(5) Naval Operational Records

Because the Styx missile attack would have come from offshore, the logs of US Navy warships and surveillance aircraft were important sources of information. We asked the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) to assist in this investigation because it is the repository for many of the Navy’s operational records from the US warships and surveillance aircraft deployed to the Gulf.

We asked the CNA to: 1) determine if the Navy’s documents contained any reference to an attack not recorded elsewhere; and 2) determine if a non-Coalition vessel could operate off the coasts of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia without detection by naval surveillance aircraft and ships.

CNA analysts studied message traffic, watch logs, the reports of CNA analysts aboard US warships in the Gulf, imagery from every major Navy and Marine Corps command involved in the Gulf War, operational logs from the Anti-Surface Warfare Command for the Arabian Gulf battle force, the logs from the local Anti-Surface Warfare Command unit for the northern Arabian Gulf, the airborne surveillance plan, and the reports from surveillance missions. The CNA study concludes:

P-3C and Nimrod aircraft maintained 24 hour per day coverage in the NAG [Northern Arabian Gulf] with ISAR [Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar] and IRDS [Infrared Detection System]. Based on the radar detection range and the search characteristics we estimate that at maximum speed an OSA [fast attack patrol boat] would be within ISAR detection for sufficient time to allow detection and tracking by the P-3C. At slower transit speeds, the exposure time increases sharply. Since the MPA [Maritime Patrol Aircraft] surveillance was successful detecting much smaller vessels and vessels operating along the coast we believe it is quite unlikely an OSA could transit the NAG surveillance box without detection and further investigation by the MPA. Therefore, a Styx missile attack on Al Jubayl at the time of the loud noise incident launched by an OSA is highly unlikely.[101]

b. Iraqi Aircraft Attack

The second scenario presented to us during the September 5, 1997, meeting alleged that Iraqi aircraft penetrated Saudi Arabian airspace, flew to Al Jubayl, and sprayed a dusty mustard agent over the city. In this scenario, Iraq’s fighter aircraft providing aircover for the spraying aircraft caused the loud noise. Information offered to support this second theory includes:

(1) Iraq’s Development of Aerosolized (Dusty) Chemical Warfare Agents

In the discussion of the Styx missile attack scenario, we stated that: 1) Iraq had the capability to produce dusty chemical warfare agents, 2) Iraq had the equipment to deliver the agents, and 3) Iraq had the will to use chemical warfare agents, but 4) Iraq did not have dusty mustard in its inventory during the Gulf War.

(2) Penetration of Saudi Arabian Airspace

To support their aircraft attack theory, the two individuals suggested two possible explanations: 1) Iraqi aircraft simply avoided radar detection, or 2) Iraq used the same Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) codes and equipment as the Coalition’s aircraft. While it is conceivable that an Iraqi pilot avoided ground radar detection, he would still have to fly through a gauntlet of Coalition fighter aircraft as well as avoid detection by the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS).[103] During the war, the AWACS (Figure 12) provided continuous 24-hour surveillance of the approaches to Coalition airspace (Figure 13).[104] Because each AWACS flight records surveillance activity for future analyses and training, we focused on this data to determine whether any Iraqi aircraft penetrated Coalition airspace, specifically Saudi Arabian airspace.

Figure 12. AWACS aircraft

Figure 13. AWACS operating areas during the Gulf War[105]

We asked the 552d Air Control Wing to help determine whether any penetration of Coalition airspace occurred on January 19, 1991.[106] Specifically, we asked the 552d team to answer the following questions:

In response to our request, the 552d formed an analysis team composed of two computer specialists, an air surveillance officer, and two air surveillance technicians. The 552d’s analysts identified approximately 150 aircraft tracks for each hour of replay. Of these, analysts found only four tracks of interest to us. The 552d answered each question in our letter of December 15, 1997.[107]

To the first question about whether any Iraqi aircraft penetrated Saudi airspace during the war (and particularly on January 19, 1991), the 552d answered:

Research of local lessons learned from the Gulf War were reviewed to determine if a record of this incident existed in the wing’s tactics library or intelligence library. No records were discovered.

In the six hours of replay, coalition aircraft were the only aircraft to cross the Iraq/Saudi Arabia airspaces.

To the second question about the likelihood of an Iraqi aircraft penetrating Saudi airspace, the 552d answered:

Due to the extensive coverage of AWACS, the presence of other coalition aircraft flying through the many corridors, and ground stations monitoring the skies above the area of interest and particularly on 19 January 1991, it is highly unlikely that Iraqi aircraft would have penetrated the Saudi Airspace undetected.

To the third question about non-Coalition aircraft, the 552d answered:

Three replays were completed through the hours of 0100L and 0700L. During this time period, several aircraft were flying in Southern Iraq. Our interrogation of aircraft IFF/SIF [Identification Friend or Foe/Selective Identification Feature] codes and our close monitoring the flight path of aircraft lead us to believe there were no non-coalition aircraft present in Southern Iraq. This was determined by tracking all data trails entering, exiting, and orbiting in that airspace.

To the questions about identification codes, the 552d answered:

In order for Iraqi aircraft to squawk the same identification codes as coalition aircraft they would have to have both the IFF transponder equipment and the Air Tasking Order with correct SIF codes. SIF codes are protected via close security procedures and are considered under Communications Security (COMSEC) custodial procedures. Furthermore, these codes are changed at pre-determined times throughout the day.

While possible, it is highly unlikely an Iraqi aircraft was able to squawk the same identification codes as coalition aircraft, and this does not negate the fact that an Iraqi aircraft would have to originate and presumably land at an Iraqi airfield. Its presence would also stand out in that it was not part of the scheduled Air Tasking Order for that day’s flying activity.

In summary, the 552d ACW’s analysis of AWACS data "does not support the theory that an Iraqi aircraft was able to penetrate Saudi Arabian airspace and fly over the city of Al Jubayl."[108]

(3) Downing of Iraqi Aircraft

During the September 5, 1997, meeting, the two individuals presented us with a table from an unidentified government document showing that Coalition aircraft shot down six Iraqi aircraft on January 19, 1991: two MiG-25s, two MiG-29s, and two F-1 Mirage aircraft. They theorized that the Mirages provided air cover for the aircraft conducting the chemical attack on Al Jubayl.

While it is true that Coalition aircraft shot down two Mirages on January 19, 1991, this happened in the afternoon (at approximately 3:30 PM) 12 hours after the loud noise event at 3:30 AM. The Mirages went down in northern Iraq along the Tigris river, near the cities of Mosel (Al Mawsel) and Irbir, which are approximately 685 miles from Al Jubayl. All four MiG aircraft (two MiG-25s and two MiG-29s) went down within minutes of each other (around 1:00 PM) and within the same general area (near the city of Mudaysis in southwestern Iraq, approximately 560 miles from Al Jubayl).[109] See Figure 14.

Figure 14.  Location of downed Mirage and MiG aircraft

(4) White Cloud and Burning Skin

This paper discussed the white cloud and burning skin phenomenon in the preceding section concerning the alleged Styx missile attack and requires no further attention. The information provided there applies to this discussion of the alleged Iraqi aircraft attack.

6. Summary of Findings Related to the Loud Noise Event of January 19, 1991

The loud noise event of January 19, 1991, consisted of several separate reports. The primary observations included explosion-like noises, a white cloud, flashes in the night sky, British forces’ positive detections of chemical warfare agents, and a burning sensation on hands and lips. Lesser-known reports included some units receiving incoming fire and a terrorist threat notification made to various Coalition command elements. In addition, two non-DoD individuals provided us additional scenarios for consideration as possible causes for the loud noise event. The first scenario involved a Styx missile attack against Al Jubayl while the second scenario involved an Iraqi aircraft attack against Al Jubayl. Both of alleged attacks involved the use of chemical warfare agents.

a. Loud Noise

There is no doubt a loud noise or noises occurred at approximately 3:30 AM on January 19, 1991. Both official and unofficial documents as well as veteran interviews describe the loud noise(s). Some people believe the loud noise(s) involved a Scud missile—either by detonating upon impact with the ground or by the intercept of a Scud by a Patriot missile. However, we have found no evidence to support this theory. Based upon our analyses of available information, we have concluded that Coalition aircraft caused the loud noise heard on January 19, 1991. The basis of our conclusion is the following information:

b. Iraq’s Alleged Missile Attack

An alternate theory for the loud noise holds that Iraq’s forces (or an Iraqi terrorist group) sailed down the coasts of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia without detection and, when positioned off the coast from Al Jubayl, launched a Styx missile armed with a chemical warhead into Al Jubayl. Based upon our analyses of available information, we have concluded that no such attack occurred at Al Jubayl on January 19, 1991. The basis of our conclusion is the following:

c. Iraq’s Alleged Aircraft Attack

The Iraqi aircraft attack theory states that F-1 Mirage aircraft caused the loud noise either by a sonic boom or by dropping ordnance. The theory stated Coalition forces shot down the F-1s down while providing aircover for an aircraft that sprayed a chemical warfare agent over the city. Based upon our analyses of available information, we have concluded that no such attack occurred at Al Jubayl on January 19, 1991. The basis of our conclusion is the following:

d. Bright Flashes of Light

Some veterans reported seeing a bright flash (or flashes) in the night sky at the time of the loud noise. Veterans who reported seeing the bright flashes attributed them to a Scud missile or the destruction of a Scud missile by a Patriot missile. Although we can not definitively identify a source for the bright flashes, we conclude that missiles (Scud, Patriot, or Styx) did not cause the bright flashes. The basis of our conclusion is the following:

e. White Cloud and Mist

A variety of environmental factors on January 19, 1991, could have produced the cloud or mist that was reported during the loud noise incident. These events range from weather phenomenon to steam escaping from pipes or grates. Both US and UK records contain references to a white cloud and mist, and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (UK MOD) reports a cloud sighting by a British soldier.[111] Otherwise, neither UK nor US investigation teams have extensive information on the reported cloud(s). For example, investigators from neither team can determine the source of the cloud(s) or whether the Seabee and the British soldier saw the same cloud or multiple clouds. Steam venting from a pipe or rising from one of the open aqueducts that crisscrossed the area could have produced the cloud. However, veterans’ descriptions of a mist throughout the area suggest weather-related factors.[112] If the mist were man-made to conceal activity or the presence of chemical warfare agents, it would have taken a considerable effort not only to produce the mist but to sustain it as well. The equipment and personnel needed to produce the mist would not have gone unnoticed. Likewise, if the mist were the result of a catastrophic event such as an explosion, that event would not have gone unnoticed as well. Logs would record such an event and those who were in the area would have some knowledge of it. Consequently, we conclude that weather conditions or industrial operations—not a chemical warfare attack or some type of catastrophe—caused the cloud and mist reported by some troops. We base our conclusion on the following:

f. Burning Skin

A number of NMCB-24 Seabees from Camp-13 reported they experienced a burning or numbing sensation on their hands and lips during the loud noise event. The burning skin convinced some Seabees of their exposure to a chemical warfare agent. However, none of the Seabees reported that their symptoms worsened over time. Some NMCB-24 Seabees reported they felt no symptoms after the loud noise occurred although they were outside not wearing their chemical protective clothing. Although not every NMCB-24 Seabee experienced the burning sensation, some Seabees reported that a strong odor of ammonia existed in the area at the time of the loud noise. Available information indicates a substance other than a chemical warfare agent, quite possibly ammonia, caused the burning and numbing sensations:

E. Investigation of the Loud Noise Event of January 20-21, 1991

During the evening of January 20th between 9:40 and 9:50 PM, authorities issued a Scud[113] alert and air raid sirens sounded throughout Al Jubayl.[114] Consequently, units in the area went to MOPP-4. At 10:30 PM, units secured from general quarters and returned to MOPP-0. At 12:46 AM on January 21, 1991, the air raid sirens sounded again.[115] The NMCB-24 security log notes two explosions, 15 to 20 seconds apart, southeast of Camp 13 at 12:54 AM.[116] At 1:15 AM, units returned to normal operations.[117] The NMCB-24 security logs also noted that Saudi sirens sounded at 1:42 AM.[118] The NMCB-24 air detachment log notes Scud alerts occurring at 10:00 PM on January 20th and at 12:45 AM, 3:30 AM, and 9:50 PM on January 21, 1991. Approximately 20 minutes after each alert, the all clear was given.[119]

USCENTCOM NBC logs for January 20-21, 1991, note that at 9:47 PM on January 20th Iraq fired two Scud missiles towards Al Jubayl-Dhahran and US forces fired four Patriot missiles in response—destroying the Scuds in the air. A 10:00 PM entry in the NBC log indicates that a Patriot battery fired five Patriots at a third suspected Scud. The NBC log notes the Patriots destroyed the missile, which may have targeted Dhahran. The USCENTCOM logs contain no entries to indicate the presence of chemical warfare agents in the Al Jubayl area during January 20-21, 1991.[120]

Based upon available information, we have concluded that the loud noises were not the result of an attack upon Al Jubayl. The basis of our conclusion is the following:

F. Investigation by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) completed its own investigation of incidents that comprise what we refer to as the loud noise event. Although we cooperated with the MOD’s investigators, the MOD investigation team relied almost entirely on information developed from their own sources. As we did, the UK investigators relied upon veterans’ recollections, unit logs, diaries, and other official documents that have survived the postwar years.

The UK’s report contributes to our investigation in several ways. First, it independently verifies information contained in our original case narrative of August 13, 1997. Second, it names the military units that, until now, our case narrative identified only as British forces’ units. Third, it provides information on incidents not identified in US documents or made known through US veteran interviews. Finally, the UK report provides the UK MOD’s assessment of the likelihood that Iraq’s forces or a terrorist group employed chemical warfare agents against Coalition forces in Al Jubayl.

1. Verification of Information

The UK MOD report provides information that allows us to verify the incidents reported by our veterans. The MOD report confirms reports of two explosions or loud noises and bright flashes in the night sky.[121] The MOD report also contains a discussion of the British forces’ positive chemical warfare agent detections that later proved false.[122] However, we can correlate only one of the three UK detections mentioned in the MOD report with the ones identified in the RAOC radio log. That is because the MOD report does not contain the grid coordinates for two detections and the times for the detections do not match those recorded in the RAOC log even though the RAOC log identifies these detections as the first and second FMA detections. A direct correlation can be made between the third detection shown in the RAOC log and the third FMA detection discussed in the MOD report because the grid coordinates provided in the MOD report match those in the RAOC log. The MOD report also discusses the presence of a mist in the air and the sighting of a vapor cloud at the time the loud noise occurred.[123] A log from the British Main Repair Group 11 contains evidence of the sighting of a vapor cloud southwest of the Repair Group’s position—a cement factory one kilometer north of Camp 13.[124]

2. Identification of Military Units

The UK’s forces occupied positions throughout Al Jubayl, from the northern industrial area of the city near Camp 13 to the less developed areas to the south near KAANB. The unit identified in the RAOC log by the acronym FMA was the Force Maintenance Area.[125] The FMA provided combat service support to the 7th Armoured Brigade. The FMA NBC Cell, located at the Old Port Barracks made reports to the RAOC. Figure 27 at Tab G shows the identities of the UK units and their locations in Al Jubayl.

3. New Information

The MOD report provides information on several incidents that we did not address in our original Al Jubayl case narrative. The first involves a possible explanation for the flashes seen over Al Jubayl.[126] A second incident involves a propeller-driven aircraft reportedly leaking aviation fuel as it flew over the city.[127] The third incident involves an intelligence report that the "Iraqis were loading chemical weapons somewhere in Kuwait."[128]

a. Bright Flashes

The UK’s report provides another possible explanation for the bright flashes seen at the time of the loud noise. The UK’s 27 Regiment Royal Corps of Transport notified the FMA NBC Cell that it had fired what the British call a maroon during the chemical alert. A maroon is a type of warning device that, when fired, sounds three bangs to give an audible signal. During the Gulf War, British units equipped maroons with flares to provide a visual warning. The MOD’s report suggests that the flash from the maroon’s flares could have been what people saw and assumed that an attack occurred. The report does not specify when the 27 Regiment fired the maroons, the number the regiment fired, or the location from where the regiment fired them—other than to say the launch site was a quarry some distance away from Al Jubayl. Soon after the 27 Regiment notified the FMA NBC cell that it had fired maroons, the officer-in-charge of the FMA NBC cell issued orders to discontinue their use because that using maroons as warning devices only led to further confusion during an alert.[129]

b. Chemical Warfare Agent Detections

The MOD’s report provides a detailed explanation of the CWA detection by their forces. The report indicates the number and identity of the British units that had a positive CWA detection. The information presented in the MOD’s report also illustrates that problems associated with CWA detection and reporting are not limited to our own forces. For example, the MOD’s report informs us that there were CWA detections by seven British units but the FMA NBC cell was only informed of five detections. The report also indicates that some British forces, like our own forces,[130] may have used out-of-date equipment, which could have led to the false positive detections. In addition, the MOD report shows that units did not adequately log some detections, did not forward reports to higher headquarters, such as the FMA NBC cell. In some cases, no surviving record exists of the report arriving at a higher headquarters. The MOD report also points to problems in disseminating information to command elements in Al Jubayl, e.g., a discrepancy in the number of detections reported to the FMA and the number recorded in the RAOC log.[131]

c. Aircraft Fuel Leak

As the excitement of January 19 waned, Coalition authorities began searching for the cause or causes of the false positive detections reported by British forces. One theory blamed the false detections on some type of fuel. This agreed with a USCENTCOM NBC log entry that identified the cause for at least one detection as diesel fuel.[132]

Both US and UK documents contain mention of a propeller-driven aircraft flying over the Al Jubayl area at about the same time as the loud noise. An entry in the USCENTCOM NBC desk log noted a report that British forces heard a propeller-driven aircraft flying in the area.[133] An entry in a British unit’s log noted that troops from that unit heard a light aircraft before each of the explosions. The diary of the British Army’s Scientific Advisory Group also contained an entry about the sound of a light aircraft.[134] The squadron leader in charge of the FMA NBC cell hypothesized that the light aircraft leaked fluid (e.g., fuel, oil, etc.) as it flew over Al Jubayl causing the false detections. He recalled checking with the officials at KAANB who told him that no damaged aircraft landed that morning. Later that day, the squadron leader spoke to someone at KAANB, identified only as a USMC operations officer, who told him that an aircraft (possibly an OV-10) had dumped fuel before landing earlier that morning, presumably at the time of the false positive CWA detections. Thinking he had proved his hypothesis, the squadron leader notified both the Commander British Forces Middle East and joint headquarters that, in his opinion, fuel dumped from an aircraft—not a chemical warfare attack—caused the spurious alarms in Al Jubayl.[135] As demonstrated by the following message from the Director for Operations to the Air Staff, higher levels of command apparently supported the hypothesis.[136]

All locations which detected an agent were under the flight path of a battle damaged OV10A which recovered to an adjacent airfield around the time of the incident. As area [sic] in classic meteorological inversion at the time, it is suspected that the AC [aircraft] was releasing fuel or some other liquid which would have fallen onto the area as a fine spray and alerted chemical detection equipment.

The next day, January 20, 1991, a message went to all units within the UK attributing the false positive detections to fuel leaking from a damaged aircraft.[137] British authorities also used this explanation to account for the mists, vapor, and droplets of liquid reported by British troops in Al Jubayl.

Investigators from the MOD asked us to assist them in determining whether a propeller-driven aircraft flew over Al Jubayl at 3:30 AM and if fuel leaking from the aircraft could have caused the false detections, as well as the reported mist and vapor.[138] Our analysis of the suspected aircraft is contained in Section III G of this narrative.

d. Intelligence Report

The UK report also refers to an unconfirmed intelligence report about Iraq loading chemical munitions in Kuwait. UK investigators believe this intelligence report came from the Kuwaiti resistance through the Central Intelligence Agency.[139] As of this writing, we have found no record of such a report among US Gulf War documents.

4. Ministry of Defence Assessment

The UK MOD assessed that UK troops were almost certainly not exposed to Iraqi chemical warfare agents. They based their assessment on three facts:

G. US Analyses of the Suspected Aircraft Fuel Leak

The UK MOD’s hypothesis of an aircraft leaking fuel as it flew over Al Jubayl presented a plausible answer for the three false positive detections reported by British forces. During our original investigation of the loud noise event, a small number of US veterans reported hearing a propeller-driven aircraft flying overhead at about the same time as the loud noise. A USCENTCOM NBC log entry notes the propeller-driven aircraft.[143] However, during the original investigation, we did not connect the propeller-driven aircraft to the loud noise event. When presented with the two alternate scenarios explaining the cause of the loud noise event and after the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence requested our help to determine whether a light aircraft leaked fuel over the city, we reconsidered the light aircraft.

Again, we turned to the 552d Air Control Wing at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma for answers. We asked the 552d to determine if a propeller driven aircraft flew over Al Jubayl at the time of the loud noise.[144] The AWACS data revealed that an aircraft did take off from KAANB at 3:35 AM. After taking off, the aircraft flew around KAANB at low altitude, never exceeding 2,600 feet, for 11 minutes and then returned to the airfield (Figures 15 and 16).[145] Figure 17 shows the aircraft’s route of flight relative to the location of the false positive detections. The aircraft came no closer than one and one-half miles to the location of the first false positive detection. At that point, the aircraft’s airspeed was 133 knots at an altitude of 1,600 feet. Considering the distance from the false detections, it is unlikely that this aircraft caused the false positive detections. Even if the aircraft was leaking fuel, it is still doubtful that it caused the false detections. That is because fuel leaking from an airborne aircraft atomizes and evaporates before reaching the ground. A catastrophic event resulting in a rapid loss of a large quantity of fuel at low altitude could result in fuel reaching the ground, but we found no evidence of such an event in the Al Jubayl area on the morning in question.

Figure 15. Flight path of the propeller-driven aircraft[146]

Figure 16.  Close-up of flight path of the propeller-driven aircraft

Figure 17. Northern most points of the propeller-driven aircraft’s flight path relative to the British forces CWA detections


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