GASSED IN THE GULF:
Did the CIA and the Pentagon cover it up?
A veteran CIA analyst says Iraq did use chemical weapons during the Gulf War, and that the U.S.
government knew it but did nothing to protect American GIs.
BY JEFF STEIN
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
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
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
(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
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
Jeff Stein writes about national security and federal law enforcement matters for Salon.