WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department, which announced last year that classified chemical-detection logs from the 1991 Persian Gulf war were missing, has found lengthy excerpts from the logs in the home of an Army officer, officials said Thursday. A criminal investigation of the officer is now under way.
The officials said that the excerpts, which amount to about 15 pages of the estimated 150 pages of the logs that had been reported lost, were found in a recent court-ordered search of the home by investigators assigned to the Pentagon's inspector general.
It was not immediately clear whether the newly disclosed excerpts, which are expected to be made public shortly, will provide clues to the health problems reported by thousands of Gulf war veterans.
Defense Department spokesmen refused to identify the Army officer, although officials with knowledge of the investigation said that the officer was a chemical weapons specialist.
Portions of the logs that were made public last year showed that senior American commanders received -- and disregarded -- several reports that chemicals had been detected on the battlefield in the war.
The loss of the rest of the logs had prompted some veterans groups to accuse the Pentagon of covering up evidence showing that American troops had been exposed to Iraqi chemical and biological weapons.
The logs, which were supposed to record any detection of chemical or biological weapons on the battlefield, were maintained during the war for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the American-led alliance in the war, and his deputies in their headquarters compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
In a report to be released Friday, the inspector general, Eleanor Hill, said her seven-month investigation of the missing logs did not uncover "any evidence or credible information to support the theory that any individuals or organizations participated in a conspiracy to destroy or conceal the logs."
"No witnesses provided information that they had been directed or pressured to destroy or wrongfully dispose of the logs," the report said.
But the report does say that the complete sets of the logs, which were retained at one point both on paper and on computer disks, were probably destroyed sometime after the summer of 1994, despite regulations and other guidance in the Defense Department requiring them to be kept permanently.
"These requirements were not met by Centcom," Ms. Hill's report said, referring to the U.S. Central Command, the element of the Defense Department that was responsible for conducting the war.
"The most probable explanation is that these logs, in both hard copy and computer disk form, were destroyed at Centcom with other NBC-related documents in October 1994, or later, as part of an internal office relocation, personnel changes and movement of the NBC records," her report said. NBC refers to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The Pentagon has estimated that the original log book, which was compiled from the summer of 1990 to March 1991, was 180 to 210 pages long. Only 37 pages have been found.
The disclosure about the missing logs came in the midst of a furor created by the Pentagon in June 1996 when it announced that American troops had probably been exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons in the demolition of a massive ammunition depot in southern Iraq shortly after the war.
The announcement was a reversal for the Pentagon, which had insisted for years that there was no evidence to suggest that American soldiers had been exposed to the deadly chemicals.
Among the log pages missing were those from early March 1991, when the ammunition depot was blown up by American troops, releasing tons of the nerve gas sarin. The Defense Department has estimated that as many as 100,000 troops were exposed to low levels of the poisons as a result of the demolition.
Last March, the inspector general's office was asked to investigate the loss of the chemical-detection logs, and Ms. Hill's report describes an extensive investigation that included polygraph examinations of several witnesses and the use of three court-ordered search warrants.
Her report said the search of the Army officer's home turned up a 20-page document entitled "Log Extracts -- Biological Defense," which included 223 entries that investigators believe to have been excerpts from the original chemical-detection logs.
Fifty-eight of the entries were identical to entries in the 37 pages of logs that were made public last year.
"Since approximately 75 percent of the entries on the 20 pages of 'Log Extracts' contain new information, this equates to approximately 15 pages of new log entries," her report said. "As a result of this investigation, an Army officer is currently under criminal investigation for wrongfully taking and possessing the NBC desk 'Log Extracts' and other classified documents."
James Tuite, a former Senate investigator who oversaw a 1993 congressional investigation of the ailments of Gulf war veterans, called Ms. Hill's report "a last-ditch effort by the Pentagon to save its credibility at the expense of a soldier who was at least wise enough to retain the information."
"It's extremely ironic," Tuite said, "that the person who saved the documents is the one who is getting into trouble."
Ms. Hill and her investigators rejected a theory initially offered by the Pentagon about the missing logs: that they had been destroyed by a computer virus. The report said that the computer problems in 1990 were related to equipment and software failures, not a virus, and that "it appears that the suspected computer virus did not cause the loss of the missing logs."
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company