Attempts to identify the contents of the tank found at the Kuwaiti Girls' School proved difficult because of conflicting or contradictory indicators. Major Watkinson conducted numerous field tests on the vapors emitting from the tank and the liquid contents. Some were positive for mustard chemical warfare agent-the Chemical Agent Monitor produced an eight bar positive result for the presence of mustard and some of the M18A2 kit tests produced the signatory blue color change indicating mustard presence. However, the test with the one-color paper failed to identify a blister agent presence. The three-color paper tests and the remaining M18A2 tests were less definitive but implied a blister agent was there. The results were sufficient for Major Watkinson to suspect a possible presence of mustard agent. Further inspection of the tank and its contents by the Fox vehicles reinforced this perception among many participants who tested the tank because one vehicle's MM-1 mass spectrometers alerted to mustard agent and phosgene and the other alerted to phosgene. Although subsequent spectrum analyses by these same vehicles revealed the substance was not a chemical warfare agent but an unknown substance, the Foxes' initial alerts were best remembered.
In 1994, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs investigated the events at the Kuwaiti Girls' School and highlighted the positive detections of chemical warfare agents by multiple chemical warfare agent detectors. Consequently, the Senate committee concluded that the tank contained chemical warfare agent. In 1997, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses concurred with the Senate committee's findings based on the multiple positive detections reported by veterans and the lack of contemporary evidence to the contrary.
However, despite these pronouncements and the initial results of the detectors, much more convincing evidence refutes a conclusion of a chemical warfare agent presence. Major Watkinson's initial test with one-color paper denied its presence. He also noted that the high vapor pressure in the tank, the speed with which the small sample evaporated from the testing pan, the low viscosity of the liquid, and the liquid's ability to quickly penetrate his individual protective clothing were uncharacteristic of a mustard agent. Rust-colored vapor is also abnormal for mustard. Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers safety officer, unprotected by chemical protective clothing or mask, approached close enough to the tank to smell the contents and report the smell of nitric acid. That he experienced neither blister agent nor choking agent reactions supports the probability that the tank contained something other than these agents.
There were other indicators that the tank did not contain chemical warfare agents. The high volatility of the liquid as the soldiers attempted to capture samples resulted in the violent reaction with the XAD-4 resin causing the glass capture tube to shatter. The XAD-4 resin was designed for the capture of chemical warfare agents and the reaction was atypical. The liquid heated and melted the gloves of sampling team members. However, chemical protective gloves are made of butyl rubber impermeable to chemical warfare agents. The tests conducted by the commanding officer of the 3rd Troop, 21st Explosive Ordnance Disposal squadron on the individual protective clothing showed that the liquid burned through the material within three minutes-again, an uncharacteristic property of a chemical warfare agent. Finally, the liquid caused an immediate blister on the wrist of a British lance corporal. Neither mustard nor phosgene would cause such an injury so fast. Although phosgene oxime might cause such a response, phosgene oxime presence was speculation based on the end result (blisters), but other substances like nitric acid could have the same result. No evidence of phosgene oxime came to light in this investigation.
Although one Fox vehicle gave initial alerts for phosgene and mustard chemical warfare agents, and the other alerted to phosgene only, their more definitive spectrum analyses proved that those agents were not present. Instead they showed that a substance unknown to the Fox was present. In 1997, experts at the US Army's Chemical and Biological Defense Command, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Bruker Daltonics, the manufacturer of the MM-1 mobile mass spectrometer, reviewed the Fox mass spectrometry tapes including full spectrums produced at the Kuwaiti Girls' School. All three experts concluded that chemical warfare agent was not present in the tank, and stated that nitric acid, in some form, was partly responsible for the initial alarms. Laboratory tests by the US Army's Soldier Biological and Chemical Command revealed that laboratory-grade red fuming nitric acid will cause the MM-1 to false alarm for the presence of chemical warfare agent. Although the tests were unable to duplicate the alerts for phosgene and mustard, the experts concluded the difference was due to their inability to exactly replicate the liquid in the tank. In any case, the complete spectra on the tapes indicate the Fox vehicles detected a nitric acid compound, not a chemical warfare agent.
Finally, the evidence that weighs most heavily in our assessment is the contemporaneous testing of samples of the contents of the tank at the Kuwaiti Girls' School. These samples, taken under standard procedures by trained personnel, transported under chain-of-custody control, and evaluated by the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment, Porton Down, a laboratory designated by UNSCOM for expert chemical warfare agent analyses, showed no evidence of any chemical warfare agent. Instead, the 1991 report results showed that laboratory analysis of the samples was entirely consistent with the contents of the tank being nitric acid. Furthermore, since the chemical properties of nitric acid would not allow a chemical warfare agent to coexist in the tank, chemical warfare agent was not present.
In our 1998 report we initially believed that IRFNA was definitely present in the tank. However, because the laboratory did not conduct additional tests to determine other possible substances or contaminants in the tank, we cannot be certain of the nature of the nitric acid. Witnesses reported rust-colored vapors emitting from the bullet holes in the tank, which implies the substance may have been a red fuming nitric acid. We also believe an inhibitor was in the tank because witnesses did not report any evidence of corrosion of the tank.
The physical evidence, the Fox mobile mass spectrometry tapes, and the laboratory analysis of the liquid samples provide more compelling and more corroborating arguments than do the initial detector alerts. Furthermore, we conclude that the tank definitely contained a form of nitric acid, most likely inhibited red fuming nitric acid. Consequently, we assess the liquid in the tank at the Kuwaiti Girls' School was definitely not a chemical warfare agent.
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