Fox tapes show no evidence of chemical warfare agent

WASHINGTON, February 24, 2000 (GulfLINK) - The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses released today a case narrative that focuses on the investigation of eight possible alerts for chemical warfare agents during the Gulf War. Investigators evaluated the alerts captured Feb. 1-27, 1991, on tape printouts from an XM93 Fox Chemical Reconnaissance vehicle assigned to the 24th Infantry Division. Based on interviews with Fox crewmembers, commanders, medical and chemical warfare staff members and the analysis of the Fox tapes by spectrometry and chemical warfare experts, investigators have determined that this Fox vehicle definitely did not detect the presence of chemical warfare agents.

The investigation into the "Fox Tapes" began in 1993 when a soldier forwarded a copy of some printouts from an XM93 Fox Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle's MM-1 mobile mass spectrometer. The soldier believed they would prove the presence of chemical warfare agents. After receiving the tapes, the Army's Forces Command forwarded the Fox tapes to technical experts for their analysis.

In 1996, the Defense Department began an investigation into Fox vehicle alerts that occurred during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, including those incidents reported by the soldier. In 1997, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses began its own investigation into these incidents. During their investigation, the committee obtained another copy of the tapes directly from the soldier. This copy of the tapes contained some additional information not contained on the original Fox tapes received in 1993, including another alert incident, some additional test information and spectra results.

"We really do not know why the information included on the second set of tapes was excluded from the tapes in the first place," said Jim Curren, one of the investigators looking into the incident. "However, we are very sure that both sets are from the same [Fox] vehicle."

Based on the two sets of tapes, investigators identified eight alert incidents. In each incident, the Fox vehicle issued preliminary alerts for a variety of chemical warfare agents and other chemicals, including those used to test the MM-1 mobile mass spectrometer's detection capability. According to Lynn Hall, another investigator, this was not unusual.

"During the initial identification step, the MM-1 [mass spectrometer], looks for a specific 'fingerprint' for the chemical compound and attempts to match it with those on the target list of chemical compounds," said Hall. "If an initial match with a chemical warfare agent is made, the operator must perform a procedure that verifies or denies the presence of the chemical warfare agent. When this procedure was performed in some of these alerts, it proved the absence of chemical warfare agents."

Of the eight incidents identified, four occurred during the air war when the Fox vehicle was conducting training missions near the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border and prior to the ground campaign. The remaining four alerts occurred during the ground war when the Fox vehicle was operating as a component of the 24th Infantry Division in Iraq.

Except for these tapes, there is no supporting evidence from other chemical warfare agent detectors and no confirmations from any full spectra analyses produced by the MM-1 mobile mass spectrometer to confirm the presence of chemical warfare agents. Since the end of the Gulf War, the United Nations Special Committee has inspected, inventoried and destroyed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, including chemical warfare agents and munitions. Several of the eight alerts could not be positive alarms based on the current knowledge of Iraq's chemical agent inventory and other factors. The substances that were noted on the alerts were generally not weaponized by Iraq or were stimulants used to check the operation of the MM-1.

Additionally, personnel near the Fox vehicle did not report any chemical alerts to senior officials and troops nearby did not exhibit any of the symptoms associated with chemical warfare exposure. These facts, combined with current information on the Iraqi chemical warfare agent inventory at the time of Operation Desert Storm led investigators to conclude that the alerts were false alarms.

The belief that the alerts detected by the Fox vehicle were false was supported by an earlier assessment made in 1993 by Fox experts at the Army's Chemical and Biological Defense Command in Edgewood, Md. The Fox vehicle experts concluded that proper procedures were not followed in operating the Fox MM-1 and for verifying

the initial alerts. Although they could not say so with absolute certainty, the Fox vehicle experts believed that all reported detections were false alarms.

Then, in 1998, investigators conducted a second analysis of the tapes. With more precise knowledge of the Fox's detection capabilities and interviews with key personnel, investigators concluded that this Fox vehicle definitely did not detect chemical warfare agents.

In conducting their investigation, the analysts relied heavily on the Army's 1993 analysis of the Fox tapes. Additionally, investigators conducted an analysis of the second set of tapes. Based on these analyses and interviews with key personnel, investigators concluded that this Fox vehicle definitely did not detect chemical warfare agents.

"In the nine years since the Gulf War, training, as well as the equipment, has been greatly improved," said Curren. "Fox crews are much more familiar with the equipment and aware of its capabilities. Training is much more intense and the crews much more knowledgeable in deploying the vehicle in the field."