October 30, 1996 in Nation/World

Ex-Analysts Accuse Cia Of Gulf Cover-Up Pair Say Careers Were Destroyed Trying To Prove Gis Exposed To Gas

Philip Shenon New York Times
 

Two intelligence analysts who resigned earlier this year from the CIA say the agency possesses dozens of classified documents showing that tens of thousands of Americans may have been exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

The husband-and-wife intelligence analysts, Patrick and Robin Eddington, say that while investigating the issue at the CIA, they turned up evidence of as many as 60 incidents in which nerve gas and other chemical weapons were released in the vicinity of American troops.

The Eddingtons assert that the CIA and the Pentagon repeatedly tried to hinder their unauthorized investigation. And they say that when they insisted on pursuing the inquiry over the protests of senior officials, their promising careers were effectively destroyed. Their inquiry attracted concern at the highest levels of the agencies, including John M. Deutch, a former Pentagon official who is now the director of central intelligence.

“The evidence of chemical exposures among our troops is overwhelming, but the government won’t deal with it,” said Eddington, who resigned this month after more than eight years at the agency, most of it spent as an analyst of satellite and aerial photographs from the Persian Gulf.

The CIA and the Defense Department have rejected the Eddingtons’ accusations. Yet despite the public appearance of unanimity among government officials - namely, that there was no evidence until recently that large numbers of American troops were exposed to the Iraqi poisons in the war - the Eddingtons’ account suggests that there was evidence earlier of many possible exposures, and that there was a heated internal debate within the government over the meaning of the intelligence reports.

Eddington, who is 33 and is preparing to publish a book outlining his allegations against the CIA, said government officials who had overseen investigations of gulf war illnesses “have lied, are continuing to lie, are continuing to withhold information.”

He became so enraged over the government’s conduct that in 1994, he wrote a letter to the editor of the The Washington Times, without noting his ties to the intelligence agency. The letter, which was published, alleged a government “cover-up.”

Scientists have been unable to find an explanation for the variety of ailments reported by gulf war veterans. But increasingly, the medical debate has become separate from the issue of whether the government has told the truth about the intelligence reports about chemical weapons that it received during and after the war.

After the war, Eddington said, he collected 59 classified intelligence reports from agency files and computer banks that provided “very, very specific” information about the presence of chemical weapons in southern Iraq and Kuwait during the war.

Robin Eddington, who is 32 and now works for a military contractor, said she had seen at least one classified document suggesting that even trace exposure to chemical weapons over an extended period could cause illness, an assertion at odds with the Pentagon’s official position.

The Eddingtons said they were unable to provide details of the documents that they have seen because they are still classified.

CIA officials said the Eddingtons were trying to portray an honest disagreement among intelligence analysts as something sinister.

“This conspiratorial theory is just not fair or logical,” said Dennis Boxx, the agency’s chief spokesman. Eddington, Boxx said, has “essentially vilified everybody who doesn’t agree with him.”

The Pentagon said in a statement that “the idea that the Defense Department has engaged in any conspiracy to cover up any information regarding Persian Gulf illnesses is simply not true.”

Although CIA officials acknowledged that intelligence reports suggesting the release of Iraqi chemical weapons were still classified, they said the documents had been made available to a White House panel that is investigating gulf war illnesses. The CIA said the documents could not be made public because they contained information about its intelligence-gathering methods.

At the same time, the agency acknowledged that the Eddingtons had been highly valued employees, and said that their honesty, competence and emotional stability had not been questioned.

“I think Pat had a lot to offer this organization,” a senior agency official said of Eddington. Boxx said of Eddington: “Do we have any reason to believe that he’s not an honest or truthful person? The answer is no, we don’t.”

The Pentagon has acknowledged only one incident in which a large number of soldiers may have been exposed to chemical weapons. In that incident, in March 1991, the month after the gulf war ended, American combat engineers blew up an Iraqi ammunition depot that contained nerve gas.

The Eddingtons said the CIA and Pentagon were hiding evidence of scores of other potential chemical exposures. Robin Eddington said the intelligence agency’s attitude in studying the possibility of chemical exposures was one of “cowardice and conformity.”

“There is a complete lack of enthusiasm for trying to find answers,” she said.

The Eddingtons said their investigation raised concern at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the CIA. Eddington said he was told twice by a supervisor last year that Deutch, who was then deputy secretary of defense and the official responsible for the investigation of gulf war illnesses, called to express his alarm over the couple’s inquiry.

Boxx, the CIA spokesman, confirmed that Deutch had been aware of the Eddingtons’ analysis and had expressed concern over it - but only because their findings had been described to him incorrectly as a new, official analysis by the agency.

Deutch, he said, had never tried to block the Eddingtons’ investigation. When Deutch “learned that this was not a CIA study, that it was an individual analyst’s assessment,” he raised no further concerns about the inquiry, Boxx said.

The CIA said the intelligence reports identified by Eddington had already been turned over to the White House panel, the President’s Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses - proof, officials said, that the information was not being hidden.

But Eddington said that some of his superiors had wanted to withhold the documents and that they were turned over to the panel only because “it was my absolute insistence that they be turned over.” Veterans may never find out what is in the gulf war documents, he said, since the White House panel is barred from releasing classified material in its final report.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email