TO: Secretary William Cohen, Department of Defense
Secretary Donna Shalala, Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary Jesse Brown, Department of Veterans Affairs
FR: Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses
RE: Supplemental letter report
DA: April 30, 1997
On January 30, 1997, the President issued Executive Order 13034 ( attachment A), which extended the tenure of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses and charged it with two tasks: continued oversight of the government's investigations related to possible chemical and biological warfare agent exposure incidents and implementation of the recommendations of our Final Report. On February 26, 1997, the President specifically asked the Committee to evaluate the adequacy of the government's response to his concerns about the implications of recently declassified documents associated with chemical munitions at the Khamisiyah storage depot ( attachment B).
This supplemental letter report provides the Committee's response to the President's requests. It first addresses issues related to the President's February 1997 directive. A status report on the tasks specified by Executive Order 13034 follows.
THE PRESIDENT'S MEMORANDUM
The concerns expressed by the President in his February 1997 memorandum centered on recently declassified documents pertaining to the Khamisiyah Ammunition Storage Depot and U.S. troop demolition activities at this site. He posed the following questions:
Beyond the Department of Defense's (DOD) broad inquiry into Gulf War illnesses via the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI), the Committee identified five ongoing investigations by various government entities that pertain to these questions. Attachment C summarizes the scope and nature of these five efforts; a later section of this report discusses the Committee's oversight of OSAGWI-related matters.
Based on its review of existing documents (classified and unclassified), briefings, and interviews, the Committee makes several findings regarding the adequacy of the government's response and answers to the President's questions.
The Evidence and Its Significance
Adequacy of Ongoing Activities
OVERSIGHT OF CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL WARFARE AGENT INVESTIGATIONS
With respect to the Committee's mandate to oversee the government's chemical and biological warfare agent investigations, we address three issues in this letter report: exposure modeling of demolitions at the Khamisiyah pit area, the Committee's access to information held by DOD, and standards for assessing the credibility of reported detection or exposure incidents.
Modeling for the Khamisiyah Pit Area
Since Summer 1996, the Committee has requested exposure modeling of March 1991 demolition activities conducted by U.S. troops at the Khamisiyah pit area. CIA and DOD have testified to the Committee on multiple occasions about technical and logistical complications they believe are responsible for the lack of progress in this area.
The Committee fully appreciates the complexities of this issue, but it appears the passage of time has done nothing to improve the data inputs for the computer simulation of events at the pit. The expert review process (underway since November 1996) mighthelp to establish a baseline for data collection to assist with future modeling efforts, but appears only to exacerbate problems with the lack of data from the pit (e.g., introducing a requirement for far more weather data than was collected at Khamisiyah). On April 18, 1997, DOD and CIA informed the Committee that modeling results for the Khamisiyah pit area will not be available until July 21 ( attachment D) because they plan to conduct demolition tests to collect additional data on the amount and rate of agent release. According to a letter from DOD and CIA to the Committee, the small-scale tests are not designed to replicate conditions at Khamisiyah and will not eliminate uncertainties about agent release.
The Committee notes federal law requires civilian sector industries working with hazardous materials to perform exposure modeling as a routine matter to evaluate potential accidents and emergency responses. In particular, both the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), Title III, Emergency Preparedness and Community Right to Know (42 U.S.C.11003) and the Clean Air Act reauthorization of 1990 (42 U.S.C.7412), have mandated this practice for at least a decade. Clearly, it is impossible to predict the exact nature of a large unintended release or when it might occur; such hazardous material modeling relies on the most general estimates of weather and amounts of material released. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which administers the laws, allows wide flexibility on which model to use. Under EPA rules, industries must model a range of scenarios, including a worst-case possibility. Modeling results are publicly available, enabling citizens to evaluate possible risks. The Committee believes veterans deserve a similar, though retrospective, opportunity.
Hence the Committee finds:
Access to Information
Shortly after the President extended the term of this Committee and asked us to oversee the government's investigations of possible chemical exposure incidents, DOD raised the Privacy Act as a shield against the Committee's unfettered access to information held by DOD related to CBW incidents. Regulations published to implement the Act, including regulations published in December 1995 after this Committee's inception, have the effect of limiting our ability to oversee, monitor, or independently evaluate the quality of DOD's investigation of possible chemical or biological warfare agent exposures. We note for the record that the Committee's interpretation of the law and regulations is that ample ambiguity exists to allow us full access immediately. In April 1997, following our repeated requests, DOD finally took action that may eventually remove some barriers to the Committee's oversight activities. Currently we remain guarded in our assessment of DOD's willingness to provide access to information critical to our work.
Standards for Evaluating Detection or Exposure Incidents
OSAGWI has yet to articulate clear standards for determining the credibility of reported detection or exposure incidents, other than to assert reliance on the "best evidence" rule and to establish "preponderance of the evidence" as the standard of proof. The Committee believes that for matters involving the health of veterans, adherence to courtroom standards of evidence is inappropriate. As the Committee said in its Final Report, "In the face of credible evidence of the presence or release of chemical warfare agents, low-level exposure of U.S. personnel at the affected site must be presumed while efforts to develop more precise measures of exposure continue. . . . Troops within the presumptive exposure area should be notified and encouraged to enroll in the CCEP or Registry." Hence the Committee notes that:
The Committee appreciates the departments' efforts to develop and transmit their responses to the recommendations of our Final Report regarding outreach, medical and clinical issues, research, and chemical and biological warfare investigations. Over the coming months, we will monitor the implementation of these responses and report any new findings and recommendations related to them in the supplemental final report (hereinafter referred to as Special Report).
The Committee will continue assessing the government's chemical and biological weapons investigations, chiefly the activities of DOD's OSAGWI, and implementation of the Final Report's recommendations in outreach, clinical issues, and research. In particular, we feel it important that we assess certain key detection incidents including, but not limited to, case reports under development by OSAGWI ( attachment E). We believe this letter report addresses the President's tasks to the Committee in his February 26, 1997 memorandum, though the Special Report will summarize any new information derived from reports of the CIA Inspector General, DOD Inspector General, Army Inspector General, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Intelligence Oversight), and Director of Central Intelligence Persian Gulf War Illnesses Task Force. If-due to delays in resolving problems with the Committee's access to information-we foresee a need to request an extension of the Special Report's delivery date beyond October 31, 1997, we will of course inform you at the first opportunity.
Transmitted on behalf of the Committee,
Joyce C. Lashof, MD