Given the circumstances and information available at the time, the group leader’s assessment the cement factory was possibly a chemical mine filling station appears reasonable and prudent. Subsequent tests performed on the samples and analysis of the Fox tapes provide additional insights into the possible presence of chemical warfare agents at the cement factory that were not available at the time of the reconnaissance. Likewise, since the Gulf War, the United States and the UNSCOM have learned much about Iraq’s chemical weapons program. This knowledge helps us better assess the likelihood of Iraq’s chemical operations at the cement factory.

A. Soil Samples

Analysis of the soil samples cannot conclusively demonstrate whether cyclosarin or any other G-series nerve agents—including sarin or tabun—were present in the samples when the Marines took the samples at the cement factory. However, soil sample analysis does indicate that it is unlikely lewisite was present in these samples at the time they were taken.

CRDEC sent JCMEC a classified message on March 27, 1991, stating testing showed no presence of chemical warfare agents.[86] The message also noted the samples were improperly packaged and not airtight.[87] An improperly sealed sample could have allowed certain types of agents to dissipate. The message clearly points out sample preparation and transportation procedures must be improved. At the time, the CRDEC determined: "The conclusion can only be one of two things: Either there were no CW [chemical warfare] agents/by-products present to begin with, or the agents/by-products dissipated in the time between collection in field and lab analysis at CRDEC."[88]

CRDEC worksheets for analysis remain classified. However, in 1996, at the request of the Persian Gulf Illnesses Investigation Team, the CRDEC chemists used these worksheets to prepare an unclassified Memorandum for the Record, which states: "Conclusion: No evidence of any known CW agent or agent degradation product was found by any of the analyses performed. The predominant presence of aliphatic hydrocarbons in the extracts could indicate the presence of diesel exhaust or related residues in the areas sampled."[89]

In subsequent interviews, CRDEC chemists stated if G-series nerve agents were initially present in the samples, they might not be discernible after a week. Since the sample was improperly packaged and not airtight, it is possible any G-series agent that might initially have been in the sample would have vaporized and left no trace or byproduct.[90] Sarin’s degradation product—isopropyl methylphosphonate—could still be present under such circumstances, but none was found in these samples. The chemists further stated if lewisite had initially been present in the samples, CRDEC would have found traces of it or of its degradation product—lewisite oxide—even if the sample was improperly packaged. CRDEC did not find either of these compounds.

B. Fox 1 Tape

In 1998, the US Army Soldier Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM)[91] conducted its first analysis of the Fox 1 tapes, including the spectrum that was printed. In 1998, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) also analyzed the tapes. Figures 7, 8, and 9 represent the Fox 1 MM-1 tape generated during the alert at the cement factory.

1. Fat, Oil, Wax. As shown in Figure 7, several alerts for "Fat, Oil, Wax" occur between 15:08 and 15:18 (3:08 PM and 3:18 PM). Fat, oil and wax are three broad categories of non-chemical-warfare-agent substances—including such commonly-found substances as smoke, motor oil, or exhaust fumes[92] —the MM-1 readily detects because of their high hydrocarbon content."[93]

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Figure 7. Fox 1 tape

2. Cyclosarin. The Fox 1 tapes show four initial alerts to cyclosarin (Figure 8) from 15:25 through 15:28 (3:25 PM and 3:28 PM). However, these were just initial alerts—a spectrum analysis is needed to identify what actually caused the alert. The results of the spectrum analysis, completed at 15:30 (3:30 PM), indicated no cyclosarin was present. The NIST review of the 15:30 spectrum analysis states:

The single mass spectrum reported on the tapes shows no evidence supporting the presence of chemical weapons or related compounds. Instead, the spectrum may be explained as arising from a mixture of conventional hydrocarbons.… These are very common compounds.[94]

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Figure 8. Fox 1 spectrum

3. Xylyl Bromide (Xylene). Although the 15:30 spectrum analysis indicated no cyclosarin presence, it did indicate the presence of xylyl bromide (Figure 8).[95] According to SBCCOM, however, the substance was probably not xylyl bromide, but a similar substance called xylene.[96]

The Fox MM-1 library of 60 chemical substances does not include xylene, but xylene is a component of and has some similar properties to xylyl bromide. The Fox MM-1 algorithm matched the sample with xylyl bromide, implying the presence of this substance. The SBCCOM analysis states:

It is highly likely that the chemical present during this encounter was xylene. Xylene is used as a solvent in the production of dyes, insecticides, aviation fuels, polyester, and alkyl resins. It enters the atmosphere primarily from fuel emissions and exhausts linked with its use in gasoline.[97]

Neither xylene nor xylyl bromide are chemical warfare agents. Likewise, neither of these chemicals is a chemical warfare agent precursor (i.e., ingredient).[98] Thus, the detection of either xylene or xylyl bromide does not constitute the detection of a chemical warfare agent or precursor. It is unknown why xylene was present at the cement factory. Cement and concrete subject-matter experts say no known concrete or cement-manufacturing processes require this chemical.[99]

4. Phosgene. Fox 1 also alerted four times for the chemical warfare agent phosgene between 15:47 and 15:49 (3:47 PM and 3:49 PM.) See Figure 9. The tape shows the MM-1 operator performed two spectrum analyses—at 15:48 and 15:49 (3:48 PM and 3:49 PM)—that showed "Fat, Oil, Wax." The operator did not print either spectrum analyses, as he did at 15:30. Even without a printout of the spectrum analyses, US Army SBCCOM believes the spectrum analyses conducted at 3:48 PM and 3:49 PM local time confirm the samples contained only fat, oil, wax, and rule out the possible presence of phosgene or other chemical warfare agents.[100] However, the NIST asserts a printout of the spectra must be performed and analyzed before such confirmation is possible. Nevertheless, NIST states the 15:30 printout provides a possible explanation for a false detection of phosgene: "Two major phosgene peaks (m/z=63,65) are also present in many hydrocarbons and were present in the reported spectrum [the 15:30 spectrum], so a false alert for phosgene would not be surprising."[101]

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Figure 9. Fox 1 phosgene alert

C. Iraq's Chemical Warfare Capabilities

Prewar US intelligence reports indicated Iraq’s chemical warfare agent inventory included many possible chemical warfare agents,[102] but since the end of the Gulf War, UNSCOM inspections have found no evidence of lewisite or phosgene.[103] Furthermore, Iraq declared to UNSCOM that the Al Muthanna State Establishment, north of Baghdad, was the sole chemical weapons research, development, production, and filling facility, as well as a bulk agent storage site. This contradicts—but does not rule out—the assertion the cement factory may have been a filling station for chemical mines. Nevertheless, UNSCOM has found no evidence of chemical weapons filling areas in Kuwait.[104] Furthermore, Iraq has also declared it has no chemical mines in its inventory. Again, UNSCOM records of the destruction of Iraq’s munitions show they destroyed no chemical mines.[105,106] According to a US subject matter expert on foreign mines, of the 3.5 million mines cleared from Kuwait, none were chemical-filled.[107] UNSCOM and the US intelligence agencies believe Iraq did not move chemical munitions into Kuwait.[108,109] We have no information on what became of the area known as the cement factory, but we do know that between 1992 and 1994, contractors cleared all munitions, including land mines, from Kuwait. None of the contractors reported finding any indication of chemical munitions or agents anywhere in Kuwait.[110]

D. Discussion

After Desert Storm, Fox vehicles were found to have a problem with the sampling wheel that could lead to a false alert for lewisite. Several years after the war, this problem was corrected by the introduction of a new sampling wheel.[111] Some Marines’ recollections and the Materiel Courier Receipt note a possible lewisite alert at the cement factory. We have no way to determine if the Fox design flaw could have caused the lewisite alerts at the cement factory.

The Fox 1 tapes show an initial alert for cyclosarin, a G-series agent that a subsequent spectrum analysis failed to confirm. The Technical Escort Unit trip report dated March 16, 1991, reflects that the samples were suspected to contain lewisite and GA.[112] It is possible a chemical compound resembling a G-series agent caused the initial alert, but that subsequent spectrum analyses, the only way to have high confidence in agent presence, showed no agent present. G-series nerve agents are volatile and vaporize quickly.[113] The resultant vapor hazard is the primary casualty-causing mechanism, much like an aerosol insecticide.[114] However, no casualties occurred during the inspection and no Marines reported any symptoms.[115] Two laboratories, NIST and SBCCOM, presented analyses indicating the initial responses of the MM-1 were probably false positives. The NIST analysis states: "The reporting of false positives is, in general, not surprising … an examination of the mass spectrum in the present tapes suggests that the corresponding alert was ‘false’."[116]

The seven soil samples gave indications of diesel exhaust contamination. This is consistent with the SBCCOM analysis of the MM-1 tape that identified the compound as xylene. The samples did not indicate any G-series agent or lewisite presence, although lewisite is a persistent agent.[117]


In the years since the Gulf War ended, the United Nations and United States have learned much about Iraq’s chemical weapons program. UNSCOM found evidence Iraq had only one chemical munitions filling plant, Al Muthanna. UNSCOM and Kuwaiti contractors found no evidence Iraq had chemical warfare mines in its inventory. Neither UNSCOM nor US intelligence believes Iraq moved chemical munitions into Kuwait. Events at the cement factory do not contradict these findings. The Marines found no munitions filled with chemical warfare agent during the March 12, 1991, inspection of the cement factory. For these reasons, we conclude the cement factory was definitely not a chemical mine filling site.

Although the cement factory was not a mine filling site, we cannot state that chemical warfare agents were definitely not present. The improper packaging and handling of the soil samples prevented the US Army laboratory in the United States from determining whether chemical warfare agents had been present. The laboratory analysis report states that although it was unlikely chemical warfare agents were present in the soil samples, it is possible this improper packaging allowed a G-series nerve agent to dissipate before it arrived at the laboratory in Edgewood, Maryland. The Fox 1 tapes indicate its MM-1 alerted for cyclosarin and phosgene however spectrum analyses performed by its MM-1 operator revealed only xylene and "fat, oil and wax". Fox 2 crewmembers also recall its MM-1 alerted to some form of contamination which could have been chemical warfare agents although there are no tapes to corroborate this. The soil analysis, the Fox 1 tape, the absence of chemical warfare casualties, and the intelligence community’s conviction Iraq never moved chemical munitions into Kuwait—all make a very strong case that there were no chemical warfare agents at the cement factory. However, the explanation given in the US Army laboratory report on the soil analysis leaves open a possibility, albeit small, that chemical warfare agent may have been present. As a result, we can only conclude it is unlikely that chemical warfare agents were present at the cement factory.

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