DoD Persian Gulf War Veteran's Illnesses Investigation Team Testimony to the Presidential Advisory Committee, May 1, 1996

I am Colonel Koenigsberg, Director of the Persian Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Investigation Team which is under the direction of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. Your committee has requested that we discuss two issues relating to the possible detection of chemical warfare agents during the Persian Gulf War. Since your request relates to two very specific investigations, I have brought with me the members of my staff who are the most knowledgeable about each subject. I would like to point out that ongoing work is still being done on both of these cases. As we investigate one point of fact, it always seems to point to another lead that requires further investigation. Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Martin, an Army Chemical Operations Officer, will present our findings on the Czech and French detections; and Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Nalls, a Marine Corps Harrier pilot, will present findings on the Marine Corps breaching operation in Kuwait.

Lieutenant Colonel Martin.

This afternoon I will provide the results to date of our investigation into the reported Czech and French chemical agent detections which occurred in January, 1991 during the Persian Gulf War. Our investigation into the circumstances surrounding these detections, including whether they might be relevant to possible low level chemical agent exposure, is still open.

According to Senate reports, the Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects, various unit logs and other open sources, Czech and French teams detected nerve and blister agents in Saudi Arabia during the first week of the air war campaign of Operation DESERT STORM. The degree of credibility attached to each of these detections varies considerably based on the official position of the countries involved, the equipment used for the detections, and corroboration from other sources.

There appears to be some ambiguity about how and when the events occurred. First, much of the French and Czech information concerning the detections has been difficult to confirm at this time. Information from other sources is sporadic and uncertain. Second, although some of these detections were reported in US operational logs, the US could not confirm the detections at the time they were made. Third, even if we assume the detections are valid, it is difficult, if not impossible at this point, to determine the source of the agent.

After sorting through many sources and much conflicting information, the Persian

Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Investigation Team has compiled this table listing reported coalition (non US) chemical detections in the Persian Gulf. As you can see, all the detections occurred roughly within the first week of Operation Desert Storm. Likewise they all occurred in the general vicinity of King Khalid Military City (KKMC) and approximately 65 kilometers northeast in Hafir Al Batin.

Coalition Chemical Detections in the Persian Gulf

DATE    | DETECTING | AGENT          | CREDIBILITY | LOCATION &                         | CITED IN
        | COUNTRY   | DETECTED       | OF          | CIRCUMSTANCES                      |
        |           |                | DETECTION   |                                    |
        | REPUBLIC  | INSIGNIFICANT  |             | HAFIR AL BATIN (2843N04611E(2) AND | SHELBY
        |           | LEVELS OF      |             | 2845N04630E); US UNABLE TO CONFIRM | CENTCOM
        |           | NERVE AGENT"   |             |                                    |           
1/19/91 | FRANCE    | "INFINITESIMAL | UNKNOWN     | APPROX. 30 KM FROM KKMC            | DSBR
        |           | AMOUNT OF      |             |                                    |
        |           | NERVE AND      |             |                                    |
        |           | BLISTER AGENT" |             |                                    |
1/20/91 | CZECH     | "LOW LEVEL     | UNKNOWN     | NEAR KKMC ENGR SCHOOL              | DSBR
OR      | REPUBLIC  | MUSTARD VAPOR" |             |                                    | SHELBY
1/21/91 |           |                |             |                                    |
        | REPUBLIC  | OF NERVE       |             | CONFIRM                            | CENTCOM
        |           | AGENT"         |             |                                    |
        |           | QUANTITIES OF  |             | CONFIRMED PRESENCE OF NON-TOXIC    |
        |           | NERVE AND      |             | QUANTITIES OF AGENT                |
        |           | BLISTER AGENT" |             |                                    |
1/24/91 | CZECH     | MUSTARD        | CREDIBLE    | 10 KM NORTH OF KKMC (2802N04534E); | DSBR
        | REPUBLIC  |                |             | SAUDIS SUMMONED CZECHS TO MUSTARD  | SHELBY
        |           |                |             | PUDDLE                             |
OR      |           | AND MUSTARD    |             | UNIT REPORTEDLY CONFIRMED          |
1/25/91 |           |                |             |                                    |

KKMC = King Khalid Military City, located in Northeastern Saudi Arabia

DSBR = Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects

The first event occurred the morning of 19 January 1991. Two Czech chemical units about 25 kilometers northeast of Hafir al Batin supporting the 4th Saudi Brigade detected low levels of nerve agent at two separate locations approximately 2 kilometers apart. About 30 minutes later, a Czech detachment supporting the 20th Saudi Brigade detected low levels of nerve agent about 25 kilometers further northeast. The Czechs consider these detections to be "one event". The Central Command Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) Desk logs refer to Czech chemical detections that morning. US chemical reconnaissance troops were called in to verify the detection but were unable to confirm the presence of any agent at any of the locations. The same day, a French chemical unit reported detecting infinitesimal amounts of mustard and nerve agent about 30 kilometers from King Khalid Military City. We have found no other evidence to substantiate this French detection.

On the following day, 20 January, Central Command NBC logs indicate a Czech nerve agent detection in the French sector, with the French requesting US confirmation. US chemical detection teams were unable to confirm the presence of any chemical agents.

On 21 January, Central Command NBC logs indicate that French unit detectors near an ammunition storage facility at King Khalid Military City went off. The French reportedly contacted a nearby Czech chemical detection unit which confirmed the presence of trace quantities of nerve and blister agents.

The last two reported detections occurred on January 24th. That morning, a Saudi liaison officer reportedly led members of a Czech chemical unit to an area 10 kilometers north of King Khalid Military City and 50 kilometers southwest of Hafir al Batin. At that area, the Czech team found a spot in the sand about one square meter in size where they detected mustard agent. This detection was confirmed by the Czechs using a portable laboratory. Additionally, the Czechs told Senator Shelby's delegation that they detected mustard at an engineer school in King Khalid Military City about 2-3 days prior to the 24 January mustard detection, but we have no other evidence to corroborate that detection.

The French reported to the Shelby delegation that on the evening of 24 or 25 January 1991 at a logistics facility approximately 27 kilometers south of King Khalid Military City, French detectors indicated the presence of nerve and blister agents. They also told the delegation that a Czech unit confirmed the presence of infinitesimal quantities of nerve and mustard agent and decontaminated the area.

The Czech chemical agent detections which occurred on 19 and 24 January have been studied extensively, are well documented, and are substantiated. The chemical detection equipment used by the Czechs included the Russian-made GSP-11 chemical agent detector/alarm which provides continuous monitoring capability, the portable CHP-71, a chemical analyzer used as backup for the GSP-11, and a portable laboratory which uses a paper detection method, as well as other wet chemical analysis. The US cannot independently verify the Czech detections, but places a measure of confidence in their findings based on assessments of their technical competence and the sensitivity and reliability of their equipment. To this point we have not determined what French detection equipment was used in their reported incidents and therefore cannot accurately assess their capability.

As I mentioned in my previous testimony, the possibility of a unit's exposure to low level chemical agent concentrations is a difficult problem to investigate. The reported Czech and French detections delineated here are certainly germane to this possibility. There is no evidence of an enemy chemical agent attack. There were no scud or artillery attacks and no enemy activity in the area when the detections occurred. Previous chemical agent downwind hazard models indicate that many tons of chemical agents would have to be instantaneously released from An Nasiriyah, the southernmost bombed site assessed to have contained chemical munitions to get detections at the concentration detected by the Czechs. If there was a large instantaneous release resulting from coalition bombing, a large downwind hazard area capable of producing a significant number of immediate casualties would most likely occur. Thus far, we have found no evidence to support this. Additionally, the battle damage assessment associated with these strikes at An Nasiriyah does not support an agent release of that magnitude. Currently, we are working with CIA to develop an enhanced chemical downwind hazard model which considers the effect of weather patterns based on actual weather data. This model, which should be completed soon, should provide more refined data to analyze.

We believe the Czech detections on 19 and 24 January to be credible. Even though the French chemical agent detections are less verifiable, we cannot discount them in our effort to determine the source of the contaminant. We are continuing to investigate, on a priority basis, these reported coalition detections and reported US detections during and after this time period. Our investigation into the possibility of low level chemical agent exposure remains open. Thank you for this opportunity to testify before this committee.

Lieutenant Colonel Nalls will now review the Marine Corps breaching operation.

At this time I will provide the results to date of our investigation into the reported Marine Corps chemical agent detections associated with "Task Force Ripper" and other Marine Corps units reporting incidents of possible chemical mines and chemical attacks. These are open investigations being conducted by the investigation team. There were personal accounts of chemical detection alarms, accounts of transitioning through various MOPP levels, and other events which led people to believe that chemical weapons were encountered as the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force attacked north through the minefields in Kuwait. "Task Force Ripper" was the name adopted by the 7th Marines of the 1st Marine Division. However, other Marine units in the area had reports of possible chemical encounters, not just "Task Force Ripper".

The most cited event, and the specific event that I have been asked to address today, occurred in the early morning hours of 24 February, 1991, with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (Reinforced) and was reported in the monograph "US Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-1991: With the Second Marine Division in Desert Shield and Desert Storm", which I will refer to as "The Second Division Monograph." 1/6, as it is known in Marine terminology, was reinforced by Company "C", 8th Tank Battalion and Company "B" , First Assault Amphibian Battalion. By virtue of the fact that this report of a possible encounter with a chemical mine was recorded in an official document, it has been referenced by several veterans' publications. After an extensive investigation into the events surrounding this particular incident, we are unable to substantiate that this event occurred, as originally recorded in "The Second Division Monograph."

The investigation began by researching the official logs and records, followed by personal interviews, researching medical and casualty records, and reviewing written statements from previous investigations. We also sought any supporting documentation and analysis by the subject matter experts, such as the capabilities and limitations of the "Fox" vehicles and other sophisticated detection and monitoring devices, as well as any expert analysis of "Fox" vehicle tapes, etc., which are available.

In the preface of "The Second Division Monograph," the author, Colonel Dennis P. Mroczkowski, USMC Reserve, caveats his work with a statement, which I would like to quote:

"This history is intended to be a first effort at presenting the division's actions, operations, and contributions to victory in what was a time of national crisis and intense military activity. Written so close to the time involved, many of those source materials which ordinarily would be available to a researcher of the war are not yet returned to the Marine Corps Historical Center. What this history can do is guide the efforts of those researchers and writers who will come later......they will be able to balance what is written here against those more complete records which will be available to them, and they will be able to correct any errors of fact, which may have been made."

The 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, which were the ground maneuver elements of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, were assigned a total of four Americanized west German "Fox" vehicles. One of these vehicles was attached to the battalion on 17 February 1991, just one week prior to the actual attack. The battalion had just completed a 90-mile move to the Final Tactical Assembly Area and was progressing with their final attack preparations.

The "The Second Division Monograph" details a chemical detection by this "Fox" vehicle on the 24 February. According to the "The Second Division Monograph", a "Fox" reconnaissance vehicle, moving through Red Lane 1, a minefield breaching lane, detected "a trace of mustard gas, originally thought to be from a chemical mine." This detection was reported up the operational chain as an nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) one report and recorded as an entry in the Marine Corps Combat Operations Center Watch Officer's log.

The "The Second Division Monograph" later goes on to report that:

"A second "Fox" vehicle was dispatched to the area and confirmed the presence of an agent which had probably been there a long time. Unknown in origin, it was still sufficiently strong to cause the blistering on the exposed arms of two armored amphibious vehicle crewmen."

The author credits this account to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas C. Ashley, USMC, now retired. I contacted Mr. Ashley, who was a trained NBC specialist with a 5702 military occupational skill and at the time was assigned as the 2nd Marine Division NBC officer, under the G-3 for operations. He was stationed in the command post, and was an expert on chemical attacks, defenses, and procedures. He would also have been immediately aware of any reported chemical incidents or injuries that happened within the Division, since any NBC reports would have been forwarded to him.

I interviewed Ashley about the events attributed to him in "The Second Division Monograph." His own recollection, which differed from the monograph, was that the "Fox" vehicles were dispersed throughout the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, with two vehicles assigned to each Division. This statement is supported in the 2nd Marine Division operations plan. The remaining vehicles, according to Ashley, maintained their pre-assigned lanes with their maneuver elements and pressed on with the attack through the minefields. He stated that no other "Fox" vehicles were dispatched to Red Lane 1, to confirm the detection, rather they maintained their pre-assigned lanes. He also stated that the detections, as officially reported to him, were momentary "trace" amounts, that the "Fox" vehicles were unable to get full-spectrum readout and that they were not "confirmed" in accordance with established NBC procedures. There were no "Fox" vehicle tapes of the detection forwarded up the chain.

I'd like to comment about the word "confirmation." The 2nd Marine Division Operational Plan stated:

" Assume all Iraqi mines, missiles, artillery and aircraft attacks to be chemical until proven otherwise."

Operationally, the first reactions when a chemical attack is suspected are to assume a protective posture (MOPP level), pass the alarm, and attempt to confirm the chemical agent presence. This confirmation is usually done with a different source, such as an M-256 detection kit, but simply re-running the test again with the same sensor does not "confirm" a chemical agent. In this instance, confirmation by another source was impractical, since the Division was on the offensive and maintaining the momentum was of paramount importance.

The authoritative guidance on the setting the MOPP level requirements to mesh with the mission is the Army/Marine Corps Field Manual 3-4 "NBC Protection." This document defines the MOPP levels, the alterations allowed, and most important, the threat assessment process. It advises commanders to balance the threat of exposure and the mission-degrading effects of MOPP level against the factors of "mission, environment and soldier" to determine the appropriate MOPP level. It also addresses the operational procedures to be followed in a chemical environment. The battalion followed the established procedures to the letter.

With this in mind, as the detection was made and the alarm sounded, the battalion transitioned smoothly to MOPP level 4, which provided maximum protection, and maintained the momentum of the attack, with no second source to "confirm" the chemical detection. Even if there had been a second "Fox" vehicle, that would not have been sufficient to "confirm" a chemical agent, since a false alarm could be duplicated in both vehicles. Lack of confirmation does not mean that this was not a genuine chemical mine. It certainly did not have any acute affect on the upwind Marines, who unmasked and reduced their MOPP level back to 2, at the direction of the battalion commander. The ultimate detector in the combat scenario is the human body. No acute affects and no injuries were reported. In addition, up to this point, there have been no chemical mines found in Kuwait or Iraq.

The "The Second Division Monograph" also addresses the chemical agent as "still sufficiently strong to cause the blistering on the exposed arms of two armored amphibious vehicle crewmen." This has been a particular point of interest and we have tried to verify whether this happened and identify the injured Marines.

Chief Warrant Officer Ashley would have been one of the first people to become aware of any NBC injuries. Every Marine was aware of the potential for Iraqi use of chemical weapons and trained in how to respond, continue fighting and report. Any suspected chemical injuries would certainly have surfaced. Chief Warrant Officer Ashley stated no such injuries were reported up to the Division level. I researched the personnel records of the battalion, including the supporting reinforcements, and they show two casualties for 24/25 February, both of gunshot wounds. Additionally, official Marine Corps casualty records were researched and no chemical exposure related wounds were reported. There were NO chemical related deaths and NO purple hearts awarded throughout the entire Marine Corps for any chemical injuries. I have personally spoken with many Marines about this particular incident and no one has been able to provide the names of the Marines who were reportedly exposed.

I also contacted the battalion commander, Colonel T.S. Jones. In a written statement, which he originally made in 1994 and I asked him to re-evaluate and substantiate, he said:

"As indicated by the log entries you have seen, a "Fox" vehicle alerted on a chemical "attack" in Bravo Co. sector. Both lead companies and the battalion alpha command went to MOPP 4 immediately and proceeded with breaching operations. As winds were moving heavily from the east, I felt it prudent to downgrade MOPP condition of C Company - lead company moving on right - to MOPP level 2.

I have no knowledge of any subsequent M9/M256 tests that reported a positive reading relative to the aforesaid alert. There were no indications from Marines that the alert was in fact positive. I aggressively pursued any potential medical problems associated with the attack and saw absolutely no evidence of any.... I feel confident that any chemical attack in our sector would have surfaced. I can categorically state that no one came forward and stated/claimed any evidence of medical problems resulting from chemical and/or biological weapons."

As stated, Col. Jones after hearing of this incident, aggressively tried to find elements of his battalion, including those reinforcements that were assigned to him for the breaching operation and remained with him for a month afterward in Kuwait, that showed any signs of chemical injury. There are no medical records, no casualty records, no purple heart citations, no log entries or any other information, classified or unclassified, that substantiate the statement that two Marines were chemically injured.

Other detections by this marine unit were similar in nature. After looking deeper in the circumstances, methods of confirmation, medical records, and talking with the principals involved, we have not been able to substantiate them. In fact, every instance where a chemical detection caused the unit to upgrade to a higher MOPP level, was later determined to be a false alarm. To quote the 11th Marines command chronology:

"During combat operations, the regiment experienced 14 incidents of chemicals being detected which resulted in an increased MOPP level. All proved to be false. This was mainly due to battlefield conditions that included heavy smoke and an oily mist from the burning oilfields that caused sensors and detectors to give false alarms."

This is just ONE incident of approximately 30 separate incidents that I am investigating, and this is a "snapshot" of where the investigation is at this particular point in time. I still have several key individuals to locate and interview and leads to follow before I will be able to close out the investigation. I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.