The DoD requires a common framework for our investigations and assessments of chemical warfare agent incident reports, so we turned to the United Nations and the international community which had experience concerning chemical weapons, e.g., the United Nations investigation of the use of chemical weapons during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Because the modern battlefield is complex, the international community developed investigation and validation protocols to provide objective procedures for possible chemical weapons incidents. The standard that we are using is based on these international protocols and guidelines that includes:
- A detailed written record of the conditions at the site
- Physical evidence from the site such as weapons fragments, soil, water, vegetation, or human or 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 an expert panel.
While the DoD methodology for investigating chemical incidents (Figure 10) 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 often was 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. The major efforts in our methodology are:
- Substantiate the incident
- Document the medical reports related to the incident
- Interview appropriate people
- Obtain information available to external organizations
- Assess the results.
A case usually starts with a report of a possible chemical incident, usually from a veteran. To substantiate the circumstances surrounding an incident, the investigator searches for documentation from operational, intelligence, and environmental logs. This focuses the investigation on a specific time, date, and location, clarifies the conditions under which the incident occurred, and determines whether there is "hard," as well as anecdotal evidence. Alarms
Figure 10. Chemical Incident Investigation Methodology
alone are not considered to be certain evidence of chemical warfare agent presence, nor is a single individuals observation sufficient to validate a chemical warfare agent presence. Additionally, the investigator looks for physical evidence that might indicate that chemical warfare agents were present in the vicinity of the incident, including samples (or the results of analyses of samples) collected at the time of the incident.
The investigator searches the medical records to determine if personnel were injured as a result of the incident. Deaths, injuries, sicknesses, etc., near the time and location of an incident may be telling. Medical experts should provide information about alleged chemical casualties.
Interviews of incident victims (or direct observers) are conducted. First-hand witnesses provide valuable insight into the conditions surrounding the incident and the mind-set of the personnel involved, and are particularly important if physical evidence is lacking. NBC officers or personnel trained in chemical testing, confirmation, and reporting are interviewed to identify the units response, the tests that were run, the injuries sustained, and the reports submitted. Commanders are contacted to ascertain what they knew, what decisions they made concerning the events surrounding the incident, and their assessment of the incident. Where appropriate, subject matter experts also provide opinions on the capabilities, limitations, and operation of technical equipment, and submit their evaluations of selected topics of interest.
Additionally, the investigator contacts agencies and organizations that may be able to provide additional clarifying information about the case. These would include, but not be limited to:
- Intelligence agencies that might be able to provide insight into events leading to the event, imagery of the area of the incident, and assessments of factors affecting the case
- The DoD and Veterans clinical registries, which may provide data about the medical condition of personnel involved in the incident.
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