A. Case History

To monitor for chemical warfare agents during the Gulf War, the Army used the XM93 Fox Nuclear Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle (referred to as the Fox vehicle), which contains the MM-1 Mobile Mass Spectrometer (MM-1). This investigation begins with an Army soldier who kept a set of MM-1 tape printouts (referred to as Fox tapes) containing Fox alert data from the Gulf War.[2] During the war, the soldier’s Fox vehicle was assigned to elements of the 24th Infantry Division (24th ID). In 1993, the soldier, who was the Fox vehicle’s MM-1 operator, read a newspaper article about a Marine separating from the Marine Corps because he was reportedly sick from his service in the Gulf. After reading this story, the soldier sent a copy of his Fox tapes to the Army for analysis because he thought the tapes proved chemical warfare agent exposure.[3]

Since the soldier was concerned that forwarding the tapes would have an adverse impact on his career, he made arrangements for an Army officer at Fort Hood, Texas, to send the tapes to the proper office in a way that he could preserve his anonymity.[4] Before sending the tapes, the soldier removed all identifying information, such as the unit and the names of the vehicle’s commander and MM-1 operator.[5]

On November 23, 1993, the Army officer faxed photocopies of the Fox tapes from the III Corps commanding general’s office at Fort Hood to Forces Command (FORSCOM) headquarters at Fort McPherson, Georgia. The next day, FORSCOM headquarters faxed a copy of the tapes to the office of the FORSCOM Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, which then forwarded the Fox tapes to both the Chemical and Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM)[6] at Edgewood, Maryland, and to the US Army Chemical School at Fort McClellan, Alabama.[7] This set of tapes is referred to as the Edgewood tapes.

Technical experts from CBDCOM analyzed the Edgewood tapes between November 29 and December 17, 1993. Part of this analysis included a telephone interview of the soldier by several CBDCOM experts. The Army officer at Fort Hood coordinated this interview. On December 20, 1993, the project manager for Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) Defense at Edgewood sent a memo containing the analysis of the tapes to FORSCOM.[8] In their analysis, the technical experts pointed out:

… [S]ome incorrect procedures were used. For example, based on the MM-1 printouts provided thus far, spectra were not taken after the alarms for verification purposes, sensitivity checks were not performed during the MM-1 startup procedures, and temperature programs to clean out the sampling probe line after detections were not performed.[9]

The project manager closed the memo by stating,

… [W]e cannot confirm any of the reported chemical warfare agent (CWA) detections from the information supplied, nor can we deny with 100% certainty that a CWA was detected by the MM-1. We firmly believe that all the reported detections are false alarms ….[10]

CBDCOM limited their analysis to the information printed on the Fox tapes supplemented by the interview with the soldier. It was not in CBDCOM’s scope to consider any operational information such as what the unit was doing at the time of the alerts or whether they were under attack. The experts did not speak with any other members of the Fox vehicle crew or the 24th Infantry Division, the division the Fox vehicle supported. Additionally, they considered whether the Fox alerted for agents that were part of Iraq’s operational chemical weapon inventory.

In 1995, the Persian Gulf Illnesses Investigation Team, the predecessor organization to our office, obtained a copy of the Edgewood tapes during a trip to CBDCOM and began an investigation.[11] The MITRE Corporation also reported about these tapes in its review of US intelligence activities during the Gulf War. In Chapter 11 of their June 1997 draft report, MITRE discussed these MM-1 tapes.[12]

In early 1997, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (PAC), commissioned in part to act as an oversight authority to the investigations being conducted by the Department of Defense,[13] requested a list of possible chemical warfare agent exposure incidents. The Office of the Special Assistant responded to the request with a list that included the Edgewood tapes.[14]

The PAC initiated its own investigation into the incidents. At the same time, we started our own investigation where Persian Gulf Illnesses Investigation Team left off. Because identifying information had been removed from the tapes, investigators had a very difficult time obtaining information that would lead them to the tapes’ original owner. However, the PAC investigators, with the help of the experts at CBDCOM, tracked down the Army officer who acted as the liaison on the soldier’s behalf, and eventually identified the soldier who had submitted the tapes.[15]

In May 1997, PAC investigators contacted the soldier for the first time.[16] Some time between May and June 1997, the soldier faxed the PAC a copy of the Fox tapes.[17] This copy of the tapes has come to be known as the PAC tapes to differentiate it from the Edgewood tapes. A comparison of the two sets of tapes shows that the PAC tapes contained most of the same data as the Edgewood tapes, but also contained additional information, including some MM-1 spectra not provided to the Army in 1993. In July 1997, the PAC investigators interviewed the soldier for approximately seven hours at his duty station. Investigators from the Office of the Special Assistant conducted a brief telephone interview with the soldier in December 1997. Since the soldier had already given an extensive interview to what he viewed as a governmental entity (the PAC), he was not inclined to repeat his entire story for us.[18] In 1999, we contacted the PAC investigators to obtain a copy of the PAC interview with the soldier. Unfortunately, the PAC investigators did not retain notes of the interview, but both PAC investigators and the PAC Fox vehicle expert shared their impressions and recollections of the interview, along with information obtained about the tapes.[19] Both PAC investigators believed the PAC sent a copy of their interview notes to the National Archives when the PAC’s charter expired in October 1997. Although we searched for the PAC records at the National Archives, we did not locate this information.[20]

In addition to the brief telephone interview with the soldier, investigators from the Office of the Special Assistant also interviewed the Fox vehicle commander. Efforts to interview other members of the Fox crew for this investigation were unsuccessful, but we did conduct interviews with key personnel assigned to elements of the 24th ID during the Gulf War. Technical experts at the National Institute for Standards and Technology reviewed both the Edgewood tapes and the PAC tapes but did not provide an analysis of the tapes because the "underlying spectra were not reported."[21] The Institute limits its analysis to full printouts of all the ions contained in a sample. The tapes show six spectra, but only one containing the full printout of ions. We also sent both the Edgewood and the PAC tapes to Bruker Daltronics, the Fox MM-1 experts, for analysis, but we have not received Bruker Daltronics’ analysis of the incidents.[22]

In October 1998, investigators met with the CBDCOM experts who originally evaluated the tapes in 1993. At this meeting the experts were given a copy of the PAC tapes to analyze and compare to the Edgewood tapes. After reviewing both sets of tapes together, the CBDCOM experts felt they could say with a higher degree of certainty that the alerts recorded on the tapes were false.[23]

We currently have copies of both the Edgewood tapes (1993) and the PAC tapes (1997). Despite some differences in the copies, they are mostly identical, leading us to conclude that they both were copied from the same original Fox tapes. Pieces from both the Edgewood and PAC tapes are used in this narrative to provide a more complete picture of the alert incidents in question. For the purposes of this paper, we have constructed a side-by-side comparison of the Edgewood tapes and the PAC tapes. Tab E contains this comparison with CBDCOM’s analysis.

B. Fox Vehicle Capabilities

An understanding of the Fox vehicle is important to comprehend this case narrative. The Office of the Special Assistant has published a separate information paper providing an in-depth explanation of the Fox vehicle.[24] What follows in this section is the analysis of the alerts recorded on the Edgewood tapes and the PAC tapes.

Before the start of Operation Desert Storm, the German government gave the United States 60 Fox vehicles (officially known as Fuchs Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) Reconnaissance Vehicles (Figure 2)). These 60 vehicles were modified for US forces. These modifications included the addition of the M43A1 chemical vapor detector,[25] as well as English language labels and English language software to the vehicle’s mobile mass spectrometer. The US military named the modified German vehicle the XM93 Fox NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle, but it was simply called the Fox.[26] The Fox was one of several chemical warfare agent detectors deployed by the Army to detect Iraqi chemical warfare agents.[27]

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Figure 2. The XM93 Fox Reconnaissance Vehicle

The Fox is a six-wheeled, light-armored vehicle designed primarily to detect, identify, and mark areas of persistent liquid chemical warfare agent ground contamination.[28] Pressurizing and sealing the vehicle protects the crew from exposure to outside contaminants and allows the crew to work without the constraints of protective masks and gloves. The primary chemical warfare agent detection system in the Fox consists of the MM-1 mobile mass spectrometer (MM-1) and an air/surface sampler. This system is primarily a liquid chemical agent detector. The addition of the M43A1 augments the Fox MM-1 system by providing a credible nerve agent vapor detector. The MM-1 detects chemical warfare agents by analyzing the ionic activity of a sample that has been collected either by raising liquid samples from the ground to the retractable sampling probe, using silicon sampling wheels, or by "sniffing" the surrounding air.[29]

The MM-1 continuously monitors samples passing through it, checking for the presence of chemical warfare agents identified on a pre-selected target list of 1 to 22 chemical compounds, which are primarily chemical warfare agents. This target list consists of a four-ion "fingerprint" for each compound. During the initial identification step, the MM-1 fragments each sample into a unique pattern of ions and then compares each four-ion fingerprint on the target list against the sample, searching for a match.[30]

If the MM-1 makes an initial match, and the four-ion intensity[31] is above a specific level (unique for each agent), an alarm is sounded, displayed on the MM-1 operator’s screen, and printed on a paper tape. This initial alarm, however, does not verify the presence of a chemical warfare agent because there are many chemical compounds with the same or similar ions as those compounds on the chemical warfare agent target list that can cause a false alarm for chemical warfare agents.[32] The initial alarms continue until either the ion intensity level falls below the alarm level or the MM-1 operator changes sampling methods or modes.[33]

The MM-1 operator must perform a spectrum analysis in order to increase the confidence of the detection of the presence of a chemical warfare agent. A spectrum analysis involves optimizing the MM-1 by lowering the temperature of the sample line from 180 degrees Celsius to 120 degrees Celsius for better ion separation, discontinuing use of the sample wheels, cleaning the sample probe to remove residual ion activity (contamination), and lowering the probe to within three to five centimeters of the source of the alert. This allows the MM-1 to acquire a better-prepared sample. The MM-1 then searches its 60-compound chemical library of four-ion-peak fingerprints, compares them against this improved sample, and attempts to match the chemical warfare agent fingerprints with the sample.[34]

Using the proper procedures, it takes several minutes to collect a good sample and to obtain a good ion spectrum readout and analysis. This process is necessary to properly evaluate the sample for any suspected chemical warfare agent and to assure that initial indications were not affected by contaminants from the battlefield (e.g., smoke, diesel exhaust, and oil). Although an MM-1 operator can produce a spectrum in other ways, this is the proper, most accurate method.[35] The MM-1 operator should also print a tape, which saves the details of the spectrum as a hard-copy historical record.[36]

Should the properly performed spectrum procedure identify a chemical warfare agent, the MM-1 operator and the Fox commander can be confident that the agent is present. Conversely, if the spectrum analysis does not identify one of the chemical warfare agents contained in the MM-1 60-chemical library, the MM-1 operator and the Fox commander can be confident that the chemical warfare agent that was displayed during the initial alarm is not present. Further analysis of the spectrum tape printout by a mass spectrometry expert comparing the spectrum results to an established database of compounds can increase confidence in the detection. Additionally, the MM-1 operators were taught to collect a specimen of the contamination (e.g., a soil sample) to further aid confirmation of the substance by thorough analysis in a laboratory. When the MM-1 cannot match any of the compounds in the library to the sample, the MM-1 indicates "unknown" on the operator’s screen and the tape printout. A reading of "fats, oils, wax" is considered a false alarm.[37]

Due to the operational urgency of the pre-war period, Fox operators received varying amounts of training at either the US Army Chemical School at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, or at the German NBC and Self Protection School in Sonthofen, Germany. Gulf War Fox crews went through an intensive two-to-four-week Fox vehicle training program, but no certifying tests were required.[38]

All Fox crews were taught to follow a standard operating procedure both before the start of the vehicle’s mission and after the MM-1 issues an initial alarm.[39] The start-up procedure consisted of function tests, confidence checks, and calibration tests. Function tests are electronic tests, which check various components of the MM-1.[40] Unless each tested component registers an "OK" reading, the MM-1 cannot be assured of accurate operation and the function tests should be repeated until "OK" readings are registered.[41] Confidence checks using chemical simulants held to the sampling probe by a Fox crewman provide further assurance that the vehicle’s sampling equipment is transporting chemical samples properly through the system.[42] Calibration tests monitor the MM-1 system response and relative ion intensity of alarms for the calibration gases. Failing to reach certain ion intensity levels could indicate a faulty sampling probe or problems with the MM-1.[43] After successfully performing confidence and calibration tests, the temperature program is run to clean the probe, destroying any remaining test substances in the probe. If this procedure is not successfully performed, the sampling probe can emit residual ions, called residual ion contamination, which cause false alarms.[44]


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