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CIA Report on Intelligence Related to Gulf War Illnesses

Aug. 2, 1996

In parallel with the DOD's Persian Gulf Investigative Team, the CIA's Office of Weapons, Technology and Proliferation conducted an independent review of intelligence documents to determine whether US troops were exposed to chemical and biological warfare agents during the Gulf war. The CIA's effort did not seek to duplicate that of DOD; however, CIA analysts drew upon and examined DOD information to clarify intelligence, to obtain leads, and to ensure a thorough and comprehensive intelligence assessment.


Key Findings

On the basis of a comprehensive review of intelligence and other information, we assess that Iraq did not use chemical or biological weapons or deploy these weapons in Kuwait. In addition, analysis and computer modeling indicate chemical agents released by aerial bombing of chemical warfare facilities did not reach US troops in Saudi Arabia. Coalition bombing resulted in damage to filled chemical munitions at only two facilities--Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna--both located in remote areas west of Baghdad. UNSCOM inspections concluded that no chemical munitions were destroyed at the An Nasiriyah Ammunition Storage Area, countering publicized theories that fallout from the facility were the cause of credible but unverified nerve agent detections in Saudi Arabia. We assess no biological weapons or agents were destroyed by Coalition forces during the Gulf war. Finally, Iraq never produced radiological weapons for use and bombed Iraqi nuclear facilities caused only local contamination north of the Kuwait Theater of Operations. A recent assessment based on a comprehensive review of all intelligence information and a May 1996 UNSCOM inspection concludes nerve agent was released as a result of inadvertent US postwar demolition of chemical rockets at a bunker and probably at a pit area at the Khamisiyah Ammunition Storage Area in Iraq. We have modeled the chemical contamination levels in Iraq resulting from the bunker destruction so that the DOD can assess who may have been exposed. Analysis of demolition activities in the pit area is still under way.

No Intentional Iraqi Use of Chemical or Biological Agents


Chemical Weapons at Two Southern Iraq Depots: An Nasiriyah and Khamisiyah


An Nasiriyah

Chemical Munitions Moved to Khamisiyah



Some Chemical Munitions Destroyed by Ground Troops


Bunker 73 Rocket Destruction


Pit Area Rocket Destruction


Open-Area Mustard Shells Intact


Modeling of Release of Agents From Bunker 73


Chemical Fallout From Aerial Bombing: At Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna

We conclude that Coalition aerial bombing damaged filled chemical munitions at two facilities--Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna. In reaching this assessment, we examined all intelligence reporting on the location of chemical weapons in Iraq and the KTO and scrutinized dozens of sites (see table) that were alleged to be connected in one way or another with chemical weapons. Our modeling indicates that chemical agent fallout from these facilities--both located in remote areas west of Baghdad--did not reach troops in Saudi Arabia. Finally, we have found no information to suggest that casualties occurred inside Iraq as a result of chemical warfare (CW) agents released from the bombing of these sites--probably because these two facilities are in remote locations far from any population centers. The Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna sites are both over 30 km from the nearest Iraqi towns. According to the most recent Iraqi declarations, less than 5 percent of Iraq's approximately 700 metric tons of declared chemical agent stockpile was destroyed by Coalition bombing. In most cases, the Iraqis did not store CW munitions in bunkers that they believed the Coalition would target. The Iraqis stored many CW munitions in the open, protecting them from Coalition detection and bombing because we did not target open areas. In addition, all known CW and precursor production lines were either inactive or had been dismantled by the start of the air campaign.



Al Muthanna

No Evidence of Biological Fallout From Aerial Bombing

There are no indications that any biological agent was destroyed by Coalition bombing. Available intelligence reporting and Iraqi statements indicate that Iraq went to great lengths to protect its biological munitions from aerial bombardment. The Iraqis have stated that its biological-agent-filled aerial bombs were deployed to three airfields well north of the KTO. The bombs were placed in open pits far from bombing targets, then covered with canvas, and buried with dirt. Iraqi biological warheads for Al Husayn missiles were hidden well north of the KTO both in a railroad tunnel and in earth-covered pits at a location near the Tigris canal. The Iraqis admitted to production of biological agents at four sites near Baghdad but said it ceased production before the air war. In addition, UNSCOM found no damage to any of these facilities from Coalition bombing.

Iraqi Chemical and Biological Agents

We found no evidence that would indicate that Iraq developed agents specifically intended to cause the most common types of long-term symptoms seen in ill Gulf war veterans. This finding is important in ruling out the scenario of covert use of such an agent. With the possible exception of aflatoxin, all declared Iraqi agents were intended to cause rapid death or incapacitation. The only documented effects of aflatoxin in humans are liver cancer months to years after it is ingested and symptoms--possibly including death--caused by liver damage from ingestion of large amounts. Effects of aerosolized aflatoxin are unknown. UNSCOM assesses that Iraq looked at aflatoxin for its long-term carcinogenic effects and that testing showed that large concentrations of it caused death within days. We have no information that would make us conclude that Iraq used aflatoxin or that it was released in the atmosphere when bombing occurred.

Other Potential Hazards

CIA's also reviewed intelligence on potential hazards other than chemical and biological agents. Some of the studied hazards include:

  • Red Fuming Nitric Acid (RFNA). Scud missiles that impacted in Saudi Arabia and Israel each contained approximately 300 pounds of toxic RFNA oxidizer and 100 pounds of kerosene fuel. Although we know of no long-term illnesses related to these chemicals, we assess that RFNA is a likely cause of some of the burning sensations reported by veterans near Scud impacts. DOD's Persian Gulf Investigation Team (PGIT) has been informed of this and is following up to look for long-term symptoms.
  • Radiological Weapons and Radiation Fallout. Although Iraq conducted research on radiological weapons, we assess it never progressed into the developmental phase. Small quantities of radioactive material were released during tests in areas north of Baghdad. These tests took place two years before the Gulf war, and any radioactivity from those tests would have decayed away by the time of the war. In addition, Iraqi nuclear facilities bombed during the Gulf war produced only minimal local contamination north of the KTO, with no releases detected beyond those facilities.
  • Miscellaneous. We have seen a number of reports claiming that veterans were exposed to other hazards including everything from poisoned water supplies to chocolate additives. In examining these reports, we found nothing to corroborate them, but we have made DOD's Persian Gulf Investigative Team aware of them.

Future Efforts

CIA will continue to track any leads that surface in the future and will make our findings available to the public. We will complete our review of the hazards posed by destruction of chemical rockets in the pit area and will publish our findings over the Internet.


  1. Generally defined as Kuwait and Iraq below 31 degrees north latitude.
  2. This statement, however, was viewed with skepticism at the time because of the broad, continuous use of deception by the Iraqis against UNSCOM.
  3. The Army established this dosage criteria for protection of the general population: a 72-hour exposure at 0.000003 mg/m3--significantly lower than the 0.0001mg/m3 occupational limit defined for 8 hours--is specified.
  4. When predicting very low concentration levels far downrange of the source, large dispersions are created that are difficult to model. We assess, however, that our results are biased upward because we chose optimal times and dates that would have produced the maximum dispersion toward Saudi Arabia. In addition, the models do not account for phenomena--such as deposition onto the ground and rain removal of agent--that would greatly diminish potential downwind exposure.
Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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