UK Provision of Information

DOD asked CBDE Porton Down, UK for an account of, and results from, the testing procedure which it had carried out on the samples taken from the tank. Based on Porton Down’s response, the DOD incorrectly inferred that portions of the NBC suit worn by the injured British soldier had been returned to CBDE Porton Down for testing.[196] The Committee heard testimony to the contrary. In fact, DOD officials had misinterpreted the information supplied by CBDE Porton Down. The suit, like all other used protective clothing, was burned in accordance with standard operating procedure. The information in CBDE Porton Down’s letter referred rather to the testing of the NBC suit materials during the fourth operation. However, DOD were unaware that this operation had ever been conducted and therefore assumed that CBDE Porton Down must be referring to the injured soldier’s NBC suit material.

Despite the information DOD presented indicating that the tank’s content was not chemical warfare agent, but rather IRFNA, it lacked contemporary evidence to prove or disprove the prior testing.[197] There was no apparent explanation for why IRFNA would be present at the school, the tank’s disposition remained unknown, and neither the original Fox tapes faxed to CRDEC in 1991 nor CBDE Porton Down’s analysis of the samples taken from the tank, could be accounted for. Further, the Senate Committee could not understand how the DOD could issue awards to the 54th Chemical Troop for discovery of chemical warfare agent in Kuwait if, as it was now claiming, agent was never present. This apparent contradiction was cited by reporters and authors suspicious of DOD’s conclusions.[198] Lastly, all evidence presented by either the UK or US against chemical warfare agent being in the tank was dated 1994 rather than 1991[199] - raising concerns that the analysis was biased.

At the time, neither the Committee nor the DOD was aware that the United Kingdom’s practice on the release of official information is governed by the non-statutory Code of Practice.[200] The British government is obliged to provide information on its policies, actions and decisions, but there is no commitment to the disclosure of pre-existing documents. Consequently, requests for information are often met by drawing the necessary information from existing documents rather than providing the documents themselves. When the letters provided to the DOD by the UK in 1994 are compared to the source documents dated 1991, the texts are virtually identical.

Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Investigation

In addition to Senate Committee review, the case was investigated by the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (PACGWVI). The PACGWVI was established by President Clinton to ensure an independent, open, and comprehensive examination of health concerns related to Gulf War service. In May 1997, this 12-member panel, consisting of specialists in a variety of disciplines, concluded that the tank at the Girls School contained chemical warfare agent. This determination was based on multiple positive detections as well as the lack of any contrary analysis contemporary with events in 1991.[201] In July 1997, UNSCOM officials testified to the PACGWVI that their inspections of Iraq’s chemical weapons program had yielded no evidence that Iraq moved chemical weapons into Kuwait.[202] In September 1997, DOD testified on the events as described in this narrative providing insight into the school’s use by the Iraqis, and the discovery of the previously lost Fox tapes.[203] The PACGWVI did not amend its May 1997 conclusion.

Subsequent Events in the UK

In October 1994, the investigations and concerns of the US Senate Committee were taken up in the United Kingdom. On October 13 and 14, 1994, press articles appeared in the Evening Standard and The Times newspapers which reported details of the Kuwaiti Girls’ School incident.[204] These articles quoted from Major Watkinson’s initial report on the first operation at the tank. This had suggested that the liquid in the tank might have been mustard agent. This report had been published during the US Senate investigation without the knowledge of the UK MOD. The articles also quoted from the testimony of then-Captain Johnson. As a result of these press articles, British Members of Parliament raised questions regarding the presence of chemical agent at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School.

The British Government responded that the contents of the tank had been analyzed at CBDE Porton Down and the results were consistent with the presence of nitric acid; there was no evidence of chemical warfare agent(s). On November 12, 1995, The Mail on Sunday published an interview with an ex-member of the British Army who had formerly served as a sergeant in 21st EOD Squadron.[205] This sergeant was the Bomb Disposal Engineer involved in removing samples from the tank during the second operation. He specifically referred to the results of the testing that had indicated the presence of mustard agent. He also questioned CBDE Porton Down’s letter to Parliament of January 25, 1995, which he thought had suggested that CBDE Porton Down had tested the injured British soldier’s NBC suit.[206] In fact, as indicated above, CBDE Porton Down’s letter had simply referred to "damage to the NBC suit material" and stated that "samples collected in Kuwait City were provided to CBDE Porton Down for analysis."[207] The samples referred to were the liquid samples taken by the Sampling Team during the third operation. The damage to the NBC suit material was based on anecdotal reporting, as well as the testing undertaken by the CO 3rd Troop, 21st EOD Squadron during the fourth operation at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School.

The UK/US Investigation

Despite reassurances by both UK and US governments, questions have continued to be raised about this incident. This, coupled with the overlap in jurisdiction at the national and organizational level during the four separate operations at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School prompted the DOD and UK MOD to conduct a joint review of the events surrounding the discovery, testing and disposal of the tank. Investigators from the US’s Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses working in conjunction with the UK’s Gulf Veterans’ Illnesses Unit and analysts from the US Intelligence Community set about trying to address issues of concern. Obtaining contemporary information about the testing and analysis of the liquid in the tank was a priority. In addition, it was important to determine whether the equipment which had been used at the time would register a false positive in the presence of a strong oxidizer such as IRFNA.

The UK/US investigation involved interviewing at least twenty-seven people who had been directly involved with the discovery, investigation and disposal of the tank in 1991, at least thirteen UK and fifteen US Government agencies, the United Nations, the Government of Kuwait and three non-governmental organizations.

Assessment of the Fox Tapes

In early 1997, unable to account for the original Fox tapes, the Department of Defense initiated tests utilizing the MM-1 mobile mass spectrometer to determine whether if IRFNA could cause the Fox vehicle to false alarm.[208] The Department of Defense was not at that time aware that a copy of the Fox tapes was still held on file at Porton Down and the MOD was not aware of DOD’s difficulty in producing a copy. Since IRFNA was not readily available, the tests were conducted using red fuming nitric acid (RFNA).[209] The difference between inhibited red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA) and red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) is that IRFNA contains an inhibitor such as hydrogen fluoride or hydrogen iodine to impede corrosion of the container.

During the 1997 testing, the MM-1, which is used on the Fox vehicle, initially alarmed for cyclosarin. The PACGWVI could not understand why the MM-1 alarmed for cyclosarin when exposed to RFNA during the 1997 testing, yet it alarmed for mustard agent and phosgene at the Girls’ School in 1991, which the DOD claimed was IRFNA.[210] Again, it is important to note that these tests were conducted using research grade RFNA rather than operational Iraqi IRFNA. According to the Project Manager, NBC Defense Systems at the US Army Chemical Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM)[211] , this difference may account for a variant in the alarm between the MM-1 laboratory trials versus the testing at the Kuwaiti Girls School; however, the spectrum remained the same.[212] Analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and DOD are also concerned about possible contamination of the samples used during the Fox testing at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School. Contamination could be caused by the corrosive effects of IRFNA on the sampling tube or the plunger used to take the sample. This difference in chemical composition, resulting from IRFNA reacting with the sampling tube or plunger, from that of the controlled CBDCOM sample, could have caused the Fox vehicles at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School to register a different alarm than the Fox vehicle used in CBDCOM testing. Regardless, when comparing the 1991 Girls’ School testing to that in 1997, one must note that both the 1991 and the 1997 spectrum analysis of the respective samples confirmed the presence of an unknown substance.[213] The 1997 testing also yielded valuable information in the form of a detection algorithm for RFNA. This unknown substance, as it was recorded, had an atomic mass unit 46 at 100% relative intensity, which is reflective of the pure RFNA.

In July 1997, during routine contact between DOD and MOD, DOD reported their difficulty in tracing copies of the Fox tapes from the second operation in 1991. The MOD therefore retrieved copies from CBDE Porton Down, where they were held, and forwarded them to DOD. The tapes were resubmitted to CBDCOM, and the Project Manager for NBC Defense Systems there responded as follows:

"None of the initial warnings for either phosgene or mustard agent were verified by the MM-1 mass spectrometers located in either of the two Fox NBC reconnaissance vehicles that were at the site. Personnel followed the proper and complete suspected agent verification scenario which included a second sample analysis and comparison to an internal library. In every retest, the MM-1 reported the spectrum analysis as ‘unknown.’ In the cases where the crew renamed this ‘unknown’ as an ‘extra substance’ in the library, the MM-1 identified the spectra as that ‘extra substance’. Ion mass 46 at 100% intensity was reported on every MM-1 tape, except one, and is identical to trials conducted at CBDCOM [Chemical/Biological Defense Command] using research grade red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) … The tapes from one of the Fox NBC reconnaissance vehicles indicate a mass 69 ion with 100% intensity. While this is a deviation from all other analyses which had mass 46 at 100%, it is easily explained. Coupled with the presence of other specific ions in significant amounts, this duplicates other known incidents of the fluorocarbon calibration gas escaping into the analysis system. Each of the three tapes from the MM-1 on this vehicle contains the presence of these peaks, indicating sample contamination with calibration gas. Subtraction of the calibration gas results in spectra which are similar to those of the other vehicle where ion mass 46 is the major component in the sample."[214]

Additional analysis of the 1991 Fox tapes conducted by Bruker Daltonics, the manufacturer of the MM-1 mobile mass spectrometer, and by the US Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology, confirmed this assessment. According to a representative from the National Institute of Standards and Technology:

"After examining the tapes from two Fox vehicles ... it is clear that there is no mass spectral evidence confirming the presence of either of the two CW [chemical warfare] agents reported (phosgene and HD [sulfur mustard]). ... the general finding that the largest peak is m/z 46, the principal peak in nitrogen dioxide, is consistent with the introduction of [inhibited] red fuming nitric acid into the mass spectrometers of both vehicles."[215]

A representative from Bruker Daltonics offered the following assessment:

"The tape [from vehicle C-23] shows that the system passed its automatic test on start-up indicating there were no major system failures. Approximately thirty minutes later, the system indicates an initial alarm that phosgene may be present.... Immediately, as called for to confirm the alarm in SOP [standard operating procedure], a spectrum is taken ... and the search of the 60 compound library indicates that the compound is unknown (not in the library of [chemical warfare] agents). Furthermore, it assigns the unknown compound a concentration ... approximately 200 times as intense as the ions used to initially alarm for Phosgene.... The most intense ion in the spectrum is mass 46 (100%).... For vehicle C-26, it appears from the spectrum at 12:51, that this system may have both hydrocarbon background and calibration compound. In this spectrum [mass] 69 is actually larger than the mass 46 (100% versus 62.3%).... At 13:01, mass 46 is now 100% ... the complete spectra in these tapes do not confirm the presence of CWA in the tank in question, but rather [are] consistent with the independent analysis that the brown oily liquid was in fact [inhibited red] fuming nitric acid."[216]

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