The CIA admitted Wednesday it learned in the mid-1980s that Iraq had stored chemical weapons in a bunker that later was targeted for destruction by U.S. forces in the immediate aftermath of the Persian Gulf War but failed to warn commanders clearly enough to avert possible exposure to the U.S. troops that carried out the mission.
The CIA report amounts to the most sweeping admission so far that the agency effectively bungled the job of alerting U.S. commanders before the Iraqi bunker was blown up in March 1991.
Robert D. Walpole, who headed a special intelligence community task force assigned to look into the exposure issue, conceded at a news conference that the agency “should have done better.” He apologized to veterans who may have been exposed to chemical weapons as a result.
Although Iraq did not use chemical weapons in its attacks against U.S. and other allied forces during the two-month Gulf War, many veterans say they have suffered from a variety of nagging ailments as a result of exposure to ammunition dumps and other environmental hazards.
The Pentagon disclosed last June that several hundred - possibly even thousands - of soldiers may have been exposed to sarin and other toxic agents as a result of having blown up several Iraqi weapons caches in a bunker at Khamisiyah in which chemical weapons had been stored.
While the disclosure sparked a political controversy, no one has been able to prove conclusively that any U.S. troops were exposed.
The agency’s admission Wednesday directly contradicted its earlier portrayal of its role in the Khamisiyah incident. Until now, CIA officials had adamantly maintained that the agency received only cursory reports, and uncovered them later on its own, in 1995.