16 April 1997
Chairman Stearns, Chairman Everett and members of the Committees, I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss CIA's and the Intelligence Community's efforts on the issue of Gulf war veterans' illnesses and the possible exposure of some of those veterans to chemical weapons agent. We know how important this issue is to the veterans, and that our intelligence is essential to understanding what occurred during the war.
In response to President Clinton's tasking to his Advisory Committee (PAC) on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, and after determining that the issue required additional resources, George Tenet, Acting Director of Central Intelligence, appointed me his Special Assistant on this issue on 27 February, and asked me to have a Task Force running by 3 March. Since that time, we have kept the staff of this committee, as well as several other committees, apprised of our findings and actions. The focus of our efforts is to help find answers to why the veterans are sick. We are supporting numerous government efforts on this issue, and are searching files for any intelligence that can help.
Before I describe our mission, let me emphasize that one of my primary tasks is to set the record straight, and I must do that from the outset regarding our public release last week on Khamisiyah. In reporting the Intelligence Community's admission about missing some important intelligence prior to the Gulf war, some have missed a very important point in our story:
I will go into the details later in this statement.
First I will discuss the mission and scope of the task force, and our progress to date, including our modeling and search efforts, and the recent release of documents and publication of our paper on Khamisiyah.
The mission of this Task Force is to provide intensive, aggressive intelligence support to the numerous US Government efforts currently investigating Persian Gulf war illnesses issues. Fifty officers are serving on the task force, drawn from across the Intelligence Community--CIA, NSA, DIA, and NIMA--and from DoD's Offices of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses and Assistant to the Secretary for Intelligence Oversight. We have made considerable progress in addressing this mission during our first several weeks.
The task force is managing and reviewing all intelligence aspects related to this issue with the goal of ``getting to the bottom'' of it. Specifically the task force provides intelligence support across several fronts:
This is the first time we have fully integrated an analytical component into a task force on this issue to run to ground every thread we uncover on the issue, and to prepare papers providing the analytical context surrounding relevant material.
An example of this group's efforts was disseminated a few weeks ago in Salt Lake City at the Presidential Advisory Committee meeting. It is a one-page paper concerning the release of chemical warfare agent at Khamisiyah during March 1991. The day after the meeting, DoD received numerous calls on the 1-800 number, some from veterans who recall being at Khamisiyah. This is an important step forward in trying to determine exactly what happened at Khamisiyah and to address veterans' concerns about their possible exposure to chemical agent.
In the past, we were able to model the events at Al Muthanna, Muhammadiyat, and Bunker 73 at Khamisiyah largely because we had test data indicating how the agent would react and release when structures in which it was stored were bombed or detonated. However, when we turned to modeling demolitions at the pit, we quickly realized we had significant uncertainties regarding how rockets with chemical warheads would have been affected by open-pit demolitions. We were also uncertain about the number of demolition events and the weather conditions at the time of the demolitions.
We are continuing to reduce the uncertainties used in chemical exposure modeling and are aggressively analyzing any thread of information related to these uncertainties in order to more accurately identify the extent of the release. We are helping the Department of Defense develop tests to destroy rockets containing CW agent simulants. We expect this to provide us invaluable data on how the agent would react in an open-pit demolition, similar to the data earlier testing had provided for detonations in buildings.
We are also working with DoD to talk to veterans who are providing some knowledge about the demolition events at the pit. In Salt Lake City, we reiterated our uncertainties but indicated that we believed, on the basis of the limited and often contradictory data we had, that two demolition events were more likely than one. These data included a military log entry for destruction on March 12, the contradictory stories from two soldiers, and an UNSCOM video tape.
We also indicated that, if we could find just one more soldier who had been in the pit, we would increase our knowledge by 50 percent. DoD's Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses has found other eyewitnesses. CIA and DoD recently interviewed four eyewitnesses together, including the two original soldiers. These interviews called into serious question the log's credibility; we learned it was prepared after the fact and that we should not rely on the 12 March date. Even with four soldiers together, we obtained several contradictory statements. Just this week, DoD located another eyewitness who may be able to shed light on some of the contradictions. Even so, with the log's credibility in question, the prudent approach would be to model one event that occurred on March 10; from a modeling perspective, this would be true whether the demolition occurred as two events at the same time. We will proceed jointly with DoD to complete that modeling once the test data are obtained. If we receive further information on what actually happened in the pit, we will modify this approach.
In addition to efforts I mentioned earlier about Khamisiyah, we are conducting document searches on Iraqi CW sites as well as any intelligence related to potential biological warfare and radiological exposure, and environmental issues. We are using search criteria developed by previous task forces and expanding them by adding related topical search terms and increasing the range of dates to be searched. Intelligence we find that sheds light on or can help the Presidential Advisory Committee, Persian Gulf Veterans Coordinating Board, veterans and public understand Gulf war illnesses issues will be identified and declassified. Any documents that cannot be released for reasons of national security will be delivered to relevant US Government agencies, the Presidential Advisory Committee, and Congressional Committees that are following this issue. We also plan to write analytic papers to try to help the readers put all of the information into context. The first of these papers was released last week.
During our initial efforts on Khamisiyah, we determined that certain intelligence documents were critical to answering the questions--what did the Intelligence Community know when, and what did we do with that information. We began briefing these documents to the PAC and appropriate Congressional Committees. We also began simultaneous efforts to declassify key papers and to search for other material relevant to the questions. As this work progressed, we determined that a paper detailing the historical perspective would be useful to accompany the release of the documents we were declassifying.
The paper, released on 9 April, provides details about the Intelligence Community's knowledge of Khamisiyah before, during, and after the war. Some highlights of the paper pertinent to recent media coverage include:
The documents released and the Khamisiyah paper written to accompany them do not change our judgment that Iraq did not use chemical weapons during Desert Storm. The paper does, however, illustrate that intelligence support--particularly in the areas of information sharing and analysis--should have been better. The Task Force is preparing recommendations to address these problems and will continue to assess how we ensure they will not occur in the future.
That said, CIA and the Intelligence Community did not warrant charges that we did not provide warning before US post-war demolitions. As already indicated, CIA and DIA provided multiple warnings. Recent coverage on this issue actually highlighted difficulties inherent to dealing with intelligence. We who report intelligence indeed missed some important opportunities to draw accurate conclusions about Khamisiyah before the war; in focusing on that part of the story, however, some reporters who received our briefing and related information missed the opportunity to report other important details on the issue, especially that warnings were given before demolition activities were conducted.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate George Tenet's and the Intelligence Community's commitment to the men and women who served this country in the Persian Gulf. We owe them a full and accurate accounting of what happened during the final days of Desert Storm and in the following days and weeks before their return to the United States. But our commitment also extends to enhancing intelligence support to the men and women who will serve in the future.