Why Chemical Weapons Were Suspected

According to GySgt Grass, reports from Iraqi Prisoners of War indicated the possible presence of chemical weapons in the ASP.

During the intelligence briefing that morning, it was stated by the S-2 [Task Force Ripper’s Intelligence Officer] that the Iraqi’s [sic] had established the 3d Armored Corps Ammunition Supply Point just outside of Kuwait City and that sources (Iraqi prisoners) have stated there were chemical weapons stored somewhere within the Ammo Storage Area. I was informed that my task was to do a complete survey of the entire ASP and locate any chemical weapons that may be stored there.[15]

Task Force Ripper’s NBC Officer remembers, "[we] wouldn’t have been surprised to find chemical weapons in there."[16] It was Standard Operating Procedure to assume the possibility of chemical weapons in any Iraqi ASPs.[17]

Fox Vehicle Capabilities

The primary chemical agent detector on the Fox vehicle is the MM-1 mass spectrometer. The MM-1 detects chemical agents by analyzing the ionic activity of a sample collected through a retractable probe. The probe can collect samples by "sniffing" the surrounding air (the "Air/Hi" method) or by taking them from a silicone wheel which is lifted from the ground to the probe (the "Surface/Lo" method). At the time it entered the ASP on February 28th, 1991, the Fox MM-1 probe was sniffing the air in the "Air/Hi" method. This is the least sensitive of the Fox methods of chemical detection and more than 100 times less sensitive than an M256 kit. (Table 1) In the "Air/Hi" method, the MM-1 is performing a "quick-look" analysis of air samples, looking for ions that resemble chemical agents.

Item Agents - Type Sensitivity Response Time
M8A1 Alarm G, V - Nerve 0.1-0.2 mg/m3 <=2 min
M256A1 Kit G - Nerve

V - Nerve

H - Blister

L - Blister

CX - Blister

CK - Blood

AC - Blood

0.005 mg/m3

0.02 mg/m3

2 mg/m3

9 mg/m3

3 mg/m3

8 mg/m3

9 mg/m3

15 min

15 min

15 min

15 min

15 min

15 min

25 min



<= 0.1 mg/m3 <=1 min
MM-1[18] GB[19] - Nerve

CK - Blood

CG - Choking

62 mg/m3

46 mg/m3

115 mg/m3

<=45 sec

Table 1. Vapor Chemical Agent Detector Characteristics[20]

If the MM-1 alerts to a possible chemical agent, there is an audible alarm. A full spectrum analysis must then be performed to confirm or deny the presence of chemical agents. The preferred method for performing a full spectrum is the "Surface/Lo" method: the MM-1 probe is extended to the ground (usually to a suspected liquid chemical agent) and the operating temperature of the MM-1 is lowered. Only by performing a full spectrum can an alert be confirmed or denied solely by the Fox vehicle. A "tape," which provides details of the MM-1’s findings, can be printed as a permanent record of the initial alert and the full spectrum.

During the Gulf War, the Fox vehicle was manned by a crew of four—the Fox vehicle commander, a driver, an MM-1 operator and a wheel operator. The wheel operator uses levers inside the vehicle to lift the silicone wheels from the ground to the probe for sampling. The driver and commander sit in the front of the vehicle, while the MM-1 and wheel operators sit in the rear. The two areas are connected by a narrow crawl-through.[21]

Alerts in the ASP on February 28th

According to GySgt Grass’ testimony, the first alarm in the ASP occurred "while [the Fox was] monitoring for chemical agent vapors."[22] The MM-1 alarm "was set off with a full distinct spectrum across the monitor and a lethal vapor concentration of S Mustard."[23] In his testimony, the MM-1 operator stated the Fox crew was outside the vehicle trying to get a closer look at some bunkers when they heard the alarm.[24] He does not mention what Mission Oriented Protective Posture[25] (MOPP) level the crew was in, but both the driver and the wheel operator recall never being higher than MOPP-2—that is, carrying, but not wearing, their protective masks and gloves—while outside the Fox in this ASP.[26] None of the exposed crew experienced any symptoms consistent with exposure to chemical agents while in the ASP.

When the MM-1 sounded the alarm, the crew returned to the vehicle and drove closer to the nearest dug-in bunker. In subsequent testimony and interviews, GySgt Grass recalls the following: "...[F]ully visible were the skull and cross bones either on yellow tape with red lettering or stenciled to the boxes or some had a small sign with the skull and crossbones painted on it."[27] Several "155mm rounds with colored bands around them"[28] were stacked on top of some boxes in the bunker. "The labeling on the boxes was from the United States."[29] GySgt Grass identified these rounds as the source of the Sulfur Mustard alarm. He also stated they were not leaking.[30]

Once the Fox backed up to the bunker, a "full and complete spectrum was taken and printed out as proof of the detection."[31] GySgt Grass does not know the exact procedures the MM-1 operator used, but stated, "I know we didn’t check for liquid contamination - everything was all vapor."[32] A complete spectrum, detailing the exact ionic makeup of the surrounding area, is the only way to affirm an initial alert is a "confirmed detection." During his testimony, the MM-1 operator did not discuss the procedures he used to obtain a spectrum while in the ASP. We have attempted to interview the MM-1 operator to obtain additional information, but have so far been unsuccessful. The wheel operator (the other member of the crew located in the back of the Fox with the MM-1 operator) was interviewed but could not recall the procedures used to get the spectrum. It is possible to print a tape of an initial alarm without conducting a complete, confirming spectrum. A tape printed from an initial alarm will have the name of the suspected agent in capital letters across the top. Without clarification from the MM-1 operator and a copy of the tape printed, we cannot determine the exact ion make up of the alert.

After the MM-1 operator printed the tape, GySgt Grass notified the Task Force Ripper NBC Officer that they had found some "Honey." (To avoid alarming the entire Task Force, the Task Force Ripper NBC Officer told the Fox crew to use the code word "Honey" if they had any chemical alerts while in the ASP.)[33] The Task Force Ripper NBC Officer ordered the crew to "return to [Task Force] Ripper’s Main [Headquarters location]."[34]

The MM-1 operator testified that the three alarms at the smaller ASP occurred at the same time, with each of the three agents alerting the MM-1 simultaneously. "There were a number of readings on the MM-1’s computer screen. They were S mustard, HT mustard and a benzene [sic] bromide agent....[A] couple of spectrums were run and the printouts were given to [GySgt] Grass."[35] GySgt Grass, however reports the three alarms as separate events. He describes the second alarm this way:

[a]s we continued driving through the ammo storage area the alarm sounded again. The chemical agent HT Mustard in a lethal dose came across the monitor. Again, the skull and crossbones were present although the boxes were closed with markings from the United States and Holland. A full spectrum on the Mass Spectrometer was easily accomplished and printed out as proof of detection.[36]

GySgt Grass does not identify a specific type of ammunition as the source for this alarm. As with the alarm for Sulfur Mustard, we have no information on the procedures the MM-1 operator used to obtain a spectrum and print the tape for HT Mustard. After printing the tape, the Fox crew continued on its way out of the ASP.

According to GySgt Grass, the third and final alarm in the ASP occurred as the crew was driving out of the area.

[T]he alarm sounded once more showing a positive reading of Benzene [sic] Bromide. This reading was taken next to a large metal container with no distinct markings. The vapor concentration was in the air and a full spectrum was ran [sic] on the Mass Spectrometer and printed out as proof of the detection.[37]

During an interview, GySgt Grass identified a large shipping container, or Conex box, located in the southeast corner of the ASP as the possible source of this alarm. [38] (Figure 6) Although GySgt Grass stated the Fox was only checking for vapor concentration while in the ASP[39] (indicating the "Air/Hi" method was being used), it is unclear what method the Fox vehicle was using when the MM-1 got this alarm. Benzyl Bromide, a tearing agent, is one of the 60 chemicals for which the MM-1 monitors, but it is not normally one of the 10 or 11 chemicals typically monitored for while using the "Air/Hi" method. As with the two other alarms, we have no information on the procedures the MM-1 operator used to obtain a spectrum and print the tape.

After printing this third tape, the Fox crew drove past several other bunkers in the area without incident prior to departing the ASP. They then drove to the headquarters area of the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines (1/5), located nearby, to warn the 1/5 NBC Officer of the possibility of chemical agents or weapons in the ASP. After stopping at the 1/5, the Fox crew returned to Task Force Ripper’s Headquarters.


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