Colonel Koenigsberg, USAF and Lieutenant Colonel Martin, USA, Investigation Team Testimony to Presidential Advisory Committee on 16 April 1996

Good afternoon, I am Colonel Edward Koenigsberg, an Air Force Medical Corps Officer and Director of the Persian Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Investigation Team that functions under the direction of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. Your Committee requested we discuss efforts of the Investigation Team to explore the possibility of US troops in the Persian Gulf War having been exposed to chemical or biological warfare (CBW) agents. Before discussing this issue, I would first like to reiterate two points of information that were provided in my last testimony to the Committee. First, the Investigation Team was established by the Deputy Secretary of Defense for the purpose of taking an in-depth look at all possible causes for illnesses seen in veterans of the war. No restrictions were placed on the investigation. As part of our efforts, possible chemical and biological warfare exposure has been one area of investigation. We are also looking at immunizations, prophylactic medications, endemic infectious diseases, pesticides, contaminated water, propellants in missiles, hydrocarbon fuels, chemicals used in and on tents, oil well fires, and depleted uranium. We are also examining autopsy reports, mortality rates, and veterinarian reports on dead animals as well as numerous incidents and theories of causes that have been proposed by veterans and investigative experts. The second point is that our team is made up of joint service representatives with expertise in medicine, military operations, intelligence and military investigation.

In our efforts to examine the possibility that troops were exposed to chemical and biological warfare weapons, we have reviewed and investigated incidents reported to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and the House Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations. We have investigated incidents reported to your Committee at the various hearings; incidents from the toll free incident reporting telephone line; findings of the UN inspection teams; and incidents from the Marine Corps History. We have reviewed the previous findings of the Defense Science Board and the Institute of Medicine. We have sent people to interview reserve units with high levels of reported illnesses; had telephone and personal interviews with veterans and leaders of veterans groups; and met with physicians treating veterans. We have met with the senior member of the Riegle Committee staff, and with many individuals having specific theories on chemical and biological warfare exposure. We have consulted with experts on chemical and biological warfare in the civilian sector, the intelligence community, the military research community and the various laboratories which evaluated material sent back from the Gulf War.

We have met with and talked to military experts from other countries and have consulted with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, and the Department of Veterans Affairs on this issue. One of our investigators will be leaving shortly to consult with experts in the Kuwait area. We are also looking at reports of individuals treated in military clinics and hospitals during the war, all the autopsy reports of individuals who died during the war, and reports of any unusual health problems in Iraqi citizens.

We are examining a large volume of field reports, logs and message traffic, both classified and unclassified, which are currently being consolidated and reviewed by the Services, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Staff and the Central Command. As unclassified copies of this data are being placed on Department of Defense's Gulflink home page on the Internet, it is important to keep in mind that many entries are based on unsubstantiated reports of possible CBW or related incidents which appeared during the chaotic atmosphere of war. It is necessary that our team do much more research before a statement can be accepted as factual. In the process, we make use of unit locator data from the Joint Environmental Support Group at Ft Belvoir, personal data from the Defense Manpower Data Center in California, health data from the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program and the VA Registry, other entries in the unit logs and reports of unit investigations into the original log entry.

We are working with experts to develop models which would give a more comprehensive view of possible dispersion of material as a result of bombing or destruction of Iraqi research, production, or weapon storage sites. We have also provided data for the Geographic Information System being developed by the Army at the Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, and have participated in the evaluation of a SCUD missile part that was presented to the Presidential Advisory Committee by one of the veterans.

It is probably fair to state that at no time in the history of the US military were we more aware of the possibility of a chemical and biological warfare threat than in the Persian Gulf War. Prior to deployment, there were extensive consultations within the government and with civilian experts to discuss protective measures and detection procedures. We are examining the documentation of these meetings. During the deployment, coalition forces made serious threats of retaliation if they were to find any evidence of CBW use by Iraq. To this end, teams were established at multiple command levels to look into and document any suspected incident of CBW exposure. We are reviewing reports from these teams and have also had personal contact with individuals responsible for evaluating suspected incidents.

During the war, samples of suspect material were collected and copies of tapes were made of findings by FOX chemical detection vehicles. Much of this material was sent back to the US for evaluation by CBW experts. We have contacted the laboratories that did this work and reviewed their reports. We have also looked at satellite imagery, weather reports, and documentation of SCUD and Patriot missile firings. In essence, we are reviewing a massive amount of documentation that was prepared due to the very real threat that CBW weapons could have been used against our troops.

As we complete our individual investigations, the results will be shared with the public on Gulflink. If we are fortunate enough to make a real breakthrough on this issue, the Secretary of Defense may wish to personally release the information.

I would now like to ask Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Martin from the Investigation Team to address some of the specific details that your staff requested we cover. Lieutenant Colonel Martin is an Army Chemical Operations officer and was deployed to the Gulf during the post DESERT STORM period.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee. As previously stated, I am a United States Army Chemical Operations Officer assigned to the Department of Defense Persian Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Investigation Team. As an Army chemical officer, I have been assigned to positions where I have been the primary staff officer advising unit commanders at various levels on matters concerning nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) operations. As a major in June 1991, I was assigned as the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment's Chemical Officer, and deployed with this unit to Kuwait as part of a stabilizing force sent immediately after DESERT STORM forces redeployed. In this capacity, I also advised the Regimental Commander on how best to employ the Regiment's chemical troop, a company-sized unit responsible for providing battlefield smoke, chemical decontamination, and chemical reconnaissance. This latter responsibility involved the deployment of a platoon of six FOX reconnaissance vehicles and crews. These experiences have helped me understand some of the complexities of the issues being investigated.

Our investigative efforts concerning potential chemical and biological agent exposure are focused on two broad but distinct areas. The first area concerns the deliberate Iraqi employment of chemical or biological agents in offensive or defensive operations. The second concerns possible low level exposure resulting from the incidental release of chemical agents from destroyed chemical munitions production and storage facilities by the air war campaign or local demolition operations.

Before discussing each of these broad areas, I would like to convey the urgency and importance the threat of Iraqi CBW use placed on all levels of the Department of Defense and the National Command Authority in 1990-1991. Prior to and during Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM, Department of Defense and the entire Intelligence Community assessed Iraq to have chemical and biological capabilities and believed there was a real possibility Iraq would use these weapons. Deploying units conducted extensive individual and collective NBC training to prepare for this contingency. Military commanders as well as intelligence and chemical staff officers from the lowest unit level through CENTCOM, were very aware of this threat, and to use an Army term were "leaning forward in the foxhole" to gather any information or evidence of Iraqi intentions or actual use of these weapons. A special element of medical specialists was present in theater to examine and confirm possible chemical casualties. The Joint Captured Material Exploitation Center (JCMEC), a joint service unit which also included other coalition members, was activated during the war to collect captured material for intelligence exploitation. A primary mission for the JCMEC was collecting air and soil samples for possible chemical and biological contamination. From the first week of January through the end of March 1991 over 1000 samples were analyzed. If Saddam Hussein employed chemical or biological agents against coalition forces, we were ready to quickly verify and forward the evidence so that an appropriate political and military response could be made. It was a matter of extreme urgency and importance.

Although Iraq had the capability to use weapons of mass destruction, to date we have found no evidence that it used these weapons. Even though Iraqi ballistic missiles were launched against targets in both Saudi Arabia and Israel, our investigation to date has shown no evidence that these missile attacks included chemical or biological warheads. Each SCUD employed against Israel and Saudi Arabia was tracked from launch to impact or interception by air defense systems. Each known impact was investigated and examined and in each case there was no evidence of chemical and biological agent contamination. There is also no evidence to date that tactical ammunition containing chemical agents was ever issued to Iraqi artillery units from storage bunker facilities, and there is no evidence that chemical or biological agents were employed covertly. Finally, after reviewing currently available medical records and reports, with the exception of one possible blister agent exposure, we have seen no chemical agent related casualties or deaths.

The possibility of a unit's exposure to low level chemical agent concentrations is a much more difficult problem to investigate and make conclusions. US chemical agent alarms did not detect levels below those that would produce early symptoms in troops. Individuals exposed to low levels of chemical agents would not exhibit acute chemical agent symptoms which could be reported. When chemical agent alarms did not sound, more sensitive detectors, such as the M256A1 chemical agent detection kits, would not have been used to identify the presence of a chemical agent.

There was a significant effort by Department of Defense planners prior to Operation DESERT STORM to examine the chemical agent exposure risk to coalition forces that might result from coalition bombing. This involved extensive downwind hazard modeling and consideration of a spectrum of specialized munitions which could be employed in bunker destruction. Modeling efforts at that time indicated little or no risk of any chemical agent exposure. Our investigation team is working with the Central Intelligence Agency to examine new enhanced modeling efforts which include corrections for the effect of weather using recorded weather patterns and actual weather data. The investigation team is also consolidating reports of all available chemical agent alarms from unit logs, the incident reporting hotline, eyewitness accounts, and other reported detections. With this information we plan to conduct a time/distance analysis by plotting alarm detections where and when they occurred to determine if there were any patterns indicating a potential cloud movement.

We are continuing to investigate reports of detections from M256A1 kits, many of which are not documented, but have been reported by veterans. Our investigation into low level chemical agent exposure remains open and will continue for some time. Concurrently, our investigation team will continue to follow research on the clinical and health related aspects of low level chemical agent exposure.

As revealed by recent Iraqi declarations, Iraq also had an advanced biological warfare program including robust biological agent research, development, and weaponization efforts. To date, we have found no evidence that biological agents were used against US forces. Sampling teams collected over 1000 air samples, all of which were negative for known biological agents. Although there were some limitations in our biological defense during the Gulf War, especially in real-time detection capability, many efforts initiated during the war including this sampling program and the BW training given to medical and other personnel, support this assessment. We will, of course, continue to investigate information of potential relevance to this issue.

At this point I will present our findings on two well documented and highly visible incidents as requested by your staff. The first incident concerns the possible blister agent exposure of a soldier with the 3rd Armored Division on 1 March 1991. On this day, this individual was exploring bunkers in southeastern Iraq near the border of Northern Kuwait. According to the soldier's account, he entered an underground bunker near a location previously occupied by an Iraqi artillery unit. The bunker had a tight entrance and passageway. He observed crates and loose artillery projectiles in disarray. As he proceeded he noticed a skull and crossbones symbol on one or more crates, became alarmed and immediately left the bunker. As he was moving through the passageway, he rubbed against the bunker walls where upon his nomex tanker coveralls and a ballistic protective vest were soiled. About eight hours later he began to feel pain on the skin of his upper left arm. This continued until the following day, when two medics at the unit aid station, both trained in the identification and handling of chemical casualties suspected that he had a mild contact with a blister agent. This clinical diagnosis was later confirmed by two physicians, one of whom was Colonel Michael A. Dunn, then the commander of the Medical Research Institute for Chemical Defense and part of the medical staff present to verify chemical agent exposure casualties.

The mass spectrometer from a FOX NBC reconnaissance vehicle detected traces of H mustard agent at the bunker site and on the soldier's clothing. Laboratory analysis of the soldier's protective vest and nomex coveralls conducted by the Edgewood Research, Development, and Engineering Center showed no evidence of chemical agents. However, the lab analyses aren't totally indicative because the samples may not have been handled properly and there was a significant time lag from when the incident occurred to the actual testing of the samples. The soldier's urine sample also was negative for elevated levels of thiodiglycol, a breakdown product and an indication of H mustard exposure. These results, however, do not totally exclude a possible mild exposure to a mustard agent since the area of contact was so small. At this point, we feel that this exposure was probably the result of incidental contact with a blister agent from a contaminated bunker, and did not result from a more widespread exposure.

The second incident that we were asked to address was the events that occurred at the Port of Jubayl on 19-20 January 1991, specifically involving the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion twenty-four, a navy seabee unit. This incident constitutes a large portion of the eyewitness testimony presented in Senator Riegle's May 1994 report concerning health consequences of the Persian Gulf War. It has also been the subject of much speculation as to whether this incident involved an Iraqi chemical agent attack. To fully understand what occurred during this period, the investigation team thoroughly examined the unit's command operational logs and unit medical records. Additionally, we interviewed unit personnel to include leaders, NBC detection/monitoring team personnel, and numerous other unit members, some of whom provided testimony in Senator Riegle's report.

From the unit command post, air detachment, and other operational logs during the period 19-21 January, it is evident that the unit went to general quarters or alert status twice, once early morning on 19 January 1991 and once late night or early morning on 20-21 January 1991. Distinctive events occurred at each alert. On the morning of 19 January 1991, there was reference to alert sirens, a "loud noise at Camp 13" followed by documented M256A1 kit tests with negative results conducted by the command bunker NBC team. The majority of witnesses in the Riegle Report referred to this event. During the second alert, there was a log reference to "two explosions southeast of camp" but no record of any M256A1 kit tests being conducted. The time of the second event corresponds approximately to the time a Scud launched towards Dhahran was most likely intercepted by a Patriot missile at a very high altitude. The port of Jubayl was on this missile's flight path.

Eyewitness accounts are generally inconsistent and combine details of each of these distinct events making it difficult to determine what actually occurred. Some eyewitnesses described a fireball and an illuminated sky. Others describe a falling mist and symptoms exhibited including runny noses, numbness, and burning sensations on their skin. One unit member smelled an overpowering odor like ammonia, while all others interviewed didn't recall any significant odor or smell. Some unit members state they were unprotected and exhibited no symptoms. Members of the unit's NBC team stationed at the command bunker confirmed the negative readings of M256A1 tests conducted at several different locations.

The complaints reported by some observers are not consistent with nerve and mustard agent exposure symptoms. Also, a careful review of the unit medical records indicate there was no significant increase in the number of Camp 13 and air detachment personnel reporting for clinic visits and no evidence of chemical agent physical complaints, or the type of symptoms described by witnesses. There was, however, an unusual increase in the number of personnel requiring medical attention some two months later on 19 March 1991 when a significant number of unit personnel complained of symptoms associated with noxious fumes exposure and other possible unknown exposures. This increase is associated with a release of fumes from reactivation of a nearby Saudi fertilizer factory which may have also caused unit personnel T-shirts to turn purple at that time. It is our current opinion that there was an explosion or explosions and some unit members exhibited various acute symptoms, but these symptoms were not consistent with those associated with chemical agent exposure. We will continue to investigate this incident in order to ascertain the nature and source of the contaminant that affected this group of personnel.

I'd like to conclude by saying all of these and many other investigative issues remain open and require additional research. Investigating reports of possible chemical and biological agent exposure will continue as an important effort but as Colonel Koenigsberg has previously stated, this is only one of many efforts our investigation team is pursuing. Thank you again for this opportunity to testify before this committee.