One prominent hypothesis used to explain the cause of illnesses of Gulf War veterans is that some of the reported symptoms are the result of exposure to chemical warfare agents. During and after the Gulf War, people reported that they had been exposed to chemical warfare agents. To investigate these incidents, and to assess the likelihood of presence of chemical warfare agents, the DoD developed a methodology for investigation and validation based on work done by the United Nations and the international community where the criteria include:
- A detailed written record of the conditions at the site
- Physical evidence from the site such as weapons fragments, soil, water, vegetation or human/animal tissue samples
- A record of the chain of custody during transportation of the evidence
- Testimony of eyewitnesses
- Multiple analyses
- Review of the evidence by experts.
While the DoD methodology (Tab D) for investigating suspected chemical warfare agent incidents is based on these protocols, the passage of time since the Gulf War makes it difficult to obtain certain types of documentary evidence, and physical evidence was often not collected at the time of an event. Therefore, we cannot apply a rigid template to all incidents, and each investigation must be tailored to its unique circumstances. Accordingly, we designed our methodology to provide a thorough, investigative process to define the circumstances of each incident and determine what happened. Alarms alone are not considered to be certain evidence of chemical warfare agent presence, nor may a single individuals observation be sufficient to validate a chemical warfare agent presence.
By following our methodology and accumulating anecdotal, documentary, and physical evidence, and by interviewing eyewitnesses and key personnel, and analyzing the results, the investigator assesses the validity of the presence of chemical warfare agents on the battlefield. Because information from various sources may be contradictory, we have developed an assessment scale (Figure 1) ranging from "Definitely" to "Definitely Not" with intermediate assessments of "Likely," "Unlikely," and "Indeterminate." This assessment is tentative, based on facts available as of the date of the report publication; each case is reassessed over time based on new information and feedback.
Figure 1. Assessment of Chemical Warfare Agent Presence
The standard for making the assessment is based on common sense: do the available facts lead a reasonable person to conclude that chemical warfare agents were or were not present? When insufficient information is available, the assessment is "Indeterminate" until more evidence can be found.
On March 12, 1991, twelve days after the conclusion of the Gulf War, an industrial area outside Kuwait City, thought to be a possible Iraqi chemical weapon filling station, was inspected by a team of chemical defense and explosive ordnance disposal specialists from the 2d Marine Division. Using a Fox Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Reconnaissance vehicle, a sophisticated chemical warfare agent detection system, the Marines surveyed this area known as the cement factory. The team found some chemical defensive equipment such as masks, and one of the explosive ordnance disposal specialists pointed out land mines that he believed could have been used for either chemical warfare agents or conventional munitions.
Within a half-mile of the cement factorys buildings, the Fox vehicle team reported an alert for blister and nerve chemical warfare agents. The chemical defense commander on the scene ordered that soil samples be taken for further analysis and that a second Fox vehicle survey the area. The second Fox also alerted for chemical warfare agents. Again, samples were taken. The Fox operators printed records of both alerts. There were no other indications that chemical warfare agents were present and there were no reported casualties.
The Marine chemical defense specialists who took the samples established a chain of custody and relinquished the samples to a special joint command unit responsible for exploiting captured enemy equipment. The samples were then turned over to the US Army unit responsible for transporting them back to the Army Chemical Research, Development Engineering Center in Edgewood, Maryland. The samples arrived approximately six days later.
The analysis of these samples indicated the soil contamination was probably caused by diesel engine exhaust. Approximately two weeks after the samples were taken, the laboratory communicated this information to the special joint command service unit, but the Marine chemical defensive specialists were never informed of these results. Attempts by the Marine chemical defense commander and another officer of the 2d Marine Division to ascertain the sample test results were unsuccessful. Only one of the Fox vehicles printed records of the alert has been located. This tape, as the print outs are referred to, was located in 1998 and analyzed by chemical engineers at two laboratories. Both laboratories reported that the chemical compound present was not a chemical warfare agent.
Although some of the Marines involved thought there might be chemical warfare agents present, this investigation could find no evidence of chemical warfare agents present at the cement factory. Except for the Fox alerts, there was an absence of any credible evidence linking the area around the cement factory to chemical munitions or warfare agents employment or storage. No other chemical detectors indicated a presence of chemical warfare agents. Sample evaluation and analyses of the Fox tapes did not identify chemical warfare agent presence. The post-war cleanup efforts have not found any chemical weapons anywhere in Kuwait. Additionally, the UN Special Commission found no evidence that Iraqi chemical weapons were ever transported into Kuwait or that Iraq possessed chemical warfare agent landmines. For these reasons investigators assess that the cement factory was "Definitely Not" a chemical mine filling facility. However, inadequate packaging of the soil samples in non-air tight containers and the inability to locate and analyze the second Fox tape precludes a definitive assessment of chemical warfare agent presence. The weight of evidence leads investigators to assess that it is "Unlikely" that chemical warfare agents or munitions were present at the cement factory and that the exposure of US armed forces in the cement factory to chemical warfare agents must also be assessed as "Unlikely."
Shortly after the ground war ended in March 1991, a Marine Corps detachment from the 2d Marine Division (2d MARDIV) searched an abandoned cement factory outside Kuwait City because it was thought to be a possible chemical munitions filling area. The Marines searched the area and took soil samples that were sent to the US for laboratory analysis. Despite repeated attempts to obtain analysis results, the Marines did not learn of the laboratorys findings. This incident was recounted in interviews and military reports, as well as testimony before the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses. This incident is also discussed in the MITRE Corporation June 1997 draft report, Iraqi Chemical Warfare: Analysis of Information Available to DoD and in at least one other book on the subject. The current investigation was initiated in response to these statements and reports.
This narrative draws on information from a variety of Marine Corps and Department of Defense Desert Storm command chronologies, records, and logs. Additionally, 25 veterans offered first-hand accounts of the events related to the samples taken at the cement factory. In addition to witnesses, several subject matter experts were interviewed concerning the following issues: chemical warfare agents, chemical warfare agent detectors, chemical warfare agent sampling, mine warfare, and cement production processes. Some insights on lessons learned are located in Tab F.
Initial Suspicions About the Cement Factory
The 2d MARDIV was probably tasked by the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) to conduct a reconnaissance of the cement factory. Since no written record of that tasking has been located, the details of this tasking are unclear. The commander of the unit sent to investigate recalls that "Kuwaiti resistance had known the location of the Iraqi chemical brigade headquarters and there was thought to be chemical munitions in that vicinity as well."
Confusion Over Dates
There is conflicting information concerning the exact date of the reconnaissance. Many of the participants believe that the mission occurred during the first or second week of March 1991. The official 2d Marine Division Command Chronology places the date as March 12, 1991. Additionally, the Central Command (CENTCOM) NBC Desk Log records the results of the mission on "12 March at 1620," and the Materiel Courier Receipts for the samples are also dated March 12, 1991. However, the Fox tapes attributed to this mission are dated March 14, 1991. It is possible that the Fox MM-1 time/date stamp, which must be manually changed by the operator, was set incorrectly. Since March 12, 1991, is the most consistent and attributable date in these sources, this investigation believes that the mission took place on this date.
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