last week, an official White House panel looking into the so-called "Gulf War Syndrome" harshly criticized the Pentagon for dragging its heels on the release of information. Patrick Eddington, a 34-year-old former CIA intelligence analyst, believes he knows why: The Pentagon and the CIA have evidence that American soldiers were contaminated by Iraqi chemical weapons during the Gulf War, but are suppressing it.
In "Gassed in the Gulf: The Pentagon-CIA Cover-up of Gulf War Syndrome" (Insignia Press), which is being published this week, Eddington lays out what he considers to be proof that Iraq employed a "chemical/biological cocktail" against U.S. troops. He blasts both the Clinton and Bush administrations and retired Gen. Colin Powell, who, he charges, knew that U.S. soldiers went into Desert Storm wearing defective gas masks and protective suits. Powell has strongly rejected the allegation.
Last October Eddington, who specialized in Soviet and Iraqi military forces, ended his nine-year CIA career after, he says, senior agency officials repeatedly suppressed the evidence he had gathered. Having completed his book, Eddington says he will be continue to press lawsuits against the U.S. government to compel the release of more information on Iraqi gas attacks.
Salon met with Eddington at "Charley's," a CIA hangout just down the road from the agency's front gate in Langley, Va., and asked him about his findings.
What does the Pentagon have that the White House panel looking into Gulf War Syndrome might find useful?
Well, beside everything else, they don't know what they have. In the fall of '92 I went over to the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and found 66 four-drawer file cabinets full of captured documents -- which had never been translated! Now I don't read Arabic, but I do read military, and I do recognize military symbols. It was clear some of these documents were NBC (nuclear/biological/chemical) related -- you can see the symbols. In addition, when we occupied northern Iraq, the Kurds gave us something like 40 tons of captured documents. I don't know where they're being held right now, maybe the National Archives, but what's in that stuff? Maybe it'll have something to do with chemical warfare, but we'll never know until we look at them.
You are charging that the Clinton administration is covering up something that happened under George Bush. Why would they do that?
Money. It comes down to money. If you have to admit that all these people were exposed -- and it's not just the 100,000 on the VA (Veterans Administration) and DoD (Department of Defense) rolls now, it's more like a quarter of a million plus -- if you have to give them anything approaching 100 percent disability, that's a hell of a lot of money to pay out over the course of the lifetime of a veteran. Secondly, they don't want to deal with the issue of the equipment. Those gas masks and suits haven't been fixed. And I'm not the only one to say that. The GAO (General Accounting Office) said it last year.
What evidence do you have that Colin Powell knew that this equipment was defective?
In the fall of 1990 the Army's Foreign Science and Technology Center in Charlottesville, Va., was reporting that the overgarments -- the nuclear-biological-chemical gear our guys were wearing -- were completely vulnerable to penetration by dusty chemical agents, which we knew were in the Iraqi inventory. And there was also evidence that the gas mask failure rate was 26 to 44 percent. Powell knew all of that, because the Joint Chiefs of Staff was "chopped" on all those messages.
That doesn't prove that Powell personally knew.
You're talking about a gas mask failure rate of 26 to 44 percent; that affects all our forces -- in Europe, Korea, the Gulf. It's a macro-deficiency. It would be impossible for him not to know about something that serious. We don't have him signing off on a memo, but can we show that the message went to the Joint Staff, which Powell headed? Yes. There were also constant reports during the war.
(Editor's note: Commenting on these charges, Gen. Powell was quoted as follows in the April 18, 1997, New York Times: "I reject any suggestion that somehow we were indifferent to the needs of our troops." Powell insisted that the Defense Department had made "every effort to give our troops the best that American technology and all of our research and development had provided and developed over the last 40 years" in protection from chemical weapons.
(Regarding the mask problem, the following is from "Marine Corps NBC Defense in Southwest Asia," Marine Corps Research Center, Research Paper #92-0009, July 1991, page 39: "Unit masks tested by the M14 tester have typically demonstrated a 26-40 percent failure rate over the years."
(In a separate document, released to Eddington under the Freedom of Information Act, the Marine Corps Logistics Base at Albany, Ga., noted that:
"The masks which have been returned from [southwest Asia] and retested show that suspect serviceability rates ... continue." -- From a December 13, 1990, memo from Lt. Col. G.H. Hughey, Director, Materiel Division MARCORLOGBASE Albany, to Jack Hart, Principal Director, Storage and Distribution Directorate)
What's the evidence that Iraq actually used chemical weapons?
We saw a lot of message traffic during the war that indicated this was going on. The troops were talking about alarms going off indicating that the CB (chemical/biological) agents were present. That was the key for me. When people tell me an M8 alarm (a mechanical device that measures the presence of gas) goes off, that's not entirely persuasive. But if they say an M8 alarm went off and they did a 256-kit test (a field test for specific toxics) that showed positive for blister agents, that's when I throw up the yellow flag. That's when you know something was going on.
But the Pentagon knocked down those reports during the war.
Right. If anybody came up with any sample, any chemical munitions, it all went to the Joint Captured Material Exploitation Center, which was a black hole. People would give them data, and they would never get an answer back. They would be told it was on a "need-to-know" basis only.
You're saying it was kept secret. Why?
Keeping it secret finessed the problem of the public finding out and demanding massive retaliation -- the unthinkable, maybe even nuclear retaliation. Either we knew they did it and we did nothing, or even worse, they did it and we didn't figure it out until after the fact.
How could Iraq use chemical weapons without our knowing it at the time?
I think the Iraqis were probably firing artillery shells or rockets with low ranges of chemicals. That way there wouldn't be any massive and immediate fatalities. The soldiers would just get sick over time. It would be hard to be sure what caused it.
There were also reports of a Czech chemical unit assigned to Desert Storm finding a puddle of liquid gas on the Saudi side of the battle lines. What did you make of those reports?
It was a result of an attack, there's no doubt about it. Whether it was air delivered or tank-sprayed, who knows. But it's not a naturally occurring substance. You're just not going to find a puddle of mustard gas in the desert. I also debriefed the American officer who was the liaison officer to the Czechs. The Pentagon has known for five-plus years what the real story was.
What prompted you to look into all this?
My wife, Robin, who also worked for the CIA as a weapons analyst, brought home a report by the Senate Banking Committee, which was looking into it because someone on the committee, (Sen.) Don Riegle (D-Mich.), has so many veterans in his state. She handed it to me and said, "They were gassed." Since I was still in the Army reserves when the war began, it could've been me that got called up and gassed. There was no way I was going to walk away from it.
What did you do?
I sat down and read the whole report, then decided to go back and try to reconstitute all the historical data I could get about what happened -- the locations of the chem and bio munitions, where the decontamination stations were set up, and anything else that had been published after the war that indicated attacks may have occurred. For the first two or three months, February through May of 1994, I asked friends who had access to the agency's primary database, where a lot of stuff is stored, to help me. One person did a lot of safe runs for me, pulling up stuff and printing it out. Once I got to headquarters I had access myself. At that point it was easy to just type in keywords and pull up stuff.
It's that easy to get information from CIA computers?
It was easy to get stuff out of the DI (Directorate of Intelligence), but I could never get anyone in the DO (Directorate of Operations) to play ball with me. And in retrospect, it's pretty clear why -- they're sitting on a lot more information, even now. I'm quite sure of that.
What did you find?
First, that they (the CIA) knew about the chemical attacks. Later, I found they had deliberately excluded looking closely at any kind of Defense Department information. They hadn't looked at any unit information. They hadn't debriefed vets. They would not look at medical data having to do with chemical exposure. They would not look at any of that stuff, even though they wrote assessments in 1993 agreeing with the official Pentagon line.
Why didn't the CIA challenge the Pentagon line?
They sold out. They created an entire office to do one thing and one thing only -- to improve support for the military. That translates into over 5,000 military personnel coming through CIA every year for orientation tours and hundreds of CIA personnel providing information to the military on a daily basis. When you are that much in bed with another agency, and that relationship helps you justify your existence to Congress, are you then going to point the finger at that agency for being involved in suppressing information about troops being exposed to chemical agents? The answer is no, you're not going to do that.
How did the CIA deal with you when you started raising questions?
I was blown off. From day one they were looking basically to prevent us from getting any additional information, to wall us off and prevent us from going any further with this. In every meeting we had, they had an agency attorney present. Now, I had been involved in many analytical battles regarding the Soviets or Third World problems. I've never seen an agency attorney present when we discussed those kinds of things. Now, we had counsel there. It was an obvious attempt at intimidation. I mean, it was just flagrant.
Did they go beyond that?
In February '96, I got two very nasty calls from the CIA's Office of Personnel Security, Special Investigations Branch. Those folks engage in counter-intelligence operations -- they ferret out spies. In the course of these conversations, I was asked why I put in a Freedom of Information request for information on this subject, and they quizzed me on my publication activities. I immediately blasted back and said, "That's a First Amendment issue, don't even think about going there." So we had this really nasty dialogue, and that was my first indicator they had an active, ongoing investigation of me.
What about friends that you and Robin had in the agency?
A very close friend of mine came up to me in the hallway and said, "Hey, what's with this Gulf War thing? A lot of people who I really respect just don't think the same thing you do." I asked him, "Have the people you work with debriefed any Gulf War veterans? Have they looked at any captured Iraqi documents? Have they looked at the total intelligence record? Have they looked at operational logs?" The answer to all those questions was "No," and he knew it. And that was the last conversation we had.
May 7, 1997
Motto of the CIA's "oversight" committee: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
BY DAVID CORN
WASHINGTON -- Imagine if the head of a secret, $30 billion-a-year enterprise that recently had been involved in some real screw-ups -- cover-ups, failed operations, drunks, liars and traitors on the payroll -- came before a committee that was overseeing your business. You'd expect some pretty tough questions to be asked.
That is not what happened when President Clinton's latest nominee to head the CIA, George Tenet, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee for his confirmation hearing Tuesday. The vigilance displayed by our elected representatives veered between lackadaisical interest and outright boredom. Tenet had to put up with barely three hours of softball questions, and more than half of the committee did not bother to return after the lunch break. The day provided evidence of why intelligence oversight is considered an all-too accurate pun.
From the moment Tenet was selected -- after Tony Lake's nomination crashed and burned -- he's been a shoo-in for the post. After all, he used to be staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a fact Republicans on the committee fondly recalled, figuring he would be well-trained in the skill they most appreciate: the care and feeding of committee members.
As a former staffer for the National Security Council and deputy CIA director (a post he has held since 1995), he has not done much to irritate the rank and file of the clandestine world either. In fact, last year he pleased many in the CIA by pulling the security clearance -- and, thus, effectively ending the career -- of State Department official Richard Nuccio, who had shared classified information on an agency cover-up with a congressman on the House Intelligence Committee. Nuccio's action triggered a public scandal regarding CIA activity in Guatemala, and the spooks wanted his head. Tenet obliged.
Still, the dispatch with which the committee acted was practically embarrassing. In the afternoon session, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., looked at all the empty seats on the rostrum and sheepishly asked, "Where is everybody?" There were a few interesting moments -- which probably tell more about the purported overseers than the nominee. Several senators asked about the CIA's knowledge of chemical weapons in Iraq during the Gulf War (see top Newsreal story). Tenet said that management had erred by not providing enough resources to CIA analysts working on this matter and that he shared in the blame. In confirmation hearings of years past, it would have been customary for senators to lash into Tenet for his role in this mess. Yet, there was no criticism. And no senator inquired about a statement that Tenet released in February maintaining that the CIA had no information on chemical weapons at an Iraqi site. How had he come to be so misled by his underlings? Did he intend to discipline anyone for passing him such bad information? None of this was brought up. Doing so would have made everyone -- Tenet, the CIA, the committee -- too uncomfortable.
Tenet issued the obligatory rhetoric about ensuring that CIA employees act responsibly. But he refused to criticize those who had engaged in blunders -- so as to not diminish precious morale at the agency. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., noted that an internal CIA report had recommended punishment for 23 agency officials in the aftermath of the Aldrich Ames spy case, yet only 11 were disciplined. He asked Tenet to comment on this apparently light response. Tenet declined to do so, and the senator did not push.
There were no questions for Tenet about the CIA's refusal to make its budget public. Nothing about its refusal to disclose information it possesses on death squads in Honduras that operated in the 1980s. (A governmental inquiry in Honduras has requested the material.) He was not asked about recent allegations that the CIA had become involved with drug traffickers while supporting the contras in Nicaragua.
In fact, Tenet repeatedly declared it was time to stop looking to the past -- words doubtless appreciated in the halls at Langley.