Chapter 1, Part 2

Vesicants and Blood Agents

Lewisite - A vesicant toxic agent, industrial lewisite is a dark brown liquid with a strong smell. Lewisite is a contact poison with practically no period of latent effect. Lewisite vapors cause irritation to the eyes and upper respiratory tract. According to the Center for Disease Control, lewisite would cause stinging and burning. Its smell, generally characterized as the strong smell of geraniums, could be confused with the smell of ammonia (the reaction to which is regulated by pain fibers rather than smell). Iraqi stores of lewisite were not located after the war according to the Department of Defense.

Cyanogen Chloride - The French first suggested the use of cyanogen chloride as a toxic agent. U.S. analysts have reported that it is capable of penetrating gas mask filters. Partially soluble in water, it dissolves well in organic solvents. It is absorbed easily into porous materials; its military state is a gas. Cyanogen chloride is a quick acting toxic agent. Upon contact with the eyes or respiratory organs, it injures immediately. Lethal exposures result in loss of consciousness, convulsions and paralysis.

Hydrogen Cyanide - A colorless liquid smelling of bitter almonds, hydrogen cyanide is a very strong, quick acting poison. Hydrogen cyanide affects unprotected humans through the respiratory organs and during the ingestion of contaminated food and water. It inhibits the enzymes which regulate the intra-cell oxidant-restorative process. As a result, the cells of the nervous system, especially those affecting breathing -- are injured, which in turn leads to quick death. An important feature of hydrogen cyanide is the absence of a period of latent effect. The military state of hydrogen cyanide is a gas. The toxic and physiologic properties of hydrogen cyanide permit it to be used effectively in munitions -- predominantly in rocket launched artillery. Death occurs after intoxication due to paralysis of the heart. Non-lethal doses do not cause intoxication.

Blister Agents

According to the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for sulfur mustard gas (HD) prepared by the U.S. Army Chemical Research, Development and Engineering Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, "Chronic exposure to HD can cause skin sensitization, chronic lung impairment, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and cancer of the mouth, throat, respiratory tract, skin, and leukemia. It may also cause birth defects. (See appendix A for MSDS sheets on sulfur mustard agents HD and T.) The U.S. Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command lists the current detector sensitivity threshold for the M256A1 kits, a commonly used piece of chemical agent detection equipment in the Gulf War, as 2.0 mg/m3. According to the Material Data Safety Sheets for sulfur mustard, total weight average exposures of greater than .003mg/m3 over an 8 hr. period requires the use of protective equipment. (See appendix A.) Therefore, the detection kit would not detect the agent until the amount of agent present exceeded the safety threshold by a factor of over 660. The M8A1 automatic alarms do not detect blister agent.

Mustard Gas - This is a colorless, oily liquid which dissolves poorly in water, but relatively well in organic solvents, petroleum, lubricant products, and other toxic agents. The injurious effect of mustard gas is associated with its ability to inhibit many enzyme systems of the body. This, in turn, prevents the intra-cell exchange of chemicals and leads to necrosis of the tissue. Death is associated mainly with necrosis of the tissue of the central nervous system. Mustard gas has a period of latent effect (the first signs of injury appear after 2-12 hours), but does not act cumulatively. It does not have any known antidotes. In military use it can come in gas, aerosol, and droplet form. It therefore acts through inhalation, cutaneously, per orally and directly through the blood stream. The toxic and physico-chemical properties of mustard gas allow it to be used in all types of munitions.

Related Chemical Agent Information

Committee staff has learned that Iraq may have acquired any one of a number of the Soviet binary novachok ("newcomer") series of chemical warfare agent compounds or information relevant to the development of those compounds. This series of chemical warfare agents reportedly contains both lethal and debilitating agents. According to a confidential Committee source, if the Iraqis had obtained samples of these compounds they could be easily analyzed and produced with readily available materials. Several of these compounds are described as agents that even in microdoses can have long lasting effects. These agents are described as inducing myosis, vomiting, memory loss, involuntary motions and internal organ dysfunction. Many of these materials are also described as having mutagenic effects. These materials are, according to the source, stored in the lipids (body fats) and have no known antidotes. In addition, according to the Committee source, the Soviets were believed to have conducted research in a number of dioxin-based chemical warfare agents, and on at least one agent that could be used to contaminate drinking water supplies. Committee staff is conducting further inquiries to determine if Iraq may have had access to any of these compounds.


Biotoxins are natural poisons, chiefly of cellular structure. A distinction is made between exotoxins which are given off by an organism while it is alive, and endotoxins which are given off after a cell's death. The exotoxins cause the injurious effects of biological weapons, but endotoxins guarantee the effects of chemical weapons and do not cause the widespread disease outbreaks associated with biological warfare. Some examples of biotoxins include botulinus toxin and staphylococcic enterotoxin.

Biological Warfare Capability

According to the U.N., the Iraqi biological warfare program was initiated in mid- 1986 at Salman Pak. UNSCOM inspectors discovered evidence of research into certain biological agents including botulinus toxin and anthrax -- as well as organisms responsible for gas gangrene, tetanus and brucellosis, components of a biological weapons program which was not defensive in nature. In four years of work prior to the war, only 10 papers were published. These research programs focused on Iraqi efforts to isolate the most pathogenic spores. They also did research on the aerosolization and on the environmental survivability of some of these biological materials according to the United Nations.

While the Department of Defense maintains that the Iraqi military did not weaponize its biological warfare program, UNSCOM is less certain, reporting that their degree of confidence that weaponization did not occur is low. In fact, readily high performance agricultural aerosol generators could easily be converted to both decontaminate areas in which chemicals are used and to aerosolize biological and chemical warfare agents.

Other ways in which biological materials could have been weaponized include the use of Iraqi 250 and 500lb bombs, aerial rockets, unmanned aerial vehicles, FAW ground-to-ground missiles, helicopters and Iraqi aircraft. The Committee has received several reports of Iraqi helicopters penetrating Saudi airspace during the war by flying at low levels through the wadis and of Iraqi aircraft penetrating the area over the northern Persian Gulf.

According to UNSCOM, indications that suggested that the program was offensive in nature include:

The United Nations said that the Biological Inspection was initiated on August 8, 1991 at Salman Pak. The inspection was delayed because of the need to extensively immunize the members of the inspection team. The Salman Pak facility was razed one week prior to the arrival of the inspection team.

The United States is aware of the Iraqi potential for using biological weapons. The employment of biological agents in a "cocktail" mix with chemical warfare agents is consistent with Soviet military doctrine. It is clear that biological weapons are much more difficult than chemical weapons to detect and defend against. Some of the symptoms experienced by veterans suffering from Persian Gulf Syndrome are consistent with biological warfare agent use. Verification will require sophisticated medical diagnosis, which to date has not been publicly undertaken.

The question of whether U.S. forces were attacked with a biological agent is problematic. According to Chemical/Biological Program: A Department of Defense Perspective, "it has been recognized that our biological defense program was inadequate. Credible analysis indicated that optimal employment of biological agents could result in a significantly large hazard area." It further cites a memo from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) noting: "inadequate ability to counter BW (biological warfare) attack/BW defense is a priority requirement. The inadequacy of the current biological defense and detection program was also supported by Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch in an unclassified May 6, 1994 address delivered at a Department of Defense sponsored counter proliferation conference at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. According to Deputy Secretary Deutch, the United States has "no biological detection capability deployed with any forces, anywhere."

Novel BW agents created by altering DNA plasmids and vectors are specifically intended to avoid detection. As noted below, several shipments of biological materials that might have been used to carry out such a program were licensed for export from the United States to the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission. In such a program, common intestinal flora such as e. coli could be altered to produce viral, bacterial, or other toxins and would be difficult to treat. If Iraq was successful in developing such agents, diagnosis will continue to elude physicians testing for traditional illnesses. Novel BW agents would certainly elude biological detection devices. There is evidence, based on the nature of the materials imported, that this type of research was being conducted. Since the Iraqi government managed to dismantle much of its biological warfare program prior to the UNSCOM inspections, we can only speculate on how advanced this program might have been.

It has been suggested that if these problems the veterans are experiencing are Gulf War related, then we should be seeing even more serious problems among the Iraqis. Since beginning this investigation we have learned that many Iraqi enemy prisoners of war (EPW) suffered skin rashes, sores, nausea, vomiting, coughing and other medical problems while they were being detained in Saudi Arabia. Many members of units who had close contact with these individuals are now reporting to the Committee symptoms consistent with those being suffered by other Gulf War veterans. In addition, Iraq has claimed a dramatic rise in reported cases of communicable diseases since the end of the Gulf War including typhoid, brucellosis, hepatitis and cholera.

Further, reports of Gulf War illnesses being reported are no longer limited to veterans of the Gulf War. Others reporting manifestation of these symptoms include: