Oh, THAT Nerve Gas

By Art Buchwald
(C) 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate
Thursday, April 17 1997; Page C01
The Washington Post

Everyone in this country agrees that the CIA should be allowed to lie to protect its credibility.

The irksome question is, "To whom should they lie, and what should they lie about?"

For years the CIA has been lying to the military and Desert Storm veterans about chemical weapons that the Iraqis had stored in the desert -- and which the Americans could have been exposed to.

While veterans have been suffering from the effects of nerve gas, etc., the CIA has steadfastly denied the existence of chemical weapons in the combat area. Most people would now consider this a big fat lie.

The theory in Washington is that the CIA was protecting its backside because it looked as if the Agency had missed the boat. Or, worse still, it was so incompetent that one section didn't even share vital information with another.

No matter. The CIA apologized for its boo-boo last week and now the estimated 20,000 ex-GIs affected by the gas should feel better.

Sam Ribnick, a friend of mine who has been trying to get a hearing on the issue since 1992, said, "The CIA is an okay outfit. Very few people who screw up that badly would make a public apology. I like a secret service that eats humble pie."

I said, "Maybe they apologized because they would be sued for malpractice and they'd look even worse later on."

"I like to think that they did it for our American boys. Their apology indicates that not everyone who worked on the Iraqi desk during Desert Storm was a rocket scientist."

"Do you think that anyone will be fired for this blunder?" I asked.

Sam replied, "The CIA doesn't fire people who screw up -- it promotes them and even lets them keep their cellular telephones."

"I don't get it, Sam. They gave Aldrich Ames life in prison because he was responsible for the deaths of 10 agents on the CIA payroll. Shouldn't the Agency people responsible for this nerve gas boondoggle be shot?"

"Maybe, but a nice apology should suffice. In the past, being the head of the CIA meant never having to say you're sorry."

"But this might set a precedent and we could be listening to a mea culpa every week."

"The happy ending to this story is that the GIs who may have been afflicted by the Iraqi gas explosions now sleep better just knowing that the spooks in Washington feel bad."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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