WASHINGTON (Reuter) - The CIA said Wednesday it had intelligence about the location of an Iraqi chemical weapons dump but failed to clearly warn the military before U.S. troops blew it up at the end of the Gulf War, possibly exposing up to 20,000 soldiers to poison gas.
"We should have done better," Robert Walpole, special CIA assistant for Gulf War illnesses, said in releasing a report on the intelligence at a news conference.
The Central Intelligence Agency said it first found out about the Kamisiyah weapons dump in 1984 and had solid intelligence in 1986 that Iraq had stored gas weapons at the site. But when the Gulf War broke out five years later, Walpole said, the agency did not locate that intelligence and inform the U.S. military.
The Defense Department, responding to a controversy about lingering illnesses among Gulf War veterans, announced just last summer that up to 20,000 U.S. troops might have been exposed to chemical weapons when U.S. Army engineers blew up the dump in March 1991 just after the war.
It said that many U.S. troops were in the area, though it has found no good evidence so far that any U.S. troops were exposed to Iraq chemical weapons.
The CIA previously disclosed that it warned the military a month before the March 1991 demolition that Iraqi chemical weapons might be at Kamisiyah but Walpole said the agency did not name the site and gave only Iranian map coordinates for it.
When asked why the CIA did not apologize to Gulf War veterans and their families for not providing better warnings, Walpole said: "I give that apology. We should have gotten that information out sooner."
He said the CIA should have searched its files when the 1991 Gulf War erupted and found the 1986 intelligence on where Iraqi chemical weapons had been stored. It should have shared all of its intelligence more fully with the military.
He said the CIA spotted the first clue of possible chemical weapons at Kamisiyah, a special truck at the site, in 1984 but analysts did not know what it meant. By 1986, he said, there was solid intelligence of gas weapons at the site.
Walpole said the Feb. 23, 1991, CIA warning to the military of possible Iraqi chemical weapons at Kamisiyah, just over a week before U.S. Army engineers began demolition there March 4, came from information obtained by a U.S. ambassador. It originally came from the Iranian Air Force.
He said the warning was given to only a few U.S. military officials and contained only the coordinates of a place with "possible CW," meaning chemical weapons. But he said the military did relay the coordinates to allies' Gulf War headquarters in Riyadh.
Further, Walpole disclosed, U.S. intelligence intercepted a conversation among Iraqis a month after the demolition in which they said U.S. troops had blown up an Iraqi arms dump.
U.N. and U.S. officials dismissed Iraqi claims later that year that chemical weapons might have been at the Kamisiyah site, calling it a deception.
But Walpole said they might have given more credibility to the Iraqi statement if they had known about the April 1991 intercept of the Iraqi conversation.
He said one report has been found in which a CIA analyst concluded in the spring of 1992 that there was a distinct possibility allies had blown up Iraqi chemical weapons. But Walpole said the rest of the CIA did not know about that report until a recent search uncovered it.
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