CIA Report on Intelligence Related to Gulf War Illnesses

2 August 1996

In parallel with the DOD's Persian Gulf Investigative Team, the CIA's Office of Weapons, Technology and Proliferation conducted an independent review of intelligence documents to determine whether US troops were exposed to chemical and biological warfare agents during the Gulf war. The CIA's effort did not seek to duplicate that of DOD; however, CIA analysts drew upon and examined DOD information to clarify intelligence, to obtain leads, and to ensure a thorough and comprehensive intelligence assessment.


Key Findings:

On the basis of a comprehensive review of intelligence and other information, we assess that Iraq did not use chemical or biological weapons or deploy these weapons in Kuwait. In addition, analysis and computer modeling indicate chemical agents released by aerial bombing of chemical warfare facilities did not reach US troops in Saudi Arabia. Coalition bombing resulted in damage to filled chemical munitions at only two facilities--Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna--both located in remote areas west of Baghdad. UNSCOM inspections concluded that no chemical munitions were destroyed at the An Nasiriyah Ammunition Storage Area, countering publicized theories that fallout from the facility were the cause of credible but unverified nerve agent detections in Saudi Arabia. We assess no biological weapons or agents were destroyed by Coalition forces during the Gulf war. Finally, Iraq never produced radiological weapons for use and bombed Iraqi nuclear facilities caused only local contamination north of the Kuwait Theater of Operations.

A recent assessment based on a comprehensive review of all intelligence information and a May 1996 UNSCOM inspection concludes nerve agent was released as a result of inadvertent US postwar demolition of chemical rockets at a bunker and probably at a pit area at the Khamisiyah Ammunition Storage Area in Iraq. We have modeled the chemical contamination levels in Iraq resulting from the bunker destruction so that the DOD can assess who may have been exposed. Analysis of demolition activities in the pit area is still under way.

No Intentional Iraqi Use of Chemical or Biological Agents

We assess that Iraq did not use chemical or biological weapons against Coalition troops based on our thorough review of intelligence reporting and on the lack of casualties that was a signature of chemical use during the Iran-Iraq war. We assess that Iraq probably did not use these weapons because of a perceived threat of overwhelming Coalition retaliation.

Chemical Weapons at Two Southern Iraq Depots: An Nasiriyah and Khamisiyah

We assess that Iraq had chemical weapons at two sites (see figure 1) in Iraq--the An Nasiriyah Ammunition Storage Depot SW and the Khamisiyah (US name Tall al Lahm) Ammunition Storage Area--within the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO) (1) during Desert Storm. Both of these sites were large rear-area depots near the northern boundary of the KTO that stored mostly conventional ammunition. UNSCOM reporting and other information indicate that Coalition bombing did not destroy the bunker containing the chemical agents temporarily stored at An Nasiriyah. We have recently determined US troops were near a release of chemical agents at Khamisiyah, and DOD is assessing potential exposure.

Figure 1: Iraq's Declared Wartime CW Agent Stockpile

An Nasiriyah: Chemical Munitions Moved to Khamisiyah

According to Iraqi statements to UNSCOM in May 1996, An Nasiriyah stored 6,000 155-mm mustard rounds from early January until they were moved to Khamisiyah after 15 February 1991. Iraq stored the munitions starting just before the air war at one bunker--called Bunker 8 by Iraq--at An Nasiriyah Ammunition Storage Area SW. According to Iraq, these mustard rounds were moved to Khamisiyah because of fear of additional Coalition bombing.

The Coalition bombing of An Nasiriyah on 17 January 1991 did not cause a release of chemical agent because the bunkers that were bombed on that date did not contain chemical agents. In May 1996, UNSCOM inspectors examined the rubble surrounding the bunkers at An Nasiriyah that were bombed on 17 January 1991 and determined that the bunkers contained only conventional weapons. Although mustard rounds were in Bunker 8 at An Nasiriyah on 17 January, UNSCOM information indicates they were not damaged. No other agents were known to be at An Nasiriyah.

Khamisiyah: Some Chemical Munitions Destroyed by Ground Troops

UNSCOM inspected chemical munitions at or near Khamisiyah in October 1991 and identified 122-mm sarin/cyclo-sarin (GB/GF) nerve-agent-filled rockets and 155-mm mustard rounds. At that time it was not clear whether these chemical weapons had been present during the Gulf war or whether, as was suspected at other locations, the Iraqis moved the munitions there shortly before the 1991 UNSCOM inspection.

During its October 1991 inspection of the Khamisiyah facility, the Iraqis told UNSCOM that Coalition troops had destroyed chemical weapons at a bunker earlier that year. (2), and UNSCOM found chemical munitions at two open sites (see figure 2):

Figure 2: Khamisiyah Ammunition Storage Area

Bunker 73 Rocket Destruction.The recent comprehensive review of all information enabled us to determine that US troops--not Iraq--destroyed the rockets in Bunker 73. In March 1996, in conjunction with DOD investigators, we determined that the US 37th Engineering Battalion had destroyed that bunker along with over 30 other bunkers on 4 March 1991.

However, it was not until UNSCOM's May 1996 inspection at Khamisiyah that it was determined that Bunker 73 contained remnants of 122-mm chemical rockets. During this inspection, inspectors documented the presence of high-density polyethylene inserts, burster tubes, fill plugs, and other features characteristic of Iraqi chemical munitions. Analysis of the contents of the rockets that UNSCOM found in 1991 in the pit area just outside the Khamisiyah Storage Area shows that the identical rockets in Bunker 73 had been filled with a combination of the agents sarin and GF. Therefore, we conclude that US troops destroyed chemical rockets in Bunker 73.

Pit Area Rocket Destruction. During the May 1996 UNSCOM inspection, Iraq claimed that some of the rockets located in the pit area had been destroyed by occupying forces. On the basis of very recent interviews of 37th Engineering Battalion personnel, DOD now believes that demolition personnel did set charges on stacks of rockets in the pit on 10 March 1991 at 1630 local time.

We are still trying to determine the number of rockets US forces could have destroyed. Once we determine the number, we will model the likely hazardous area caused by the destruction. Iraq told the May 1996 UNSCOM inspectors that it moved about 1,100 rockets out of Bunker 73 to the pit 2 km away to avoid chemical contamination of the bunker facility. The Iraqis claimed the rockets started leaking immediately after they were transferred from the Al Muthanna CW Production and Storage Facility just before the air war.

Open-Area Mustard Shells Intact. As discussed previously, more than 6,000 mustard rounds were moved from An Nasiriyah to an open area several kilometers west of the main facility at Khamisiyah. These munitions were found undamaged by UNSCOM in October 1991. They were later moved to and destroyed at UNSCOM's Al Muthanna destruction facility.

Modeling of Release of Agents From Bunker 73

Modeling of the potential hazard caused by destruction of Bunker 73 indicates that an area around the bunker at least 2 km in all directions and 4 km downwind could have been contaminated at or above the level for causing acute symptoms including runny nose, headache, and miosis (see figure 3 and text box). An area up to 25 km downwind and 8 km wide could have been contaminated at or above the much lower general population dosage limit. (3) From wind models and observations of a video of destruction activity at Khamisiyah, we determined that the downwind direction was northeast to east (see figure 4).

Figure 3: 8.4-Metric-Ton Release of Sarin at Khamisiyah Storage Area, Bunker 73 on 4 March 1991 (1100Z)

Modeling Assumptions About Bunker 73

Some of the following modeling assumptions were based on data from US testing in 1966 that involved destruction of a bunker filled with 1,850 GB rockets with maximum range similar to that of Iraqi rockets found in Bunker 73:

  • 1,060 rockets as indicated by Iraq.
  • Rockets filled with 8 kg of a 2:1 ratio of GB to GF (contents assumed to be 100 percent agent) based on UNSCOM information and sampling from the pit.
  • Ten percent of rockets ejected from the bunker, half of which randomly fall within a 200-meter circle, the other half falling within a 2-km circle based on US testing.(a)
  • Ejected rockets released agents on impact.
  • A 15-meter mean agent release height was chosen to be conservative when determining ground hazard.
  • All but 2.5 percent of agent in the bunker degraded by heat from explosion and motor/crate burning based on US tests.
  • Winds slow to the northeast to east, based on modeling and analysis of a videotape of the destruction activity at Khamisiyah.
  • Our models do not include the effect of the reported 32 to 37 conventional ordnance bunkers detonating and burning simultaneously with the chemical bunker. The added thermal energy created by explosions and fires in the other bunkers and solar heating caused by the increased amounts of smoke would tend to degrade agent as well as more quickly disperse the agent between the ground up to the maximum altitude of 800 to 1,200 meters.(b) This more rapid vertical spreading would tend to lower ground contamination in the area.

(a) DOD documents and multiple veterans reported that munition "cook-offs"--munitions that ignite and are ejected from their storage due to the demolition fire--sent ordnance as far as 10 km or more from the bunker facility. Nonetheless, we did not model this phenomena because we have been unable to determine whether any of the cook-offs involved chemical rockets, and if so, the number of rockets and how far they went.

(b) This altitude represents the estimated height of the mixing layer--the lower turbulent part of the atmosphere above which agent transport is inhibited due to a laminar boundary layer. This layer can often be seen from aircraft while landing in cities with polluted air.

Figure 4: Determining Wind Direction During Demolition of Bunker 73 at Khamisiyah

Chemical Fallout From Aerial Bombing: At Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna

We conclude that Coalition aerial bombing damaged filled chemical munitions at two facilities--Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna. In reaching this assessment, we examined all intelligence reporting on the location of chemical weapons in Iraq and the KTO and scrutinized dozens of sites (see table) that were alleged to be connected in one way or another with chemical weapons. Our modeling indicates that chemical agent fallout from these facilities--both located in remote areas west of Baghdad--did not reach troops in Saudi Arabia. Finally, we have found no information to suggest that casualties occurred inside Iraq as a result of chemical warfare (CW) agents released from the bombing of these sites--probably because these two facilities are in remote locations far from any population centers. The Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna sites are both over 30 km from the nearest Iraqi towns.

According to the most recent Iraqi declarations, less than 5 percent of Iraq's approximately 700 metric tons of declared chemical agent stockpile was destroyed by Coalition bombing. In most cases, the Iraqis did not store CW munitions in bunkers that they believed the Coalition would target. The Iraqis stored many CW munitions in the open, protecting them from Coalition detection and bombing because we did not target open areas. In addition, all known CW and precursor production lines were either inactive or had been dismantled by the start of the air campaign.


Iraq declared that 200 mustard-filled and 12 sarin-filled aerial bombs at the Muhammadiyat (US geographic name Qubaysah) Storage Area were damaged or destroyed by Coalition bombing. We have modeled the contaminated area resulting from bombing of Muhammadiyat, a site at least 410 km from US troops stationed at Rafha and even further from the bulk of US troops (see figure 5). Bombing of this facility began on 19 January and continued throughout the air war. We have been unable to determine exactly when the chemical bombs were destroyed. On the basis of recent Iraqi declarations, we have modeled a release of 2.9 metric tons of sarin and 15 metric tons of mustard on all possible bombing dates to find the largest most southerly hazardous area. Southerly winds occurred for only a few of the days the site was bombed. Figures 6 and 7 show that for general population limit dosages (above 0.013 mg-min/m3), downwind dispersions in the general southerly direction for sarin and mustard fall below this level at about 300 and 130 km, respectively.

Figure 5: Iraqi Facilities With Damaged Chemical-Agent Filled Munitions

Figure 6: Worst Case Hazard Footprint for 2.9-Metric-Ton Sarin Release at Muhammadiyat Storage Area

Figure 7: Worst Case Hazard Footprint for 15.2-Metric-Ton Mustard Release at Muhammadiyat Storage Area

Selected Suspect Chemical Weapons Sites Examined (a)
Facilities Coordinates
Al Muthanna (Samarra) 3351N/04349E
Khamisiyah (Tall al Lahm) 3045N/04623E
Muhammadiyat (Qubaysah Storage Depot) 3315N/04241E
Al Walid Airbase (H3 Airfield) 3256N/03945E
Fallujah I (Habbaniyah III) 3329N/04349E
Fallujah III (Habbaniyah I) 3333N/04338E
Al Bakr Airfield [subordinate] (Samarra East Airfield) 3410N/04416E
Al Taba'at Airstrip (H3 SW Airfield) 3245N/03936E
Al Tuz Airfield (Tuz Khurmatu Airfield) 3457N/04428E
Dujayl/Awarah (Sumaykah SSM Support Facility SE) 3349N/04415E
Fallujah Chem Proving Gnd (Habbaniyah CW Training Center) 3308N/04352E
Murasana Airbase (H3 NW Airfield) 3305N/03936E
Qadisiyah Airbase (Al Asad Airfield) 3347N/04226E
Saddam Airbase (Qayyarah West Airfield) 3546N/04307E
Tammuz Airbase (Al Taqaddum Airfield) 3320N/04336E
Al Qaim Superphosphate Fertilizer Plant 3422N/04110E
Al Taqaddum Airfield 3320N/04336E
An Nasiriyah Ammo Storage Depot SW 3058N/04611E
Ash Shuaybah Ammo Storage Depot 3029N/04739E
Baghdad Ammo Depot Taji 3333N/04414E
Fallujah II (Habbaniyah II) 3329N/04340E
K-2 Airfield 3455N/04605E
Kirkuk Airfield 3528N/04421E
Kirkuk Ammo Depot West 3533N/04358E
Mosul Airfield 3618N/04309E
Qayyarah West Airfield 3546N/04307E
Qayyarah West Ammo Storage Depot 3552N/04307E
Tallil Airfield 3056N/04605E
Ubaydah Bin al Jarrah Airfield 3229N/04546E
Ad Diwaniyah Ammo Depot 3158N/04454E
Al Fallujah Ammo Depot South 3313N/04341E
Ukhaider (Karbala Depot and Ammo Storage) 3223N/04330E
Qabatiyah Ammo Storage (Wadi al Jassiyah Ammo Storage) 3352N/04242
Tikrit Ammo Depot (Salahadin) 3443N/04339E  
(a) These sites represent examples of sites that have been connected--often tenuously--to Iraq's chemical warfare program.

Neither the first effects nor the general population limit levels would have reached US troops that were stationed in Saudi Arabia. (4)

Al Muthanna

Iraq declared that 2,500 chemical rockets containing about 17 metric tons of sarin nerve agent at Al Muthanna (US geographic name Samarra), the primary Iraqi CW production and storage facility, had been destroyed by Coalition bombing. UNSCOM inspectors were unable to verify the exact number because of damage to the rockets. We have modeled possible bombing dates for this bunker and determined that the most southerly dispersal for reaching the general population limit dosage is 160 km (figures 8), well short of US troops.

Figure 8: Worst Case Hazard Footprint for 16.8-Metric-Ton Sarin Release at Al Muthanna Storage Area

No Evidence of Biological Fallout From Aerial Bombing

There are no indications that any biological agent was destroyed by Coalition bombing. Available intelligence reporting and Iraqi statements indicate that Iraq went to great lengths to protect its biological munitions from aerial bombardment. The Iraqis have stated that its biological-agent-filled aerial bombs were deployed to three airfields well north of the KTO. The bombs were placed in open pits far from bombing targets, then covered with canvas, and buried with dirt. Iraqi biological warheads for Al Husayn missiles were hidden well north of the KTO both in a railroad tunnel and in earth-covered pits at a location near the Tigris canal. The Iraqis admitted to production of biological agents at four sites near Baghdad but said it ceased production before the air war. In addition, UNSCOM found no damage to any of these facilities from Coalition bombing.

Iraqi Chemical and Biological Agents

We found no evidence that would indicate that Iraq developed agents specifically intended to cause the most common types of long-term symptoms seen in ill Gulf war veterans. This finding is important in ruling out the scenario of covert use of such an agent. With the possible exception of aflatoxin, all declared Iraqi agents were intended to cause rapid death or incapacitation. The only documented effects of aflatoxin in humans are liver cancer months to years after it is ingested and symptoms--possibly including death--caused by liver damage from ingestion of large amounts. Effects of aerosolized aflatoxin are unknown. UNSCOM assesses that Iraq looked at aflatoxin for its long-term carcinogenic effects and that testing showed that large concentrations of it caused death within days. We have no information that would make us conclude that Iraq used aflatoxin or that it was released in the atmosphere when bombing occurred.

Other Potential Hazards

CIA's also reviewed intelligence on potential hazards other than chemical and biological agents. Some of the studied hazards include:

Future Efforts

CIA will continue to track any leads that surface in the future and will make our findings available to the public. We will complete our review of the hazards posed by destruction of chemical rockets in the pit area and will publish our findings over the Internet.


(1) Generally defined as Kuwait and Iraq below 31 degrees north latitude.

(2) This statement, however, was viewed with skepticism at the time because of the broad, continuous use of deception by the Iraqis against UNSCOM.

(3) The Army established this dosage criteria for protection of the general population: a 72-hour exposure at 0.000003 mg/m3--significantly lower than the 0.0001mg/m3 occupational limit defined for 8 hours--is specified.

(4) When predicting very low concentration levels far downrange of the source, large dispersions are created that are difficult to model. We assess, however, that our results are biased upward because we chose optimal times and dates that would have produced the maximum dispersion toward Saudi Arabia. In addition, the models do not account for phenomena--such as deposition onto the ground and rain removal of agent--that would greatly diminish potential downwind exposure.



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