Thursday April 17 2:55 PM EDT

Powell Says He Did Not Get CIA Weapons Warning

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - Retired top U.S. general Colin Powell said Thursday that he did not get a CIA warning that chemical weapons might be present when U.S. troops blew up an Iraqi arms dump after the 1991 Gulf War.

"None of us ... had any reason to believe that the blowing up of these bunkers was exposing our troops to a hazard for which they were not prepared," Powell told the Senate Veterans Committee.

Powell, who was chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, said he and Gulf War commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf would have taken different action if they had received the CIA warning.

"It now turns out that they had information that if I had known about at the time and if General Schwarzkopf had known about would have increased our level of sensitivity as to how we would go into those bunkers," Powell told the senators.

Further, he said, he probably would have ordered the chemical weapons found and captured to prove what kind of enemy Iraq President Saddam Hussein had been.

"I would have shouted it from the rooftops," Powell said. "I would have wanted everybody to know it."

The CIA saidWednesday that, despite mistakes, it warned Schwarzkopf's headquarters more than a week in advance that there might be chemical weapons at Iraq's Kamisiyah weapons dump, which U.S. troops blew up after the war.

Defense officials said Schwarzkopf's headquarters did act on the warning and relay it to several commanders. But a general who helped blow up the Kamisiyah dump said the CIA warning did not get to him or other demolition engineers.

The Defense Department said last year the demolition could have exposed 20,000 U.S. troops to chemical weapons, though there is no proof that any were in fact exposed.

Powell said he doubted there was any conspiracy in the CIA or Defense Department to withhold information six years after the Gulf War but said, "Why it isn't all just flooding out so everybody can see it I just do not understand."

"Frankly, the events of the last few days are somewhat outrageous with respect to who knew what when and documents that come flying out ... years after they should have been flying out."

He said if he was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "I would be raping and pillaging throughout the intelligence and operational community to get to the bottom of this."

Powell said he had had to assume at the start of the war that Iraq would use chemical weapons against U.S. troops since it had used them against Iran and its own people.

"The assumption we made was that they might use them and the darkest part of the first night of the war for me was waiting in my office to see whether any reports were coming in on the use of chemical weapons," he said.

Copyright © 1997 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

Return to Gulf Clippings Index ---- Return to Jim Turner's page ----