The General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed the interim breaching narrative and included its findings in a report entitled, "Gulf War Illnesses, Procedural and Reporting Improvements Are Needed in DODs Investigative Processes." Based on those findings, the GAO stated that we should reconsider our assessment in the interim breaching narrative. The GAOs findings, and our investigation results follow.
A. Finding 1
1. GAO - Iraqs Artillery Fire in the First Minefield Breach
"[The Office of the Special Assistant] concluded that the Marines had encountered no Iraqi artillery fire as they moved through the first row of Iraqi minefields . However, our review of [the Office of the Special Assistant's] files disclosed a Marine Corps unit log entry indicating that Iraqi artillery and mortar fire was present during the first minefield breach . We also interviewed Marines who told us that Iraqi artillery and mortar fire was present as they passed through the first minefield. Consequently, we believe a delivery mechanism for chemical warfare agent may have been present."
2. Our Investigation
This revised case narrative makes clear that our discussion of artillery fire is related to Iraqs first minefield, specifically to lane Red one, the lane in which the Fox vehicle of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (1/6) alerted to the possible presence of chemical warfare agents.
The 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment command chronology noted that the unit never received a chemical attack. The battalion operations officer suggested that the log entry at 6:15 AM was incorrectly logged and the artillery attack occurred later, between the first and second minefields.
The majority of Marines we interviewed told us that there was no Iraqi artillery fire present in breaching lane Red one at the first minefield. The Fox commander told us, and testified before the Presidential Advisory Committee, that he witnessed no incoming artillery fire. Others who told us there was no incoming artillery or mortars included company commanders of the infantry unit and the Assault Amphibian Battalion that breached lane Red 1, the 1/6 NBC officer, and all three assault amphibian vehicle section leaders who commanded the first vehicles to enter the breaching lane and those that immediately followed the Fox vehicle. Additionally, the Marine reportedly injured by chemical warfare agents when the Fox alerted and an infantry platoon commander positioned in a hatch not five feet away from that Marine agreed that they received no artillery while breaching the first minefield in lane Red 1.
Two Marines recalled the presence of Iraqi artillery fire. Both place the time of the incoming artillery before the Fox vehicle alert. In addition, they recalled the artillery landed far to the rear of their positions and the position of the Fox vehicle when it alerted to the possible presence of chemical warfare agents. One of these witnesses recalled mortar fire at the first breach. Another Marine, driving that vehicle, stated there was no mortar fire present at the first minefield. The 1/6 NBC officer also recalled sporadic mortar fire.
Despite the 1/6 log entry and two Marines recollections of Iraqi artillery and mortar fire, there is no evidence to suggest that the artillery or mortar rounds described by the two witnesses contained chemical warfare agents. Based on the multitude of factors we analyzed, we do not believe that this artillery or mortar fire was a causal factor in the Fox vehicle alert in breaching lane Red one.
For additional information concerning the unit log entry and the artillery issue, see section III.G.5.b.
B. Finding 2
1. GAO - Chemical Agent Detector Paper Indications
"We also learned that the Commander of the 2nd Divisions Fox vehicle told [the Office of the Special Assistant] investigators that chemical detection paper taped to the outside of the Fox vehicle was noted to have changed colors after passing through the first minefield (indicating possible contact with a chemical agent). However, this information was not reported in [the Office of the Special Assistant's] narrative."
2. Our Investigation
M9 Chemical Detection Paper is designed to indicate contact with liquid chemical warfare agents. The Fox vehicle in breaching lane Red one alerted to the possible presence of three chemical warfare agents. Chemical warfare agent experts stated that if M9 tape contacted liquid chemical warfare agents, traces of these agents should have remained on the Fox vehicle had it passed through an area contaminated with liquid agents. However, when the Fox vehicle was checked with another chemical detector a short time later, no agents were detected on the vehicle. Furthermore, the US intelligence community does not believe that Iraq possessed the agents suspected to have caused the M9 paper reaction.
It is more likely that the M9 paper reacted to interferents, among them oil from the sabotaged oil wells in the immediate area, fluids from the vehicle, or a number of other interferents present in the breaching environmentinterferents that can cause M9 paper to falsely indicate the presence of liquid chemical warfare agents.
See section III.G.3 and III.G.4 for additional information.
C. Finding 3
1. GAO - Review of the Fox Vehicle Printout
"As mentioned in the case narrative, three different laboratories had reviewed the Fox vehicle printout and concluded that the detections were probably false alarms. The narrative did not point out, however, that one of the three laboratories had also said that it could not rule out the possibility of the presence of a chemical warfare agent."
2. Our Investigation
We provided the tape that recorded the Fox mobile mass spectrometers (MM-1) results to the US Armys Chemical and Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Bruker Daltonics (a nationally renowned expert on the MM-1) for analysis. This narrative more completely reports the findings of all three laboratories.
CBDCOM determined that the procedures used by the Fox crew were insufficient to confirm the presence of chemical warfare agents. The CBDCOM Fox experts concluded the presence of high concentrations of interferents and the short time span between these responses meant the presence of the three chemical warfare agents was highly unlikely. However, they could not with great certainty conclude that such agents were not present.
NIST did not caveat its response, indicating the results were false detections caused by interference with complex hydrocarbon mixtures.
Bruker Daltronics, the expert on the mobile mass spectrometer in the Fox vehicle told us the results were consistent with driving through an area with large amounts of oil in the background. According to their analysis, interferents were the most likely candidates for the Fox alerts.
See section III.G.4 for the analysis of the Fox vehicle tapes.
D. Finding 4
1. GAO - Intelligence Evidence Not Included
" A classified document in [the Office of the Special Assistant's] files contained intelligence evidence not included in the narrative that could support the possibility of an Iraqi chemical attack. This information, some of which has since been declassified, refers to a report indicating the end of a chemical attack on February 24, 1991, the same date as this incident."
2. Our Investigation
We sought additional information regarding the document referred to by the GAO from a US intelligence agency. Their response did not further clarify the contents of this document. Although the document is dated the day of the breaching operations (February 24, 1991), there is little that links it to breaching operations. The document originated hours after the reported lane Red 1 minefield breaching incident, contains no location, mentions no units, and does not implicate Iraqs forces in this attack. Furthermore, the message indicates that there was no evidence that a chemical attack actually occurred.
See Tab E, section E for a discussion.
E. Finding 5
1. GAO - Assessment Subject to Question
"We believe that [the Office of the Special Assistant's] assessment of "unlikely" in this case is subject to question. While the information we found does not conclusively prove that chemical warfare agents were present, it does increase the potential that some might have been present. In our opinion, the weaknesses we found in this case narrative are sufficient to warrant [the Office of the Special Assistant's] reconsideration of its assessment."
2. Our Investigation
We have reassessed the findings of this investigation as requested by the GAO. Our examination of the events and related facts strengthened our confidence in our interim case narrative assessments of unlikely. The assessments in this revised case narrative are well supported by the available evidence.
See section III.F.4 for the assessment of the incident in the 1st Marine Division and section III.G.7 for the assessment of the incident in lane Red 1.
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