Pentagon was aware of Gulf chemical threat

WASHINGTON - A report prepared for the Air Force three full months before the Persian Gulf War indicates the Pentagon was informed that bombing Iraq's chemical weapons plants and storage bunkers was certain to release deadly nerve agents into the atmosphere in patterns that could endanger American troops.

The report - delivered to the Air Force on Oct. 5, 1990, by the Livermore National Laboratory in California well before the Jan. 17, 1991, start of the air war against Iraq - predicted a broad dispersion of chemical warfare agents over an area almost 10 times the size of exposures listed in subsequent Pentagon and CIA studies.

Congress and the media have sought the previously classified report for half a decade. It was finally released to former Senate investigator James Tuite III this week after several Freedom of Information Act requests dating to 1993.

Tuite, at the forefront of efforts to determine a cause of mystery symptoms afflicting more than 100,000 veterans of the 1991 war with Iraq, Wednesday provided Gannett News Service a copy of the report by Livermore's Atmospheric & Geophysical Sciences Division. He accused the military of a cover-up.

"The report conclusively establishes that the Pentagon had reason to believe prior to the war that our troops would be exposed to chemical agents," said Tuite. "It permanently tarnishes our image of the decision makers and top generals."

Promulgation of the report also drew an angry charge of military subterfuge from Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Human Resources, which has been investigating Gulf War Illnesses.

"It indicates a cover-up of a 1990 study that proves the Pentagon had knowledge before the gulf war that anticipated the bombardment of Iraqi chemical facilities would cause widespread fallout over U.S. troop positions," said Shays. "The study was classified and buried in (Department of Defense) files for seven years, and it took a Freedom of Information demand to pry it loose."

Shays called it a "deliberate deception of Congress and an unconscionable withholding of information vital to the health concerns of thousands of sick gulf war veterans." He said his panel will aggressively pursue the issue with the Pentagon.

Documents show the Livermore report was originally delivered to the Air Force's 5th Weather Wing at Langley Air Force Base near Hampton, Va. How far up the chain of command the Livermore report traveled is uncertain, but Pentagon spokesman Capt. Tom Gilroy told GNS Wednesday that routing slips show it at least reached the Tactical Air Command and its intelligence section.

"As of today, I can't tell how far up this went," he said. "We're doing our best to find the answer."

When GNS asked retired Gen. Colin Powell in April about the report and whether he'd seen it, he said, "I don't have any recollection. I just don't remember."

Powell and Desert Storm commanding Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf have insisted in frequent congressional testimony that they have no knowledge of chemical contamination of their troops. Schwarzkopf said earlier this year that the bombing run decisions were "agonized over for many months," but that intelligence and weather advisers continually told him "wind directions were such that our own troops would not be in danger."

The Livermore report predicted fallout from as little as 100 kilograms of toxic material in multiple storage bunkers could disperse far beyond the 50-kilometer (31-mile) radius that the CIA and Pentagon drew in studies last year for a probe of the exposures from blowup of an Iraqi ammo dump at Khamisiyah.

In that recent investigation, the Pentagon's Institute for Defense Analysis advised that nerve agent plumes from exploded Iraqi chemical facilities should be tracked for 72 hours - a time frame that, if applied to the 1990 Livermore formula, would put the downwind range exposure at about 378 miles and include much of the combat theater in northern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and southern Iraq.

Tuite stressed that declassified CIA material shows nearly 18,000 kilograms of deadly sarin gas were destroyed during allied bombing at Muthanna, one of Saddam Hussein's bigger chemical production and storage sites.

The Livermore report predicted wind direction and weather movement from the northwest to the southeast - directly toward allied troop deployments, a direction subsequent satellite photos confirmed on a frequent basis during the bombing period.

CIA documents recently declassified show Iraqi chemical and biological warfare production and storage facilities at more than 30 separate locations, most of which were bombed at least once.

The Livermore dispersal model is the same one used to chart fallout from Three Mile Island, the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the former Soviet Union, and the Kuwaiti oil well fires set by Iraqis during the last days of Desert Storm.

But Robert Walpole, the CIA official in charge of research on Gulf War Illnesses, noted Wednesday that the Livermore fallout research on Khamisiyah was based on hypotheticals, whereas later CIA and Defense Department studies used actual statistics and weapons figures dug up by the United Nations after the war: "Remember the Air Force was asking for potentialities - we were modeling for what actually happened, with known quantities."

He stressed that more sophisticated computer techniques have been developed in the seven years since the first report, that the recent CIA studies pushed "worst case" scenarios but still couldn't get the exposure cloud over most of the combat theater, and that Pentagon medical calculations show troops would have had to have been underneath a chemical plume for three days before showing even minimal symptoms.

The Pentagon's Gilroy noted: "The very first sentence of the Livermore report complains of 'a paucity of data regarding source terms' - meaning they didn't know anything about the number of rockets, types of gas, storage methods and such."

The Livermore lab was asked to participate in the more recent Institute for Defense Analysis study, too, and delivered a similarly dire report, but the IDA said it "did not provide predictions that were useful" - mainly because Livermore's models showed chemical agents being moved by higher altitude winds than the other recent studies.

Air Force officials were not the only ones worried about the allied bombing of Iraqi chemical plants in January 1991. Recently declassified Defense Intelligence Agency cable traffic shows officials in the former Soviet Union kept pestering the Pentagon for advice on "potential hazards from damaged Iraqi chemical facilities" and where the exploded nerve gas might disperse.

Igor Yevstafyev, former commander of Soviet chemical troops, suggested withholding information from coalition forces on chemical weapons Moscow had supplied to Saddam because "strikes on chemical and biological weapons facilities in Iraq territory could rebound on us and cause damage to the population of our country."

The DIA provided the Joint Chiefs of Staff extensive intelligence reports on which Iraqi bunkers and depots had been blown, but the Defense Department, almost three weeks later, instructed the State Department to tell the Soviet Embassy: "We have no reason to believe that damage caused by U.S.-coalition forces on nuclear, biological or chemical targets presents any threat to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union will be notified if it is determined that Soviet territory is threatened."

Meanwhile, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses indicated Wednesday it has seen the 7-year-old report but will not promise its inclusion in an upcoming report to the White House.

"We're familiar with that report," said spokesman Gary Caruso, "but we won't comment until we make our report to the president, scheduled for October 31, 1997."

By John Hanchette, Gannett News Service

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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