By Rod Hafemeister
On the third day of the Persian Gulf War, a message flashed through
military command centers
across Saudi Arabia: A Czech unit had detected chemical weapons.
U.S. and Allied troops donned gas masks and protective uniforms. Specially trained teams sniffed the air with sensitive chemical detectors.
They did not detect chemicals and dismissed it as another false alarm.
But a secret study conducted three years before the Gulf War and now declassified shows U.S. and Allied equipment could not detect a kind of chemical weapon - dusty agents - that also could go right through the troops' protective suits.
The Czechs' system could detect the agents, and their troops used rubber suits that could protect them.
Could U.S. troops have been exposed to chemical "dusty agents" unleashed by their own bombings?
Some veterans now suspect that's what happened and are pushing the Pentagon for answers.
The vets say the Czechs detected dusty agents created when Allied bombs blew up Iraqi chemical storage sites, blasting chemicals and desert sand into the sky.
"We manufactured our own dusty agent threat by bombing the bejesus out of the area," said Jim Brown, director of GulfWatch, a veterans' advocacy group. "We couldn't detect them, and the Czechs could. And the suits don't help - when the dust gets trapped in the suit, it makes it worse."
The Pentagon rejects the theory while acknowledging it cannot explain the Czech detections.
"We've looked at their (the Czechs') training, their equipment and the techniques that they used, and we think that they're all sound," Pentagon spokesman Capt. Tom Gilroy said Friday. "The big question is: What would be the source of these detections?
"We don't believe that it came from the bombing. We believe the wind was blowing in the opposite direction and wouldn't have blown where they (the Czechs) were. It would have carried it back into Iraq."
James Tuite III, a former congressional investigator who long has advocated the bombing theory, said the Pentagon is ignoring a CIA computer model, weather charts and satellite photos that show the winds were blowing from the bombed sites toward the troops.
Tuite said the Czechs were the only ones in the gulf likely to detect dusty agents, which the Soviets and their allies have known about since the end of World War II.
Dusty agents are made by bonding nerve gases and blister agents to small dust particles. Iraq used at least one type of dusty agent in its 1980-88 war with Iran and was thought to have stockpiled them at some of the sites Allied aircraft bombed starting Jan. 17, 1991.
Post-war medical studies have shown that the sand and dust common to the Persian Gulf region are capable of absorbing and carrying infectious diseases.
Brown and others say the same desert dust could have been contaminated with chemical agents released in the bombings, creating massive clouds of dusty agents.
The Belleville News-Democrat reported Sunday that a secret January 1988
Pentagon study showed dusty agents could penetrate the breathable chemical
suits used by U.S. and NATO forces, but were stopped by the rubber suits
issued to Soviet troops and their Warsaw Pact
The study, "Dusty Agents: Implications for Chemical Warfare Protection," was posted earlier this year on GulfLink, the Pentagon's Internet site for Gulf War illnesses.
The study also found that Allied equipment designed to detect chemical agent vapors probably would not detect dusty agents - but the wet chemistry used by Warsaw Pact forces, including the Czechs, would.
In the years since the Gulf War, the Pentagon first dismissed the Czech detections as false, then described them as "credible" but said there was not an explanation for the source of the agents or why the Czechs were the only ones to detect them.
Declassified documents on GulfLink, including the report of a 1993 investigation by the Czech Ministry of Defense, show:
Originally Published, September 22, 1997 , Belleville News
Democrat, Belleville, Illinois
(c) 1997, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
GWI Anthrax Gen. Borisov Other Military Stories