Information about the Czech detections was first released to the public by the Czech press in July 1993. At first, the Czech Ministry of Defense denied these reports: "there is no record that the unit detected the presence of these substances."[2] Subsequently, however, on October 1, 1993, the Press Department of the Czech Ministry of Defense released a report detailing the events surrounding two detections of chemical agents by a Czechoslovak chemical detection unit on January 19, 1991, and January 24, 1991. The report stated that:

[d]uring the period in question, toxic dust concentrations of Yperite [Mustard] and Sarin chemical agents were detected several times around the Brigades, as well as in King Khalid Military City (i.e., within the military encampment in which the unit is billeted), probably as a result of allied air strikes against chemical munitions deports in Iraq.[3]

Information regarding possible French detections is very limited. Three reports of possible chemical detections by the French between January 19, 1991 and January 24, 1991, have been discovered in various US logs from the Gulf War.[4] The government of France has not released details of these detections or information pertaining to their troops’ chemical detection capabilities. An assessment of the events surrounding the possible French detections and their chemical agent detection capabilities has been pieced together by reviewing information available in open source literature, various logs and journals kept by the US during Operation Desert Storm, and interviews with American veterans who had contact with the French.

During the war, US Central Command (CENTCOM) and other elements of the command structure were aware of the possible detections by the Czechs and the French. At the time, however, the reports were thought to be one of the many false positives reported, because the Czech equipment was "considered adequate for battlefield detection purposes but not capable of reliably detecting [the] ‘sub-threshold/human effects’ amounts of chemical agents"[5] that were reported. However, subsequent testing of the Czech detection equipment after the Gulf War confirmed that the Czech’s possessed the capabilities to detect chemical warfare agents at the low levels reported.

Previous Investigations and Reports

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) made its first public announcement acknowledging the Czech Ministry of Defense reports and the reported Czech chemical agent detections at a press conference on November 10, 1993. Then Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, and Dr. John Deutch, then Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, "... present[ed] some preliminary findings on reports of the chemical agent detections during the Gulf War ..."[6] Secretary Aspin reported the following:

In October of this year interest in the Czech reports in Congress and elsewhere increased. A team of Defense Department Experts went to Prague to pursue the reports. The team assessed Czech training, equipment, technical competence, and procedures. Based on this assessment and an examination of the available records, team members concluded that the Czech detections [of Sarin on January 19th and Mustard on January 24th] were valid.

So where does that leave us? Still with some degree of uncertainty. The investigation team, which based its investigation on the professionalism and equipment of the Czech military, concluded that the detections were valid, but we cannot confirm the detections. That is, we have no physical evidence, no samples, and no confirming detections. In other words, nobody else reported these detections.

The Czechs found no physical evidence of offensive action by Iraqi forces that could account for it. There were no SCUD launches [or impacts], no artillery exchanges, or no offensive actions at this time in this area that could have delivered the chemical agents.[7]

The reports of the Czech and French detections prompted members of Congress to investigate further. The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, chaired by Senator Donald Riegle, was one of the first committees to start an investigation into possible chemical exposures during the Gulf War. As part of that investigation, Senator Richard Shelby, a member of the Committee, traveled to Europe in November and December 1993, and the Middle East in January 1994, to meet with representatives from the governments of the Gulf War Coalition. This included meeting with representatives from the Czech and French Ministries of Defense. At these meetings, Senator Shelby was provided with more detailed descriptions of the events surrounding both countries’ reported chemical detection incidents.

Upon returning from his visits to the Coalition nations, Senator Shelby informed the Senate and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of his findings. Senator Shelby produced a report for the committee that was released on March 17, 1994. (This report titled Senator Shelby’s Conclusions on Persian Gulf Syndrome will be referred to as the Shelby report throughout this narrative.) As a result of Senator Shelby’s findings and those from other investigations conducted by members of the committee and their staffs, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs released a report on May 25, 1994, titled US Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War. (This report will be referred to as the Riegle report throughout this narrative.) The Shelby and Riegle reports highlighted the facts that they had gathered during their investigations. Conclusions about the reported Czech and French chemical detections were not drawn in either of the reports.

In addition to the Shelby and Riegle reports, other Congressional committees, as well as the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, conducted investigations into the Czech and French detections. Information contained in these reports and hearings were also used for this case narrative.

The DoD, reacting to growing concern over the health of veterans who served in the Gulf, requested that the Defense Science Board[8] (DSB), "establish a … Task Force regarding the possible exposure of personnel to chemical and biological weapons agents and other hazardous material during the Gulf War and its aftermath."[9] The DSB task force’s final report, released in June 1994, acknowledged the fact that both the Czech and the French units reported detections of chemical agents during the Gulf War.[10]

On August 5, 1995, the Persian Gulf Illnesses Investigation Team (PGIIT), the predecessor to the Investigations and Analysis Directorate, Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, published a report that highlighted the chemical detections of the Czech and French units during the Gulf War. The PGIIT report[11] was a summary of the previous investigations (described above), including the DSB Report, the Shelby Report, and the Riegle Report.[12] The PGIIT report was not based on any new investigation or analysis.

When the Investigation and Analysis Directorate assumed responsibility for investigating possible exposures to chemical agents during Operation Desert Storm, the Special Assistant decided to further investigate the incidents reported by both the Czech and the French troops. The purpose of the reinvestigation was to determine if there were any additional facts that could confirm the reported detections by the Czech and the French or further explain the information previously reported.

Current Investigation

This investigation reviewed primary source information, where available, relating to the reported Czech and French detections, interviewed US personnel who were thought to have pertinent information about the reported detections, analyzed information contained in the various reports mentioned earlier, and coordinated investigative efforts with other US government agencies. While investigating this case, the investigators needed to respect both France’s and the Czech Republic’s sovereign rights to protect their citizens’ privacy and use established diplomatic channels to obtain answers to questions regarding these incidents. Due to these limitations investigators were not able to interview the Czech and French soldiers who had firsthand knowledge of these incidents. For the Czech detections, investigators also had the opportunity to analyze information provided by the Czech Ministry of Defense. To date, the government of France has not provided information regarding their reported detections. For this reason, much less data was available for analysis regarding the French reports of chemical agent detections.

In addition to these investigative efforts, between September 8 and 20, 1997, the Special Assistant and other representatives from his office and Congress met with officials from the Czech and French Ministries of Defense to discuss the reported detections, as well as other Gulf War-related issues. While in Paris, France, and Prague, Czech Republic, the Special Assistant provided both governments with a draft copy of the case narrative[13] and requested an official government response. To date, those responses have not been received. When the official government responses are received, this narrative will be updated to reflect their comments.

Currently, this case narrative reflects the opinion of the United States Department of Defense and presents the facts, as they are currently understood, surrounding the possible detections by the Czech and French troops.

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