CIA failed to warn U.S. troops about Iraqi chemical dump

April 9, 1997

From Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Central Intelligence Agency admitted Wednesday that it failed to adequately disclose key intelligence about an Iraqi chemical weapons site before it was blown up by U.S. troops.

Some Gulf War veterans insist their medical ailments may be tied to exposure to poisons, such as sarin gas, at the Khamisiyah site.

The CIA released documents Wednesday showing it had a wealth of intelligence in 1986 that Iraqi gas weapons were stored at the dump.

A CIA official said the intelligence was only recently found, because of slip-ups, so U.S. troops were not told before the war of the possibility that gas weapons were present.

"We have got to make sure the lesson learned from this analysis changes how we do things, so that these types of mistakes aren't repeated," said Robert Walpole, special assistant to the CIA director for Gulf War illnesses.

Map and coordinates in hand

One document from a U.S. ambassador based in the region passed on exact coordinates for the Khamisiyah bunker, which were obtained third-hand from a source connected with the Iranian Air force.

The document, dated February 23, 1991, says the ambassador received a "hand-drawn map and some coordinates in Iraq that is described as a chemical weapons facility."

U.S. troops destroyed rockets filled with deadly sarin gas at the storage site for the first time on March 4, 1991. The Defense Department announced last year that the demolition might have exposed up to 20,000 U.S. troops to the gas.

The documents dispute CIA statements made in February indicating the agency did not identify Khamisiyah as a chemical weapons storage area until 1995.

An apology to veterans

"I give that apology (to Gulf War veterans and their families)," Walpole said. "We should have gotten that information out sooner."

Some 9,000 Gulf War vets have filed disability claims with the Veterans Affairs Department for illnesses they believe are related to the conflict, but VA and Pentagon officials said they have yet to find any single cause of the ailments.

About 80,000 veterans have signed up with the VA and the Department of Defense for examinations. The symptoms include neurological, respiratory and skin problems, known collectively as Gulf War syndrome.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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