Sarin Records `Lost'

Pentagon blames computer virus

February 28, 1997 New York Newsday By Patrick J. Sloyan
Washington Bureau

Washington -- Most of the records of poison gas detections by U.S. troops during the Persian Gulf war were lost or partly destroyed by a computer virus that escaped from a game disk being played at Desert Storm headquarters, the Pentagon reported yesterday.

The report quoted Army Maj. Patrick Fogleson as saying computer memories were erased because of an electronic infection. "Maj. Fogleson said it was called the Jerusalem virus and it was introduced by one of the liaison officers who brought it into the Joint Operations Center on a disk with games on it," the Pentagon report said.

Other copies were mislaid, lost in the mail or simply vanished, the Pentagon said.

Within hours the National Gulf War Resource Council, which represents veterans suffering from the mysterious Gulf War Syndrome, said the Pentagon report was further evidence that an independent investigation was needed. "This indicates incompetence or a cover-up," said Paul Sullivan, spokesman for the council.

Sullivan, through a Freedom of Information lawsuit in 1994, got the Pentagon to make public 11 of the 36 surviving pages. All of the alarms listed were dismissed by the Pentagon as false or inconclusive readings. Some of the 78,000 Gulf vets suffering from postwar illnesses suspect chemical munitions have contributed to their ailments.

Deputy Defense Secretary John White presented the report to the Senate Armed Services Committee, where until yesterday most members have defended the 8-month-old Pentagon investigation into the possible exposure of 20,800 American soldiers to sarin nerve agent during the 1991 war.

"I'm not satisfied," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the panel's ranking Democrat. "There is a lot of frustration here in regards to the way the Defense Department has handled information about chemical weapons at Khamisiyah."

Khamisiyah was an Iraqi army ammunition complex in southern Iraq where U.S. Army engineers destroyed munitions containing 14 tons of sarin March 4 through 10, 1991.

Last year the Pentagon admitted investigators were searching for missing reports about Khamisiyah at Central Command, headquarters for Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. They were maintained during the war in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by members of the Nuclear, Biological, Chemical section.

White said that only 38 of an estimated 200 pages were recovered although three separate sets of reports were kept each day of the war. Officers and sergeants using computers entered the time, unit and location of reports of chemical alarms from frontline outfits. Duplicate reports were maintained at lower-level headquarters.

Every few days, White's report said, information on the hard disks of the laptop computers was recorded on floppy disks. When the war was over, the report indicated, a single floppy could record all of the reports. An additional printed copy was filed with the floppy disks in filing cabinets at the headquarters.

With the onset of the Jerusalem virus, Fogleson said, a software tool was used to scrub both the hard disks and the floppies. Efforts to recover the data later failed. "Fogleson estimates that as much as 50 percent of the data on the floppy disks was lost from both the virus attack and the recovery operation," the report said. Malfunctioning computers were also blamed for some missing information.

But other copies were made -- on printers and floppies -- and shipped back to U.S. headquarters. One set appeared to be lost in the mail. Another vanished from a safe at Army Chemical Warfare headquarters at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

A 1993 House Armed Services Committee investigation resulted in a search for the files at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.

Army SFC. Clement Craddock told investigators he had seen six to nine boxes of floppy disks "which contained logs as well as other files related to the Gulf war."

According to the report, the last sighting of the logs came two months after Sullivan sued to obtain the documents in August, 1994. That October Craddock boxed up all the records in anticipation of a move to another office.

"When he returned a few days after, the document-filled boxes were gone," the report said.

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