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Chapter 1, Part 3

Biological Warfare Defense
Types of Biological Agents
Dissemination of Biological Agents
Defensive Measures
Iraq's Experience in the Use of Chemical Warfare Agents
Gulf War Syndrome: The Case for Chemical/Biological Agent Exposure


Biological Warfare Defense

The following section, describing the types, dissemination, and defensive measures against biological agents, is quoted verbatim from a United States Marine Corps Institute document, Nuclear and Chemical Operations, MCI 7711B, used in the Command and Staff College's nonresident program. It is clear from this document that the Department of Defense recognizes both the threat and U.S. vulnerability to biological weapons. This document also outlines the Department's understanding of what actions should be taken in the event that a biological weapon has been or is suspected to have been employed.

"Biological agents cannot be detected by the human senses. A person could become a casualty before he is aware he has been exposed to a biological agent. An aerosol or mist of biological agent is borne in the air. These agents can silently and effectively attack man, animals, plants, and in some cases, material. Agents can be tailored for a specific type of target.

Methods of using antipersonnel agents undoubtedly vary so that no uniform pattern of employment or operation is evident. It is likely that agents will be used in combinations so that the disease symptoms will confuse diagnosis and interfere with proper treatment. It is also probable that biological agents would be used in heavy concentrations to insure a high percentage of infection in the target area. The use of such concentrations could result in the breakdown of individual immunity because the large number of micro-organisms entering the body could overwhelm the natural body defenses.

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Types of Biological Agents

Different antipersonnel agents require varying periods of time before they take effect, and the periods of time for which they will incapacitate a person also vary. Most of these diseases having antipersonnel employment potential are found among a group of diseases that are naturally transmitted between animals and man. Mankind is highly vulnerable to them since he has little contact with animals in today's urban society. The micro-organisms of possible use in warfare are found in four naturally occurring groups -- the fungi, bacteria, rickettsiae, and viruses.

  1. Fungi. Fungi occur in many forms and are found almost everywhere. They range in size from a single cell, such as yeast, to multicellular forms, such as mushrooms and puffballs. Their greatest employment potential is against plants, although some forms cause disease in man. A fungus causes the disease coccidioidomycosis in man. Other common infections caused by Fungi include ringworm and "athletes foot."

  2. Bacteria. Bacteria comprises a large and varied group of organisms. They occur in varying shapes, such as rods, spheres, and spirals, but they are all one-celled plants. Some bacteria can assume a resistant structure called a spore, which enables them to resist adverse environmental conditions. Others may produce poisonous substances called toxins. Examples of human disease caused by bacteria are anthrax, brucellosis, tularemia, staphylococcus, and streptococcus.

  3. Rickettsiae. Rickettsiae organisms have the physical appearance of bacteria and the growth characteristics of viruses. Members of this group must have living tissue for growth and reproduction, whereas most fungi and bacteria can be grown on artificial material. Another characteristic of rickettsiae is that most diseases caused by this group are transmitted by the bite of an insect, such as the mosquito, mite, or tick. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Q fever, and typhus are diseases of mankind caused by rickettsiae.

  4. Virus. The smallest living things known to mankind are viruses. Viruses are so small that an electron microscope is required to see them. Viruses cannot be grown in the absence of living tissue. Diseases which are caused by viruses cannot normally be treated with antibiotics. Viruses cause yellow fever, rabies, and poliomyelitis.

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Dissemination of Biological Agents

  1. Aerosol. Biological agents may be disseminated on, or over, the target by many means, such as aircraft, missiles, and explosive munitions. These devices produce a biological aerosol, and, if antipersonnel biological agents are ever used, they will probably be disseminated in the form of biological mists or aerosols. This method of dissemination would be extremely effecftive because the micro-organisms would be drawn into the lungs as a person breathes, and there they would be rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. The hours from dusk until dawn appear to be the best time for dissemination of biological agents. The weather conditions are most favorable for these agents at night, since sunlight will destroy many of them. In field trials, using harmless biological aerosols, area coverages of thousands of square miles have been accomplished. The aerosol particles were carried for long distances by air currents. (emphasis added)

  2. Living Hosts. Personnel may be infected by disease carrying vectors, such as insects, rats, or other animals. Mosquitos may spread malaria, yellow fever, or encephalitis; rats spread plague (any mammal may carry rabies). Militarily, specific vectors may be selected, infected as required, and then released in the target area to seek out their human victims and pass on the disease. Since infection is transmitted through a bite in the skin, protective masks offer no protection. A vector borne agent may remain in the target area for as long as there are live hosts; thus, a major disadvantage results. The vector borne agent can become a permanent hazard in the area as the host infects others of his species.

  3. Food and Water Contamination. Biological agents could also be delivered to target personnel by placing the agent in food and water supplies (sabotage). This type of attack would probably be directed against small targets, such as industrial complexes, headquarters, or specific individuals. The methods of delivering the attack are many and varied.

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Defensive Measures

The United States carries out research aimed at improved means of detection of biological agents and treatment and immunization of personnel. Both of these are essential to biological defense.

  1. Before an Attack: The inability of the individual to detect a biological attack is perhaps the greatest problem. Contributing factors are the delay experienced before the onset of symptoms and the time required to identify specific agents. Without an adequate means of detection, complete defensive measures may not be taken since an attack must first be detected before you can defend against it. Diseases caused by biological agents do not appear until a few days to weeks after contact with the agent. Personnel are protected against biological agents in aerosol form by the protective mask. Ordinary clothing protects the skin from contamination by biological agents. Other means of protection include immunizations; quarantining contaminated areas; cleanliness of the body, clothing, and living quarters; stringent rodent and pest control; proper care of cuts and wounds; and education of troops to eat and drink only from approved sources.

  2. After an Attack: After a biological agent attack has occurred, it will be necessary to identify the agent used in the attack so that proper medical treatment may be given to exposed personnel. To perform this identification, it is necessary to collect samples or objects from the contaminated area and send them to a laboratory or suitable facility for processing. Samples may be taken from the air, from contaminated surfaces, or from contaminated water. After the sample is taken, laboratory time will be required to identify the suspected biological agent. The length of time for identification is being significantly shortened through the use of new medical and laboratory techniques. Proper defensive actions taken during a biological attack depend upon the rapid detection of the attack. Biological defense is continuous. You must always be prepared for the employment of these weapons. (emphasis added)

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Iraq's Experience in the Use of Chemical Warfare Agents

The fears and the precautions taken prior to the Gulf War were not the product of excessive hysteria. Five United Nations reports have confirmed the use of chemical warfare agents in the Iran-Iraq War. Use of chemical weapons against both the Kurds and Shiite Moslems within Iraq is well documented. Press reports also document Iraqi readiness to use these weapons against Coalition forces during the Persian Gulf War.

In April 1993, two U.S. based human rights organizations confirmed that they had found residues of chemical weapons used by the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein against Kurdish village in northern Iraq in 1988. These groups, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, said they had used advanced analytical techniques to discover the presence of mustard gas and the nerve gas Sarin. Those chemical weapons reportedly were dropped by aircraft on August 25, 1988 and killed four people in the Kurdish village of Birjinni. Testimony from survivors of the Birjinni bombing, who said victims of the raids died writhing and coughing blood, led to accusations that Iraq had gassed its own citizens as part of a campaign against rebellious Kurds that killed tens of thousands. This was the first time that scientists had been able to prove the use of chemical weapons, and especially a nerve gas, through the analysis of environmental residue acquired years after such an attack occurred.

Soil samples were gathered from the 1988 bombing sites and then delivered to a British laboratory. Chemists at Porton Down found traces of mustard gas and Sarin. Dr. Graham Pearson, director of the British Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment, verified these results and confirmed the samples were taken from bomb craters near the northern Iraqi village of Birjinni in June 1992. The byproducts of the breakdown of these poisons are so specific that they provide a "unique fingerprint" in chemical analysis that points directly to a poison gas attack.

An earlier attack had been reported on March 17, 1988 on the village of Halabja. Amnesty International reported that chemical weapons were used in an attack by Iraq, in which "some 5,000 Kurds were killed within an hour." A U.N. team sent to investigate the attack found evidence of chemical weapons, although they did not rule on who carried out the attack on the town, which had been occupied by Iran since mid-March.

On September 26, 1993, Shiite rebels living in the southern Iraqi marshlands reported an early morning shelling attack by Iraqi forces. The eyewitnesses, who spoke with a New York Times reporter, mentioned that the shells landed with a thud "and not the usual explosion" sending up white clouds. The artillery attack was followed by a ground assault by Iraqi troops who were equipped with gas masks.

A Shiite rebel claimed that upon entering one of the Iraqi armored personnel carriers they found battle orders calling for a chemical attack. Rebel leaders provided a copy of the captured orders. Written in Arabic on the twenty-sixth of September, the orders, numbered 1-15, instructed the Iraqi soldiers to use chemical weapons to "retake the village" and that "each soldier must be instructed on how to respond during the chemical attack."

After the attack, some villagers returned for their belongings, but there was nothing left. They discovered that trees and plants had withered and yellowed. Furthermore, "the cats, the dogs, the birds and even the water snakes had died. But for some reason the victims had been removed by the troops. We saw no bodies."

In November 1993, a nine member U.N. inspection team arrived to take samples from the area of the alleged chemical attack. The results of the inspection were inconclusive.

It is also suspected that Iraq may have used biological agents (mycotoxins) during the 1984 attack on Majnoon Island, during the Iran-Iraq War, and in 1988 against the Kurds (cholera and typhus). However, no medical verification of Iraqi use of biological warfare agents yet exists.

The above documented instances of chemical weapons use (and suspected use) against Iranians, Kurds, and Shiites undermine Department of Defense assertions that Iraq may not have used these weapons against Coalition forces because they "feared contamination of their own men." Marine Brigadier General Richard Neil said that prisoner debriefings of Persian Gulf War EPWs had "yielded the impression that the Iraqis were not comfortable operating in a chemical environment...and...Iraqi soldiers had poor chemical protection equipment of their own." Lt. General Thomas Kelly stated in a press briefing that "the Iraqi Army was very uncomfortable, we are finding out from the POWs, about the use of chemical weapons because they are not familiar with it." However, as the preceding paragraphs make clear, the Iraqi Army had operational experience with the use of these weapons, unlike their American counterparts.

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Gulf War Syndrome: The Case for Chemical/Biological Agent Exposure

As the preceding sections of this report make clear, the Government of Iraq possessed a large and sophisticated chemical and biological weapons production complex. Iraq's army, organized and equipped along Soviet lines, also appeared to employ Soviet chemical warfare doctrine, which advocated the use of mixed agent warfare. Iraq used these weapons against its own people in the 1980's, and possibly again in 1993. It should not be surprising that Baghdad would also use every weapon in its arsenal against the much more serious threat to its own survival posed by the massed Coalition forces. Additionally, the release of chemical and biological agents as a result of Coalition bombing should have been expected by the Allied forces, based upon their own doctrine regarding the dispersal of chemical agents.

Several theories have been put forward to explain the cause(s) of Gulf War Syndrome. Most of them lack credibility because they do not explain transmission of similar symptoms across a broad and dissimilar population whose only commonality was the service of a family member in the Persian Gulf theater of operations or contact with materiel returned from that venue. Meanwhile, the passage of over three years since the appearance of the first symptoms, and the inability of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to find a cause, suggests that the illnesses may be caused by something that these institutions have not examined. Further, the absence of credible and verifiable published scientific research on the syndrome by the these agencies, providing specifics of the types of laboratory research that have been conducted, case histories, and methodologies used, leaves each interested scientist in the dark as to what diagnostic processes have been attempted and which have failed.

There is a growing body of evidence, outlined in detail below, which supports the claims of Gulf War veterans that exposure to chemical and/or biological warfare agents may be the cause of the complex of illnesses they currently suffer. There appear to be four primary sources of exposure:

  1. As a result of direct attack, via missile, rocket, artillery, or aircraft munitions;

  2. As a result of intermittent low-level exposure to fallout from Coalition bombings of Iraqi chemical and biological warfare plants and munitions bunkers;

  3. As a result of administration of a nerve agent pre-treatment drug that acts in a manner similar to actual nerve agent;

  4. As a result of continuing contact with the Iraqi enemy prisoners of war (EPWs).

In addition, there appear to be two secondary sources of exposure:

  1. Exposure to occupational/environmental hazards in Southwest Asia and to contaminated material returned from the theater of operations

  2. Transmission among family members. Exposure to endemic diseases and illnesses and diseases must also be thoroughly researched.

Hundreds of Gulf War veterans have been interviewed by the Committee staff. The events cited below are included because the veterans reporting them could remember approximately when they occurred, or because there were multiple independent confirming sources. A map showing the location of these events appears at the end of this section.

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