DoD News Briefing: Dr. Bernard D. Rostker, Special Assistant for Gulf War Illness
Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.
Before I turn over the podium to Dr. Rostker, I have a couple of announcements.
First, I'd like to welcome two news executives from Italy who are visiting today under the auspices of the U.S. Information Agency's visitor program. Welcome, gentlemen.
We also have 41 officers and civilians from the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, who are currently attending the Basic Public Affairs Officers Course. Welcome to all of you.
Finally, I'd just like to remind those of you who are interested, that tomorrow, Secretary Cohen will host a full honors arrival ceremony to welcome Second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Sultan of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the River Parade Field at 1 p.m. There will be a brief media availability following that ceremony. The media have to be on the parade field no later than 12:40, and for more information, check with Terry Mitchell in DDI.
Now it's my pleasure to turn over the podium to Dr. Bernard Rostker. As all of you know, Dr. Rostker is Special Assistant to the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary on the subject of Gulf War Illness. Dr. Rostker?
Dr. Rostker: Good afternoon.
As you know, we have made available to the press and the public the case narrative on Khamisiyah. I'd like to put it in perspective.
When I took over the investigative function, it was very clear that we needed to pull together and to share with our veterans, congressional staffs, the public in general, what we knew on the various cases that were under investigation. So I ordered the preparation of a series of case narratives, the first of which is on Khamisiyah and is being distributed today. We expect more will come in the weeks and months ahead as we provide a report to the American people.
This is an interim document. It represents what my office knows about this particular case at this time. There's a cover sheet on it which has a public appeal to anyone who has other information to please come forward, and there's an 800 number that's contained in it.
In addition to this inquiry in Khamisiyah, there are two other inquiries that are currently underway. One by the Army Inspector General, we expect that to be completed in the next two months; and a further one by the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight, Walt Jaiko, and that deals with the intelligence aspects of Khamisiyah, and we expect that to be completed later in the spring.
Putting all of that in perspective, I'd be happy to take any questions that you may have about the document.
Q: Could you crystallize it for us. What kind of picture does this paint of what happened as you attempted to investigate what happened at Khamisiyah? Does it show a cover-up? Does it show honest mistakes? Does it show miscommunication, misjudgment? What conclusion should we draw from this?
A: First of all, the document covers a range of topics concerning Khamisiyah. It covers the military operations in the vicinity of Khamisiyah, the occupation of the Khamisiyah depot area by the 82nd Division, the detonation of the depot, the subsequent visits by the United Nations, UNSCOM, and then goes into our understanding of the information.
We have the great advantage today to look at the whole situation from a, if you will, a God's eye view. I liken it to looking down on top of a bee hive. We have a bee here and a bee here, and we can see the total picture, but from the perspective of the people who were doing the analysis in real time, that picture looked very different. I think you can see that in the Khamisiyah narratives.
There are clear indications after the fact and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight where we wish the path had gone, but that isn't the reality of what happened on the ground. So what we have is a number of false starts. Starting in 95, some dogged actions, particularly by the CIA to put the pieces together, and finally, the pieces coming together, ultimately, in a United Nations visit in May of 1996, leading to Defense's announcement last June.
There is no question that there were leads that were not followed, but there were just people doing their job, trying to do it as best they could.
Q: Can you also clarify for us the levels of Sarin? They go all the way from an official briefing saying that United Nations inspectors found plastic sleeve liners all the way to the CIA report which implies that the shells were loaded with Sarin. Maybe that's a misnomer. How much do you feel was actually there? We've been talking about low levels, low concentrations of Sarin over the troops. Is that true? Were they higher than low? And when do you think you'll have a definitive answer as to the number of troops that were in the area?
A: Well, let's break it down into its parts.
We know that the UN found Sarin in rockets in October of 1991 and in March of 1992. There are only guesstimates of how many rockets might have been exploded by U.S. troops. As you know, the Institute for Defense Analysis has an expert panel looking at that whole issue. So in terms of what exposure there was in the immediate area and down-wind, I think we have to wait for the IDA panel.
In terms of the people who were at Khamisiyah, it is very clear that the estimate of 20,000, based upon units that were in the Khamisiyah area, has to be viewed as a minimal number. There were other units that the database does not capture. Moreover, that Khamisiyah lies adjacent to a major north/south highway, Highway 8. We have no clear indication and will never have a clear indication of how many people may have transited those routes during that time period.
Q: Quick follow up. Do you know when the IDA is going to have its report out?
A: We're in fact, meeting with IDA this afternoon, but I expect it sometime toward the end of next month.
Q: More than just the leads were not followed up. Could you put this in context? What other things did not happen? What other things went wrong? Tick them off.
A: Let me say things that I think went right, and that still are somewhat of a puzzlement.
It is very clear in the narrative that the troops that went into Khamisiyah followed the right protective measures. They went in with the appropriate chemical detection equipment, they were dressed in MOPP 4 and we have several contemporaneous accounts of this.
They did not find chemicals. To this day, one of the great puzzlements about Khamisiyah is that the troops that were on the ground and executed the destruction of the ammunition storage point of Khamisiyah, still to this day do not believe there were chemicals at Khamisiyah. What we have is the certain discovery of chemicals at two of the sites, the UN sites -- the pit and the mustard cache -- and the remnants of rocket shells with chemical liners which are a clear indication of those kinds of munitions in Bunker 73.
So I think the troops showed the appropriate respect for the unknown at the depot, and that's a positive. But putting the whole story together, it still remains in many ways an enigma.
Q: As I read this, the interviews with the platoon leaders who were at Khamisiyah, the engineers, the quotes from them are taken from a press conference?
A: Some. And some of the quotes are from lead sheets. I don't have the specific footnotes.
Q: Have your investigators gotten sworn statements from the guys running the operation?
A: The only time we've gone to getting sworn statements has been our inquiry on the chem log. So the normal procedure was not to take sworn depositions.
Q: Have you got any depositions, did you do any interviews, with the platoon leaders at Khamisiyah?
A: Yes, we have.
Q: All of them, or...
A: There were only three of them.
Q: Three platoon leaders there.
A: The Army IG has also been engaged in and has taken interviews with over 300 of the people at Khamisiyah.
Q: What's the worst case scenario in your mind, right now, as far as veterans who think they've been affected by radiation from this facility? What's the worst case scenario? Fourteen tons of Sarin in the air from...?
A: I think you'll have to wait for the IDA analysis to determine what they think it was.
Let me just make the point that if anyone has a concern about their health, and this means anyone who was around Khamisiyah or any Gulf veteran, we implore them to come in and take a physical evaluation either at the VA or DoD. That remains our most important concern.
Q: One final thing. On page five is it, or seven... you list a series of questions that faced you when you were appointed to this job. How many chemical warfare munitions were in the bunker and the pit? Were two separate groups in the pit? This is all basic information, basic questions that...
A: There is conflicting testimony in all of that. The Army IG is heavily engaged in sorting out some of those questions, but they still remain in conflict, even to this day.
Q: Last year we heard from the Eddingtons the charge that the CIA had hundreds of documents that showed U.S. troops may have been exposed to chemical weapons in the Gulf. At the time we were told that those classified documents were not clear, that they were ambiguous about what they showed. But the CIA documents that were just recently declassified and put on GulfLINK seem pretty unambiguous in that they state that the evidence that the rockets were found, and that it appeared that U.S. troops destroyed them, and it even raises the question that troops may have been contaminated.
What does that say about... Is there a credibility gap here in terms of what we were told last year and what we're hearing now? And are there more CIA documents that are even clearer on this point?
A: You know what I know about CIA documents, so I really have no other information.
But I think you need to put those two messages which we discussed last week or the week before, in context. The intelligence community was privy to some information that UNSCOM had uncovered chemical weapons at Khamisiyah. It was the general consensus of the intelligence community at the time, including the UN, to be very suspicious of the Iraqi reports. UNSCOM even shared that with the Security Council in their report on 4 December.
The intelligence community tried, as we now know, to identify the American units that may have been at Khamisiyah, and they went to the component commander, to the Army commander in the Gulf at some level, and we don't know what level, and inquired of who was at Khamisiyah. It's important to stress we don't know what level, because as you well know, the [New York] Times article today highlights that the Army knew, but it is not clear what is meant by the Army knowing. In fact in the second message, which is the intelligence community's attempt to, since the 24th Division had been identified to them incorrectly, but identified to them, they contacted the 24th Division and they contacted them by talking to a captain in the G-2 section. Well, that hardly constitutes the Army knowing.
Q: My direct question, doesn't this release of CIA documents show that the Eddingtons were right, and that there were documents being held that showed, that were clear and unambiguous?
A: I don't think the Eddingtons in their discussions were talking about these documents, and I don't know what else they might have.
Q: These documents would suggest that there were specific requests made for appropriate action to be taken, suggests that there ought to be other documents which corroborate what happened?
A: I don't know that. I don't know that.
Q: Dr. Rostker, have you made any effort to find out who within the Army Central Command received the message from the CIA asking them to find out what was going on?
A: Six years later a phone call to somebody in CENTCOM, I wouldn't even know where to go.
Q: You could have gone to the CIA person, for example, and asked who did you contact at...
A: We don't know who the CIA person even in the discussion was.
Q: You know that General Stuart was in charge of intelligence at ARCENT, right?
A: Yes, Pat.
Q: Did you ask him?
A: No, we have not asked him.
Q: (Inaudible) I don't get that.
A: But we followed through... I can tell you we followed through, as you know, at Fort Stewart, with the person who was contacted, where we know the person, and that was at a very low level and it went to no place.
Q: With all due respect, to ask the guy who... this guy doesn't remember who he got a phone call from, but can't you work it the other way? Who made the phone call from ARCENT, and who within the CIA...
A: ARCENT didn't make the phone call. Somebody in the CIA channel made the contact.
Q: The memo suggested that the CIA contacted ARCENT.
A: Right, but we have no indication who at ARCENT.
Q: Have you attempted to find out who the CIA person was and who the ARCENT person was?
A: No, we did not.
Q: Isn't that a logical question to ask, if you're trying to find... If you contacted the guy at the 24th, why wouldn't you try to find out who the other people involved in the conversation are?
A: Your point is well taken, and we'll go back and try to do that. I haven't done it.
Q: This is a narrative that is supposedly based on your investigation of this issue. Why wasn't that sort of basic question pursued?
A: We did not pursue that question.
Q: Do you know why there wasn't any thought given at least to the potential that it wasn't the 24th ID? We're talking about half a million soldiers in the Gulf, and there were a lot of units...
A: I would...
Q: If it looks as if there might have been another unit involved...
A: We know there was another unit involved.
Q: Yes, we know that now. But at the time, in the message, given the fact that there was the potential of the crates being found, that Americans had been on the ground, that someone from an American force had destroyed that area of bunkers, and that it seemed that there may have been potential exposure, that this didn't...
A: Why didn't they go further, sure.
Q: Let's say maybe it wasn't the 24th ID, maybe it was the 214th...
Q: It doesn't seem like enough to say, "in hindsight at that time..." That doesn't seem an excuse for those people not to have pursued this thing. Especially when there was definitely an indication that American troops were there.
A: I think you have to put it in the context of the very strong suspicion that the whole story was made up by the Iraqis; and the fact that upon attempting to find the unit they couldn't find the unit, that they didn't have the right piece of information, it supported their predilection.
Q: Doesn't the discovery of the crate, though, support the idea that Americans were there?
A: It could have been planted. In their sense, if you wanted to, I'm sure, plant the whole story, that would have been a piece of supporting information.
Q: But just to be clear, you don't believe that today, that this was a disinformation campaign by the...
A: We accept as the conclusion that there were American units that blew up Khamisiyah, that there were chemicals at Khamisiyah. We have no indication that the Iraqis moved chemicals there after the war. I mean logic demands, and that's the construct I've given you before, Jamie, that our troops in fact blew up those chemicals.
Q: Did you ever get...
A: But there are parts to the story that still don't fully make sense.
Q: Did you ever get a satisfying answer as to why the Iraqis never labeled their munitions as chemicals?
A: As you know, it was our intelligence at the time that there would be labels, there would be banding and the like. We now believe they did not label the chemicals.
Q: Isn't it strange in a warfare situation not to know what the hell you're firing?
Q: All the people looking for chemical munitions -- three different, four different units now over a period of time, no one knows what they're looking for? Unmarked munitions?
A: I'd refer you to the account in the paper of the chemical officer from the 82nd Division who describes the search he went through on page nine, and he describes, for example, at one point finding artillery rounds with fill plugs which had yellow bands, except they were empty, and they determined that they were empty.
Q: There's a reference on page eight of the report, the last paragraph, says on 26 February, the 24th ID received information from the 18th Corps that there were "possible chemicals on Operation Gold." What did the 18th Corps know? They apparently had reason to expect there were chemicals there.
A: At this point we're into intelligence matters that I can't discuss.
Q: But the 18th Corps at the time, or just before the explosions, had reason to believe there were chemicals...
A: Just before the time of the explosion.
Q: That's a fairly significant piece of information, that soldiers on the ground knew there was at least the possibility of chemicals being there.
A: And if you go further in you'll find that, according to standard procedure when they went into Khamisiyah as they went into other depots, as best we know, they were with their chemical alarms, with their appropriate equipment, they were in MOPP 4, but the people who made the search did not find chemicals. And to this day, do not believe there were chemicals at Khamisiyah.
Q: They knew what they were looking for, right?
A: Nobody knew what they were looking for. You've seen pictures of the insides of these bunkers. They were just lined from ceiling to floor with crates and crates and crates of munitions.
Q: So there is, at this point, though, classified information showing that American soldiers had reason to believe there were chemicals at Khamisiyah in February of 1991.
A: That's correct.
Q: Again, how much more information is still classified on the issue?
A: I can only tell you that there is classified information that indicated, that was the basis for that report.
Q: Just to be clear. So we have the CIA receiving information... The CIA knowing in late 91 that there may have been chemicals at Khamisiyah. We have somebody within the Army informed of that fact at that point, and we now know that soldiers on the ground in February of 91 also knew there might well be chemicals at Khamisiyah. That's news to us, as I understand it.
Q: But the troops that actually carried out the demolition, while they may have had a general awareness that there might be chemical weapons, did not get the benefit of the specific warning that...
A: We have no confirmation that they had... The message that you're talking about was sent to the spearhead divisions -- the 101st Airborne Division and the 24th Mechanized Divisions. The 24th briefly occupied Khamisiyah on the 26th, and then moved to the east to Basrah. It was the 82nd that was in the rear, that occupied Khamisiyah and accomplished the demolition of the ammunition storage point.
Q: Doesn't this show that the Pentagon was in sort of a state of a denial? That they had just convinced themselves there were no chemical weapons, and no amount of intelligence and anecdotal reporting was going to change anybody's mind?
A: Certainly the intelligence community up through 94 had the strong belief that chemical weapons were not at Khamisiyah and were brought there afterwards, and that's reflected well throughout the record.
Q: I still have a little trouble with why it's so hard to identify who was there, because all the units write after action reports, the after action report says what happened, who was there. I guess I share Pat's puzzlement as to why the people in the units that were in Khamisiyah weren't interviewed afterwards.
A: Well, it wasn't until 94 that we put together -- 94 that we started to put together -- a consolidated database. If you look at, for example, the SITREPS (situation reports) from the 18th Airborne Corps which was the corps that this all occurred in, what you find is a lot of code words in terms of locations. So Khamisiyah is at one point Tall al Lahm. It's sometimes Objective Gold. It's sometimes BP-102. By the time the 82nd gets to clean up the depot, it's known as AL BRAGG. So you get a lot of different names associated with the same place.
Q: Names of people who were there, there aren't that many of them. But the other part of the question, in other words, one puzzlement is there were so few people who were on the ground in Khamisiyah it would seem to me pretty easy to run them all down. Secondly...
A: We have subsequently talked...
Q: But you haven't talked to platoon leaders.
A: No, no, no. We've talked to over 600 people who were in the demolition units around Khamisiyah. That's not correct.
Q: Did we misunderstand you about the platoon leaders?
A: Yeah, I think so. We have interviewed...
Q: ...all those platoon leaders?
A: I believe so.
Q: Three of them.
Q: I thought you said you hadn't.
Q: Anyhow, the next question is, are there any procedures that have been imposed in the wake of this foul-up as to "hey fellows, did you go to the field with chemical weapons, if the enemy had chemical weapons, we're going to have a standard reporting procedure so that the next time you can kind of reconstruct it better?" In other words, has the military done anything of a reform nature as far as the monitoring of this kind of stuff?
A: I point out again that the people on the ground did not believe that there were chemical weapons in Khamisiyah.
Q: I'm just asking you forward, if there was a war tomorrow, would there be any...
A: There are standard procedures, there were then, that very explicitly and they were reiterated, some of them were referenced in the report, that if you found chemical weapons that you were not to move them, you were to cordon them off, that you were to report to higher headquarters. So there were very explicit procedures in place, and we even cite a whole range of them in the report and quote from one of the procedures on page eight. So those procedures were there. The fact that you have no report is indicative of the fact that the people on the ground at the time did not believe they were dealing with chemical weapons.
Q: You have complained clearly about the lack of a good database. I'm trying to ask whether you're fixing the problem.
A: We need still to address the issue of position and location and time reporting. That has not been fixed, and it's one of the things we need to address in the future.
Q: Why didn't these two documents, the 91 documents, get turned over to the Presidential Commission who supposedly had access to all data?
A: I have no understanding. I don't know why.
Q: In hindsight, how would you characterize the hard- headedness of the intelligence community on this...
A: I think there's a certain degree of human nature. You look at some facts, you draw a conclusion, other facts come in, and you interpret them in light of what you think you know. Clearly, there were missed opportunities to break the code. That's why I come back and give a lot of credit to the CIA analyst who was not persuaded by the received wisdom and pressed forward on Khamisiyah and put the story together.
Q: In 94.
A: In 94.
Q: Is there any evidence that, apart from the question of whether or not troops destroyed chemical weapons, is there any evidence in this report that U.S. troops at Khamisiyah were actually exposed to chemical agents?
Q: Where there any other Khamisiyahs, maybe not of that magnitude, but other ammo dumps that were taken over and blown up? Are we going to find suddenly overnight here the CIA or IDA or something else, that we have other Khamisiyahs, things of this magnitude...
A: That was the question the Deputy Secretary asked me when I said, boy, John, do you have a problem. You need more resources on this, as a joke. I didn't realize that I as the one who was going to have the problem. That's what we're looking for. That's what we've put more resources on. I can't say never.
We know that we would not have found Khamisiyah by looking at our own records, our own contemporaneous reports. Khamisiyah is the bringing together of a lot of information. The UN, a reassessment of many of our own intelligence sources that made the UN seem over time more credible in terms of the reports. You're absolutely right. There were a whole number of bunkers and depots destroyed, and that's why we're scanning the classified and the declassified documents.
I call your attention on page nine, a lengthy description by the 18th Airborne Corps on the 2nd of March which says, "Divisions are discovering large numbers of bunkers, underground complexes containing weapons, munitions, etc."
On the 5th, the day after Khamisiyah, the 18th Airborne Corps highlights ammunition bunker explosions at Tallil and Jalibah, but not Khamisiyah.
Q: Just to put this in perspective, we seem to be -- we meaning the Defense Department and the Veterans groups -- seem to be focusing on Khamisiyah, but it's quite possible that if there were, in fact, contaminations, they could have occurred elsewhere with some other groups of troops.
A: That's why we're engaged in extensive analysis, why we have an 800 hotline to have people call in, why we take their calls seriously and are investigating them to see if they can find it. But remember, the confusion in Khamisiyah, the enigma of Khamisiyah is that the things we would have expected to occur with a largescale release of chemical weapons didn't seem to occur. We didn't see casualties, we didn't see people getting sick. We didn't see a mass of alarms that have been reported. That's why to this day the people closest on the ground still don't believe there were chemicals at Khamisiyah.
Q: There were chemical alarms at Khamisiyah, right?
A: We have, at this point in the official record, a dispute over a 256 reading, test kit reading; and one M-8 alarm that went off. I can tell you that in the response to surveys, we're finding other people have claimed chemical alarms, and we're investigating that. So I want to leave that question open. But it certainly was not for the commanders at the time this massive event that we would have expected from a large release of chemical weapons.
Q: Since you say this doesn't give you clear and safe evidence that troops were exposed, does this effort that you've gone through get you any closer to understanding what's making so many people sick?
A: When we started this... That's a wonderful question. We started this inquiry really with the focus on that, and I don't know whether it gets us much closer or not. There are people who were hundreds and hundreds of miles away from Khamisiyah that are sick. There are people who were not even in theater any longer, were sick. Khamisiyah cannot be an explanation why so many people are sick. It may be a contributing factor to some, but it isn't the magic answer to Gulf War Illnesses.
Q: On the question of wind direction. Is Science Applications International still doing any of this, or have their studies pretty well been...
A: Their studies were turned over to IDA. They were the contractor for the CIA, and their studies have been turned over to IDA, and that has expanded into a much broader review of models and data.
Q: Did IDA farm that out, or is that in-house?
A: IDA has engaged a number of in-house laboratories that have capability. I don't have the complete list. But some Navy and some... There are a number of organizations that have capability to do this analysis, and IDA is able to pull that together. So I think, my understanding is that they believe there is a better set of models, but that the real concern still remains the data that goes into the models rather than the models themselves. We're just waiting to see what they provide.
Q: You may take a look at this and say, as you have, that this is a case of people doing their jobs the best they could at the time, but others may look at this, read this report and say this is just a catalog of mistakes, misjudgments, and miscommunication, at best. What's your reaction to that? Do you disagree with that?
A: If in 20/20 hindsight we could go back and whisper in people's ears, gee, you know, you should do this or pay more attention to that, I wish I could do it. I don't think the two statements are necessary in conflict. We're dealing with people. They do the best job with what they have, and they bring to the table at any given time some preconceived notions. Sometimes those notions bore into the truth and sometimes they take you in the wrong direction.
It is quite clear that the intelligence community in 91 and extending through 94, believed that the Iraqis had planted it. Let me call your attention to the conclusion drawn by the Defense Science Board, which I believe really reflects the judgment of the intelligence community, and that's on page 16. That is a clear statement in June of 94 of the position that Khamisiyah was specially constructed for the UN inspectors. That was clearly the mindset.
Q: Can you explain what caused the CIA to change its mind in January of 96, with the National Security Council, that U.S. troops probably blew up...
A: There is a reference in there to reexamining some intelligence documents, and I can't go any further. But clearly in January of 96, Larry Fox's doggedness and a re-examination of some intelligence documents, some materials, brought them to be less suspicious that the Iraqis had, in fact, manufactured this story.
Q: That's intelligence in addition to the original UNSCOM report?
Q: Can you give us any idea of what that...
A: I really would have to refer you to the CIA.
Q: You talk about the mindsets of, that there hadn't been chemicals present. Just to be clear, there was intelligence, again back to this point about what the 18th Corps knew. There was intelligence in 91 that chemicals were at Khamisiyah, but that evidence was just never shared with the... That was known by soldiers on the ground. It was just never shared with people who blew it up.
A: The best we can tell, it never came back into the dialogue and that's one of the unfortunate miscommunications here.
Q: Is there a lot of classified information on this topic of what the soldiers knew at the time?
A: No. The soldiers only knew what was possible chemicals at Objective Gold.
Q: Can you tell us what this intelligence shows in a general sense, without violating...
Q: In a nutshell, why...
Q: ...credibility problem, like he's' saying? You're saying the Defense Science Task Board in 94 acted in good faith, in Joshua Lederberg's report, that this was a Potemkin Village, in essence, built for UNSCOM, when you've got 21,000 soldiers, you admitted, within a 50 kilo[meter] radius of this place, who, many of them, even if they didn't believe were chemicals there, knew that there had been some reports that they were there because they were in MOPP protection. You were talking about full MOPP 4.
A: No, you misunderstood. The normal procedure in going through a dump like this, the first troops in were to be in MOPP gear. So that was standard procedure.
Q: Going back to his question with this page eight, still classified material. You've got the 18th Airborne Corps saying that we think there's chemicals here, and you won't tell us where that comes from.
A: I can only...
Q: Couldn't someone like Joshua Lederberg find out where that comes from?
A: I don't think so. We're up against sources and means, and I can only say that the intelligence community tells me they will not share...
Q: Then how do we know that that's not just a "cover your a__" memo? That the intelligence community is not trying to protect more mistakes?
A: I can only tell you that there are sources and means involved here, and that's as far as I can go.
Q: ...Could you see where veterans, though, would wonder what else is being hidden from them at this point?
A: I can't go any further than that.
Q: Do you have any sense of why that information wasn't shared by the 18th Corps with the 37th Engineer.... And should it have been, as best you can tell?
A: On the 26th when this was brought out as a possibility, the unit engaged at Khamisiyah was the 24th Division. They went through it. By that time, I presume -- presumption -- one would have said if there were chemicals there we would have found it, and now we're into housekeeping and mopping up and doing other things, but we don't have...
Q: You see the logical disconnect for us, though, is that you keep... the statement has been said repeatedly that soldiers on the ground didn't know the chemicals were there. Well, the soldiers who blew up the site didn't know there were chemicals there, but there were other soldiers who were nearby who had suspicions that there were chemicals there.
A: I understand. I can only tell you what we have ferreted out of the record.
Q: ...in the last year or two, well, apparently there was information even before they blew up the site that there were chemicals there.
A: I agree.
Q: Bernie, you've got some pretty big stones here unturned. Are they ever going to be turned over as far as how many rockets, how much Sarin...
A: Those issues are the gist -- the grist of the IDA analysis, and we can get you the best estimates, the CIA made best estimates in terms of, or worst case estimates in terms of the number of rockets that may have been destroyed in different places...
Q: You still don't know.
A: I have the same information that you have, Pat, and IDA is reassessing that. That will be part of their plume analysis when...
Q: The President of the United States said there will be no stone unturned. Now you're telling us, as Pat points out, there are many stones that you have been told will be left unturned, by the CIA.
A: You'll have to deal with the CIA.
Q: When you say, by the way, the intelligence community worries about sources and methods about this question of the 18th, is that the CIA we're talking about?
Q: On that question, are you frustrated that you're not able to read what's in the CIA files? In other words, would you like to read what they've got in the files, as the task force commander?
A: I have certain clearances, but I cannot publish, when we get against the firewall, and that's where we're against here.
Q: Are you convinced that you've seen everything in the files that you have clearance to see?
A: I have no idea what everything is.
Q: Are you being denied access...
Q: My point is the commander-in-chief, all he has to do is say "Give Bernie the files."
A: You'll have to deal with the CIA.
Q: Is there intelligence that they won't give you?
Q: The CIA is stonewalling you.
A: No, I didn't say that. You'll have to deal with the CIA on this question.
Q: Is there information you've asked for from the CIA that they will not share with you personally?
Q: They'll show you everything, but they just won't allow you to publish it.
A: That's correct.
Q: So you know everything of value that they have, is that right?
A: I have no way of determining that. They've been responsive to all of my questions.
Q: But are you sharing with us everything you know?
A: No. (Laughter)
Q: Not good that you're not, but good that... (Laughter)
Q: Let's go back to the question of what the intelligence was and when it was before and after. Do I have this right when I take from what you said that there was intelligence before the bunker was blown up, as a matter of fact in late February, that it was a suspected chemical weapons site.
Q: But then when the troops went there, they believed that there were no chemical weapons there...
A: I don't know...
Q: You said the troops who actually carried it out believed there were no...
A: We have no indication, as I've written in the report, that the 82nd was notified. We know the 101st and the 24th.
Q: The troops who actually went and carried out the demolition, you said several times here, the people on the ground, that they believed, and still believe to this day, that there weren't any chemical weapons.
A: That's correct.
Q: So after this point, this is where the belief came that there were no chemical weapons. At that point, that's when the theory about the deception from the Iraqi...
A: No. Let me back up. Let me answer the first question, and let me read a line. This is on page ten, and this is the Charlie Company Commander. He said, and I quote, "The explosive ordnance guy came through and said 'Here's what you're looking at. These are safe to destroy.'" So the guy who did the demolition believed that it was safe to destroy. He had been told by the EOD guys and they had inspected the bunkers and as best we know, inspected them with appropriate protections.
Q: At some point after the demolition, the intelligence community came to the belief that their initial intelligence, the intelligence before the demolition took place, was in fact wrong, and there was no chemical weapons. They came to believe that, and now they've come back around...
A: I'm not sure, Jamie, that they put those two pieces together. I think a good question would be whether they did put those together, and at this point I don't know that.
Q: Can I go back a little bit to what you know and when you knew it? Since you're unable to share with us everything that you've gathered or that you've seen on this, can we...
A: The only point that I'm not sharing is the issue of the precursor to the 26 February message from 18th Airborne Corps, where that intelligence came from and when it came.
Q: In other words why you believed...
A: That I can't share with you.
Q: ...the facts. The fact that there's no smoking gun, no obvious smoking gun. You're not withholding that. You're being straightforward with us...
A: That's the only piece of information that I'm unable to talk about.
Q: Have you asked the CIA to declassify that information?
Q: And they've refused?
Q: Did that frustrate you that they refused your request to declassify the information?
Q: Do you see an important reason for it to remain classified?
Q: So you understand their situation.
Q: Was this a major topic of conversation between the two of you?
Q: Can you explain why, when you're attempting back in October of 95, when the Persian Gulf investigation team was trying to figure out where all the units were, and they got a coordinate on the 37th Engineers, why that wasn't followed up?
A: I don't know, and that's troubling to me. There should have been a follow-up further, and I just don't understand why. This is the predecessor to my office, why they didn't follow up further. It would have been quite timely to do so. Only a few months would have been saved, but there should have been follow- up. No question about it.
Q: Are you going to resolve the CIA's information, the DIA's information, the Army's information about this? Or are you just going to assemble it and let us sort this out?
A: Resolve it in what way, Pat?
Q: How many rockets...?
A: That's what IDA is working on and we'll wait and see their analysis, and they will come out with a conclusion of how many rockets were in the pit. It's working, and they're pulling that information together. We will have that information to you in due course. I don't think there's an issue here. I don't have it here in front of me, and we'll see what that analysis brings about.
Q: It won't be any better than the CIA's would it?
Q: If you can understand why the CIA is not releasing that information, do you also understand that the fact that they're not releasing that information leads people to believe that they might be covering up stupidity, if you will, and not pursuing it?
Q: If the CIA had information in February of 91 that there might well be chemicals at this site, how does the mindset set in that there were no chemicals there?
A: You're dealing with different people who are approaching the problem at a different time with different... from different vantage points with different accesses to classified information.
Q: Within the CIA?
A: Even within the CIA.
Press: Thank you