C. Incident Descriptions

This section describes the eight alert incidents found on the Fox vehicle tapes provided by the soldier. Sections from both the Edgewood and PAC tapes have been reproduced to assist the reader in understanding the analyses of the ground war alerts that follow. The Fox vehicle and the crewmen addressed in this case narrative were originally part of a unit of three Fox vehicles called Section 7 of the 25th Chemical Reconnaissance Company, 8th Infantry Division, stationed in Germany. Before their departure to Saudi Arabia in November 1990, the crew received their Fox vehicle training from the German NBC and Self Protection School. On December 26, 1990, this crew was assigned to support the operations of the 24th ID, more specifically the 2nd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment (2/4 CAV) and, subsequently, the Scout Platoon, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 24th Infantry Division (3/7 Infantry).[45]

1. Pre-ground War Alerts

During this pre-ground phase of the conflict, the 2/4 CAV was the screening force and acted as the 24th ID’s first line of defense against an Iraqi ground force incursion into Saudi Arabia. As such, the nine platoons of 2/4 CAV were deployed inside the Saudi border along a 70-kilometer screenline in front of the 24th ID main force. The three Fox vehicles served as chemical warfare agent monitors along this screenline.[46]

According to the Fox vehicle commander, before the ground war, the Fox crew conducted various training exercises on the MM-1, including confidence checks using test chemicals. They also conducted cross-training exercises, so every crewmember would know how to operate the MM-1. Additionally, they demonstrated to other units how the Fox vehicle worked, hoping that the familiarization with their foreign-looking vehicle would cut down on possible friendly-fire incidents. During this time, the Fox vehicle commander noted no unusual activities.[47]

From January 17 to February 24, 1991 (the first day of the ground war) the 2/4 CAV commander stated that nothing unusual happened to his unit. Occasionally the squadron NBC officer told him about an M8A1 registering a false alarm. The 2/4 CAV commander was never notified about any Fox alert or other positive chemical warfare agent alerts. For this reason, he never ordered any of his subordinate units to a higher level of protection, known as mission oriented protective posture,[48] in response to possible chemical warfare agent presence. Additionally, he does not know of any of his platoons being ordered to a higher protection level.[49] The 2/4 CAV squadron surgeon recorded no casualties of any type, including chemical warfare agent casualties, during this period. The only casualties he recalled were a few conventional munitions casualties (non-nuclear, chemical, or biological), which occurred during the ground war and post-ground-war period. Additionally, no personnel in the regiment reported any odd symptoms at sick call that would have indicated a chemical warfare agent exposure.[50]

Figure 3 shows the general location of four alerts recorded on the Fox tapes. The timeline of pre-ground war alerts (Figure 4) provides an overview of the dates and times of the Fox alerts discussed below in Sub-sections a. through d. All the alerts on the Fox tapes registered at low ion intensity levels (under 2.0) and in their analysis of the alerts, CBDCOM’s Fox vehicle experts quoted the manufacturer of the MM-1, Bruker-Franzen: "… [I]t is highly unlikely to get true alerts at so low a response level."[51]

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Figure 3. Approximate locations of pre-ground war Fox alerts (February 1-14, 1991)

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Figure 4. Timeline of pre-ground war alerts (February 1-14, 1991)


a. Alert 1: February 1, 1991, 10:12 AM[52]

At 10:12 AM, the MM-1 alerted for the possible presence of phosgene oxime (shown as PHOSGENOX (CX) on the Fox tape) and tabun (Figure 5). The ion intensity levels for the agents were 1.7 and 1.9, respectively.

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Figure 5. Fox tape, February 1, 1991

Analysis of Alert 1

When CBDCOM evaluated the tapes in 1993, they quoted the technical experts at Bruker-Franzen who thought it unlikely that a true alert would come from such a low response level as shown in the tapes.[53] It is not surprising that spectra were not taken since MM-1 operators were trained to perform spectra in response to alerts with ion intensity levels of four and above.[54] The tapes indicate that before this alert, the crew ran function tests which verified that all components of the MM-1 were fully operational (indicated by the OK after each test). However, the Fox crew did not perform confidence checks, as called for in the start-up procedures, to further confirm the operational status of the MM-1.[55]

After the tabun alert, the MM-1 operator changed the sampling method to Test/Lo, then switched it again to Air/Hi. There is no apparent reason for this action because the Test/Lo method should only be used to check the proper functioning of the MM-1 during initial start-up. According to CBDCOM’s analysis of this alert, "[S]ince no more [alerts] occurred after [a] new background was taken [when the operator changed methods], these are attributable to the sampling wheels off-gassing."[56] Off-gassing refers to the MM-1 falsely identifying vapors from silicone sampling wheels as a chemical warfare agent. This problem was identified and corrected after the war. Additionally, at the time of the alerts, according to the vehicle’s location reporting system (shown on the tape to the left of the 10:08 time notation), the vehicle had not moved from its original start-up location.[57] This means the Fox was in the garrison area of the 2/4 CAV and interviews show that this unit reported no chemical incidents and that no chemical warfare agent symptoms were reported to unprotected troops.[58]

Since the end of the Gulf War, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) has inspected, inventoried, and destroyed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, including chemical warfare agents and munitions filled with chemical warfare agents. During the inspection process, UNSCOM never found phosgene oxime in Iraq’s chemical warfare agent inventory. If Iraq didn’t produce or weaponize phosgene oxime, it could not have been used against Coalition forces. Iraq abandoned tabun (GA) in the mid-1980s and UNSCOM and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported UNSCOM found only two aerial bombs containing tabun, and these were found at Al Muthanna, they were not deployed into other bases,[59] including areas entered by US forces. The only method for Iraq to deliver these aerial bombs was by aircraft and this did not happen because Iraq did not fly ground attack sorties after January 25, 1991.[60] At the time of the phosgene oxime and tabun alerts, the Fox vehicle was not under attack. Specifically, no Iraqi weapons system that could deliver chemical weapons (aircraft, artillery, or missile) engaged this unit at the time of this incident. These operational insights, combined with the information we know about Iraq’s chemical warfare agent inventory and the analysis of the Fox tapes, lead us to state that chemical warfare agents were not present.

b. Alert 2: February 1, 1991, 3:29 PM

Approximately five hours after the first alert, the MM-1 alerted again, at 3:29 PM (15:29), for tabun at a 1.9 ion intensity level (Figure 6).

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Figure 6. Fox tape, February 1, 1991


Analysis of Alert 2

This alert occurred five minutes after the function tests were performed, and according to the vehicle’s location reporting system at the time of this alert, the vehicle had not traveled far from its initial starting location. Subsequent alerts did not occur when the MM-1 operator switched the detection method back and forth between Air/Hi and Test/Lo. Again, it is not apparent why the operator changed the method to Test/Lo. The ion intensity level was very low, and CBDCOM came to the same conclusion about this alert as it did about Alert 1 above—namely, that off-gassing caused the alert.[61]

Finally, as described in the analysis section of Alert 1, UNSCOM and CIA assess that there were no deployed tabun weapons.[62] At the time of the tabun alerts, the Fox vehicle was not under attack and a delivery means for these agents was not identified. Since Iraqi aircraft did not fly ground attack sorties after January 25, 1991,[63] it was not possible for tabun to be used against Coalition forces and then detected by the Fox vehicle.

c. Alert 3: February 14, 1991, 9:24 AM

Almost two weeks later on February 14th, the Fox vehicle alerted for the presence of HT mustard at 1.9 ion intensity level(Figure 7).

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Figure 7. Fox tape, February 14, 1991

Analysis of Alert 3

One hour before this alert, a function test confirmed that the MM-1’s electronic components were properly functioning (indicated by "OK" after each test), but the crew did not perform any confidence checks to ensure that the MM-1 was otherwise operating properly. Some time after the function test at 8:24 AM, the MM-1 was manually turned off and turned back on at 9:24 AM (indicated by the "RAM START" printed on the tape). When the MM-1 was turned back on, the crew did not perform new function tests and confidence checks to verify that the MM-1 was fully operational before receiving alerts for HT.[64]

Although the MM-1 has a limited capability to detect chemical warfare agents in the air, the Fox vehicle sometimes was used for vapor detection during the war, noted by an "A" printed on the tape to the left of the ion intensity. However, it is not optimized for this mission, nor is its alerting capability in this method of operation as good as that of other chemical warfare agent detectors.[65] In this incident, the Fox was sampling the air and was not using the wheels to search for liquid contamination on the ground. The "A" on the tape before the ion intensity level notes that the wheels are not being used.

UNSCOM inspectors did not find HT mustard in Iraq’s inventory. They did find HD mustard that contained trace amounts of HT as a manufacturing byproduct.[66] The only ground delivery system that Iraq had for mustard (HD) was 155mm artillery,[67] but the 2/4 CAV received no artillery fire while they were the screening force before the start of the ground war.[68]

According to a US Army field manual, HT’s "… low volatility makes effective vapor concentrations in the field difficult to obtain."[69] Since the Fox was sampling the air and not using the sampling wheels, it is doubtful the MM-1 would detect this small presence of HT had it been present.[70] Additionally, the CBDCOM experts said they "would expect a simultaneous detection of HD [mustard] since it is the more volatile component of HT [mustard]; HD is not evident in any of the HT detections on this tape." It is not unusual for HD mustard to have impurities that can result in small quantities of HT and HQ. HD is more volatile or quicker to vaporize than both HT and HQ and an alert for either of these agents also normally would include an alert for HD.[71] Finally, CBDCOM noted that the low ion intensity level casts additional doubt on the validity of this alarm.[72] Because the unit was not under attack, HT was not in Iraq’s inventory, and given the difficulty of detecting HT vapor, this alert of HT mustard is not valid.

d. Alert 4: February 14, 1991, 10:02 AM

A little over 30 minutes later on February 14th, at 10:02 AM, the MM-1 alerted for phosgene oxime at a low ion intensity level. Three minutes before this alert, the MM-1 operator performed function tests that identified problems with some of the electronic components (noted by the "N" and "W"), indicating that the MM-1 was not fully operational and not able to make valid detections for chemical warfare agents (Figure 8).[73]

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Figure 8. Fox tape, February 14, 1991

After the phosgene oxime alert, the operator changed the sampling method to Test/Lo, and at 10:07 AM, the MM-1 registered an alert for dimethylphthalate, a confidence check simulant. One minute after the dimethylphthalate alert, the MM-1 operator performed a spectrum, which identified FC 77, a calibration gas. The Fox tape indicates subsequent alerts for dimethylphthalate and diethylphthalate (another confidence check simulant) from 10:10 AM to 10:42 AM, but the operator took no additional measures since these are the test simulants, not chemical warfare agents.[74]

Analysis of Alert 4

The function tests before the phosgene oxime alert indicated problems with the MM-1’s electronic components. Unless the operator gets an "OK" reading for each component tested, the MM-1 will not operate accurately.[75] The "N" that appears after both the multiplier and cathode tests indicates that the tests could not be performed because either the module to be tested was not present or it was manually turned off. The "W" displayed after the heater test warned the MM-1 operator that the MM-1 was operational, but that the tested modules may have been outside the control limits (e.g., the MM-1 may not have been operating long enough to properly heat the probe). When the MM-1 displayed these warnings, the function tests should have been repeated until an "OK" reading appeared for all components tested.[76]

When the MM-1 operator switched the MM-1 to the Test/Lo method minutes after the initial alert, the MM-1 showed that the confidence check simulant dimethylphthalate was present in the probe at a level below the required ion intensity level (registering only 2.6 instead of the required 5.0 or above).[77] Since the function tests showed that certain MM-1 electrical components were not ready and the confidence check did not reach the desired ion intensity level, it is safe to say the MM-1 was not fully functional at the time of the phosgene oxime alert and probably was responding to remaining simulants that had not been purged from the system. In fact, the operator probably introduced the simulant for the confidence check before the MM-1 was ready and before switching to the Test/Lo method, thereby yielding the false positive for phosgene oxime. The spectrum confirmed phosgene oxime was not present.[78] Finally, as described in the analysis of Alert 1, although Iraq researched phosgene oxime as a chemical warfare agent, it did not produce or weaponize phosgene oxime, so it could not have been used against Coalition troops.[79]


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