During and after the Gulf War, people reported that they had been exposed to chemical warfare agents. To investigate these incidents, and to determine if chemical weapons were used, the DOD developed a methodology for investigation and validation based on work done by the United Nations and the international community where the criteria include:
- A detailed written record of the conditions at the site
- Physical evidence from the site such as weapons fragments, soil, water, vegetation or human/animal tissue samples
- A record of the chain of custody during transportation of the evidence
- Testimony of eyewitnesses
- Multiple analyses
- Review of the evidence by experts.
While the DOD methodology (TAB C) for investigating chemical incidents is based on these protocols, the passage of time since the Gulf War makes it difficult to obtain certain types of documentary evidence, and physical evidence was often not collected at the time of an event. Therefore, we cannot apply a rigid template to all incidents, and each investigation must be tailored to its unique circumstances. Accordingly, we designed our methodology to provide a thorough, investigative process to define the circumstances of each incident and determine what happened. Alarms alone are not considered to be certain evidence of chemical agent presence, nor is a single individuals observation sufficient to validate a chemical agent presence. The MOD has conducted its investigation along similar lines, relying on documentary evidence and the testimony of key eyewitnesses.
By following our methodology and accumulating anecdotal, documentary, and physical evidence, and by interviewing eyewitnesses and key personnel, and analyzing the results, the investigator can assess the validity of the presence of chemical warfare agents on the battlefield. Because information from various sources may be contradictory, we have developed an assessment scale (Figure 1) ranging from "Definitely" to "Definitely Not" with intermediate assessments of "Likely," "Unlikely," and "Indeterminate." This assessment is tentative, based on facts available as of the date of the report publication; each case is reassessed over time based on new information and feedback.
Figure 1. Assessment of Chemical Warfare Agent Presence
The standard for making the assessment is based on common sense: do the available facts lead a reasonable person to conclude that chemical warfare agents were or were not present? When insufficient information is available, the assessment is "Indeterminate" until more evidence can be found.
This Case Narrative provides information concerning significant events relating to the discovery and testing of a storage tank suspected of containing chemical warfare agent. The reported discovery and testing of the storage tank, which was located next to the outside wall of the Kuwaiti Girls School in Kuwait City, Kuwait, took place in early August 1991. Both UK and US military elements tested the contents of the tank. Concern over the contents of the tank, coupled with the overlap in jurisdiction at the national and organizational level, resulted in four separate operations being conducted at the tank. These operations were carried out under the command of Major John Watkinson, 21st EOD Squadron, British Royal Engineers, as the UK had overall responsibility for EOD clearance in the area in which the tank was located. Various elements of 21st EOD Squadron along with other US and UK elements conducted these operations. The operations were as follows: 1) Major Watkinsons testing, 2) the Fox vehicle testing, 3) sampling of the tank, and 4) permanent sealing of the tank. These operations were not necessarily conducted by the same individuals and these individuals were not always aware of the other operations. This meant that some individuals ended their involvement with limited information and unanswered questions about the nature of the tanks contents. For a brief listing of the major individuals and organizations involved in the testing of the tanks contents see TAB E. For graphical representations of the involvement of the key individuals and organizations, see TABs F and G.
During these four operations, multiple tests were conducted using several chemical detectors, including two Fox nuclear, chemical and biological reconnaissance vehicles. Many of these tests gave positive indications for mustard agent, with the two Fox vehicles alarming for phosgene as well. A contemporary press report in the British newspaper The Sunday Observer also covered the story and reported that a container full of mustard agent had been discovered in Kuwait City.
In 1994, when Iraqi chemical weapons were suggested as a possible cause of Gulf War illnesses, events at the Kuwaiti Girls School became a focus of government and media scrutiny. After reviewing materials provided by the Department of Defense-including the data from multiple positive tests and hearing the testimony of those involved in testing the tank-the Senate Committee reviewing the incident concluded that chemical warfare agent was present in the storage tank. In the United Kingdom, Parliamentary questions born out of the US Senate Committee examination have repeatedly been raised.
A joint US-UK investigation, which began in 1997, uncovered evidence indicating the events at the Kuwaiti Girls School in 1991 were not as simple as they seemed, nor were the results of the on-site 1991 testing definitive. Included in this evidence was a copy of the Fox vehicles mass spectrometer tapes from the testing on August 9, 1991, as well as analysis of samples taken from the tank for laboratory testing, both of which were passed on request to DOD by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) in 1997. Analysis of the Fox mass spectrometer tapes by military chemical experts at the Edgewood Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ERDEC), molecular weight experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the manufacturer of the mass spectrometer used on the FOX, definitively and consistently shows that no known chemical warfare agent was present in the tank. Analysis of the Fox tapes did, however, indicate the presence of inhibited red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA). In addition, 1991 British analysis of samples taken from the tank stated that "the samples were entirely consistent with the contents of the tank being nitric acid."
Our investigation has unearthed further evidence which significantly bolsters the assessment that it was nitric acid not chemical warfare agent in the tank. Research revealed that Iraqi forces used the school as a test and maintenance facility for SILKWORM anti-ship missiles, which use IRFNA as their fuel oxidizer. This provides a plausible reason for positioning the tank at the school. In addition, the physical descriptions of the substance provided by those directly involved were not indicative of any known chemical warfare agent but are consistent with the presence of IRFNA.
Based on currently available information, we assess that chemical warfare agent was "definitely not" present in the storage tank at the Kuwaiti Girls School. We also assess that IRFNA "definitely" was present in the tank.
We further assess that all personnel involved in the testing of the tank at the Kuwaiti Girls School performed their duties in an exemplary manner. The equipment utilized by UK and US Armed Forces operated as it was designed, and all technical resources were employed properly.
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