for cyclosarin (GF),[13] a nerve agent which is colorless in both liquid or vapor form and may cause death within 15 minutes if there is a severe exposure.[14]   A second Fox reconnaissance vehicle was then called to conduct the same test.   This Fox’s MM-1 had just been fully calibrated.[15]   This vehicle also alerted for cyclosarin, but in accordance with established procedure, the operator then completed a spectrum analysis.[16]   Both Foxes’ MM-1 readings confirmed a strong presence of the riot control agent CS, with a trace amount of cyclosarin. The cyclosarin readings, however, were very weak and, according to the platoon leader, "weren’t quite right."[17]

O-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), an irritant agent used for riot control, is normally a white crystalline solid with a pungent, pepper-like odor, and is stable under ordinary storage conditions.[18]   Both CS and cyclosarin cause eye irritation, difficulty in breathing, and nausea. However, cyclosarin exposure also causes more severe and unusual reactions, such as miosis (pinpointed pupils and dimness of vision), drooling, excessive sweating, vomiting, cramps, twitching, headache, confusion, drowsiness, breathing difficulties, convulsions, coma, and ultimately death.[19]  As a riot control agent, CS symptoms disappear within minutes after an exposure, and very rarely do exposed personnel require medical treatment.[20] The injured personnel reported that their symptoms lasted about 30 minutes and did not recur.[21]  The health effects and duration of symptoms experienced by the exposed soldiers are consistent with the symptoms one would expect from CS exposure. The effects and symptoms are not consistent with those of a cyclosarin exposure.   Even though the platoon leader believed that the substance was definitely CS, he decided to bring the hard copy tape printouts to his executive officer for guidance because of the trace nerve agent, GF, readings.[22]

The executive officer agreed that the substance posed no threat to the soldiers, but decided that Task Force Victory Headquarters should be notified of the trace cyclosarin detection. Two days later, on September 16th, the 25th Chemical Company platoon leader and the Task Force chemical officer traveled to Doha with the tape printouts. They informed Task Force Victory Headquarters of the incident and essentially it was closed.[23]

Also on September 16th, the Fox reconnaissance vehicle crews and the government contractor[24] were training on the MM-1 and conducted additional tests with the CS container sample.   Unlike two days earlier, however, this time the Foxes alerted for sarin (GB), instead of cyclosarin.[25] Sarin, like cyclosarin, is also colorless in liquid or vapor form and an extremely lethal nerve agent.[26]   When the Fox crews performed the full spectrum analysis, though, the results assured them that the substance was CS.[27]   Copies of these tape printouts were sent to the Persian Gulf Illnesses Investigation Team (PGIIT) in 1996.[28]

D. Investigation

Although two Fox vehicles’ full spectrum analyses revealed the chemical compound to be CS at the time of the incident in 1991, the PGIIT in 1996 conducted an investigation of the incident.  The PGIIT was responding to a letter from a lawyer who represented a government contractor responsible for the maintenance of the mobile mass spectrometer chemical analysis equipment on Fox reconnaissance vehicles under US Central Command’s control during Operations Desert Shield/Storm.

In his letter concerning events on September 16, 1991, the lawyer stated:

Between 10:17 am and 10:33 am on that day the enclosed tape shows that the first vehicle detected Sarin (GB) with eight (8) readings. Both the air monitor and surface monitor showed Sarin nerve gas as present. The air monitor showed concentrations of 3.0 - 4.0 and the surface monitor showed concentrations of 5.6.

The U.S. Army Brigade Commander for the area was informed of these findings.  He asked for a second Fox vehicle to confirm the findings.  A second vehicle arrived, and having checked its calibration... it also detected Sarin at noon on that date... at a 5.2 concentration….

The mass spectrometers that produced these readings in the two Fox vehicles were not faulty and were fully calibrated.  As you know, the Fox vehicle mass spectrometer was the most sophisticated chemical detection equipment available to the U.S. Army to detect on-site chemical agents.  In view of the ongoing investigation of the Persian Gulf illnesses and exposure to Iraqi chemical agents, we look forward to an investigation of this clear exposure incident and the personnel involved and the state of their health.[29,30]

Copies of the Fox tapes from the September 14th event have not been located; the Fox tapes provided were from the training event on September 16th and indicated that the sample may have contained sarin.  To obtain conclusive and objective analyses of the tapes, the PGIIT forwarded copies of the Fox spectra tapes for analyses to three independent mass spectrometry experts at the US Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command,[31] Bruker Analytical Systems, Inc. (the manufacturer of the MM-1 in the Fox), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).[32]   All three expert reviews confirmed that the initial sarin detection was a false positive and that the full spectrum analyses of both Fox reconnaissance vehicles correctly identified the riot control agent CS.[33]

During the initial investigation, the investigators from the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses interviewed the operator of one of the Fox reconnaissance vehicles, the Camp Monterey commander, and the government contractor who was present in the first Fox reconnaissance vehicle and who provided the Fox spectra readings.[34]   In this follow-up investigation, the investigators re-interviewed the Camp Monterey commander, and contacted the operator of the other Fox reconnaissance vehicle, the Task Force chemical officer, the 25th Chemical Company platoon leader, and the exposed soldiers.[35]

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