Background BriefingAttributable To: Senior Defense Official
Subject: Gulf War Illness
Mr. Bacon: This briefing is attributable to a Senior Defense Official, and we are working on generating at least versions of some of these pictures, and we hope the map as well, which we hope will be available later in the afternoon.
Q: Can we ask that this briefing be held on the record.
A: We'll take the question.
Q: Well, we'll leave.
Briefer: Good afternoon.
Consistent with our efforts at the direction of the President and the Secretary of Defense, we are investigating intensely the issues related to Persian Gulf War veterans' illnesses. Since our last background session three weeks ago, about, we have continued to look especially intensely at the Khamisiyah events, and we've also proceeded with our notification efforts that Ken Bacon described to you a few moments ago.
I wanted to bring you up to date on the current state of our efforts in this regard; actions we're taking; and the progress of our investigation of Khamisiyah.
Our hope in this is to keep you as up to date as we possibly can, to answer to the best of our ability any of your questions, and to keep you informed of the process as it unfolds. This is obviously a complex and changing issue, and we want to make sure that as these events occur you're informed.
As part of this entire broad-gauged effort to look at Persian Gulf illnesses and the possible causes, we have actually undertaken a very broad variety of initiatives. It is old news to some of you who follow this very closely, but we have included today -- in a handout we'll give you -- a list of the initiatives we have taken in the research ares and the outreach areas, in the effort to investigate incidents. I draw it to your attention because it's actually quite comprehensive. We are moving as aggressively as we can on the health front; the operational and intelligence investigation front; and of course, since this spring, very intensely, on the issue associated with Khamisiyah.
Turning to Khamisiyah, our investigations of the demolitions that occurred at the Khamisiyah ammunition storage dump in March of 1991, have been proceeding over the summer. We stated when we first announced that we believed chemical munitions had been present when U.S. troops destroyed the bunkers at Khamisiyah, that this was going to be a complex puzzle, and that we would be trying to put the pieces together over time. That turns out, if anything, to have been an understatement. Khamisiyah and the events that occurred there are proving to be quite challenging for us. At the same time, we are learning a lot, and we're going to continue to try to learn a lot.
We have previously announced that we were going to attempt to contact troops who may have been in the vicinity of Khamisiyah, and today we are announcing that the effort to do that is going to be expanded to approximately 20,000 U.S. troops who were within a 50 kilometer radius of Khamisiyah -- the exact number I believe is 20,867. That's not an exact number, of course, but that's the best approximation we have right now.
This expanded outreach is going to be done in two ways, or for two purposes. We have the 1,100 or so folks who were at Khamisiyah conducting the demolition operation; and then we have, in addition to those 1,100, other units that could have been in the area as far out as 50 kilometers. This map has a ring drawn around Khamisiyah that gives you an idea of how far out 50 kilometers goes.
The first thing we're going to do, we've spent the entire summer trying to reach the 1,100 actual people involved in the demolition, and we have now succeeded in contacting telephonically approximately 600 of those individuals. That leaves us with another 500 whom we have either not been able to locate, have left messages but haven't had the phone calls returned, or don't have good information on where they are.
We are seeking that additional 500 through a certified letter, and we'll release the text of that letter for you today. For that group of people, we are asking them to call us. We want to talk to each one of those individuals to learn as much as we can about the events at Khamisiyah during March of 1991.
Q: When you talk to those 500 soldiers and then you decide they need to come in for an examination, are you paying their travel to a medical facility -- whether it's a VA facility or an active duty installation facility? Two, are you reimbursing them for the day they have to take off to go get this medical examination?
A: There's two things going on. One is, we want to talk to these people, in the first instance, about what they remember about what happened at Khamisiyah, so our interest is in piecing this puzzle together. If these individuals or any other individuals who were in the Gulf War feel that they need medical treatment or they desire a medical evaluation or they want to be entered into the registries, that goes under the standard procedures that we're using for everybody.
The second letter we'll send, the letter to the broader group, is a letter that informs them that we need their help understanding what happened at Khamisiyah. Not only in terms of what they might remember as to events and locations, but also whether they experienced any kinds of medical effects or symptoms at that time.
So what we will be doing, and this letter so informs them, is following up this letter with a survey which we will send out to these folks and ask them to fill out to help us get more information about what may have occurred and how they're doing. In addition, as you'll see from the letters, we remind them of the availability of medical evaluation, encourage anybody who believes they have medical problems as the result of service in the Gulf War to contact the appropriate DoD or VA medical facility.
Q: That's going to be of the 20,000 or the 1,100 or which number is that?
A: The mail survey is to the remaining individuals, not in the 1,100. The 1,100 we want to talk to and survey them over the phone. The remainder, 19,000 plus, we will send a mail survey to shortly. This letter that we're sending to them now informs them that that's coming, urges them to fill it out and help us with this puzzle.
That's really because we don't have a lot of data about what happened at Khamisiyah and we don't have a clear picture at all of what might have been the potential release of chemical agent or whether it affected anybody and that's what we're trying to investigate.
We have here today the declassified versions, or images of the Khamisiyah area. This first photograph shows the complex itself. This is a very large ammunition storage site with approximately 100 bunkers, and in addition a number of warehouses and other structures. So it's...
Q: How large is it?
A: That information is contained in the CIA's publication from this summer which I can't remember off the top of my head, but they have a diagram in there. It's, I can't tell from the scale. It's several kilometers. We can look afterward. It's several kilometers.
This is the complex. This is a canal area. Down by this canal area is the site that has come to be known as the pit. That's there, and the bunkers are up there.
We have a couple of slightly larger photos. I've just been told 25 square kilometers is the answer to the size of the...
The bunker area that we're interested in comes from this corner of the site. That's blown up there. I blew it up bigger. This is a photograph from the 1st of March and it shows, here's Bunker 73, the one that we now know had chemical weapons in it. These two bunkers nearby were destroyed in the air war, so they were destroyed after the 10th of February when this earlier picture was taken and they're not destroyed. By March 1st, they'd been hit from the air.
This photo is of the pit area. The pit is what people call it. Some of the reports at the time, some of the people there called it a "wadi". It's a slightly excavated area. This is the top of this canal, that kind of revetment. So up along this side of the pit, it's sort of like an earthen wall. What you'll be able to see if you get up close and use a magnifying glass, is stacked along this wall are some things that it turns out are crates of 122mm rockets. So there were crates of rockets in this pit.
We didn't realize until this spring when the second UNSCOM visit took place confirming the presence of chemical munitions in Bunker 73, that the munitions in the pit had also been destroyed by American forces. The Iraqis told the UNSCOM inspectors that American forces had destroyed those munitions in the pit. You'll recall that from the earlier UNSCOM visit in the fall of '91, they had confirmed that in the pit area there were chemical munitions. They had physically confirmed that. What we hadn't put together until this spring was that American forces, in addition to blowing up the bunkers, had also conducted demolition operations in the pit.
There still is a lot of confusion and a lot of fog surrounding these events. We're trying to talk to the people who were actually there. Their memories are not always in harmony with one another. We're trying to figure out when this event occurred and how.
What we believe now, and what we have previously said, is that this event of blowing up crates of munitions in the pit occurred on the 10th of March, which was the same day that a major demolition of many of the remaining bunkers was conducted, so often the people who were there refer to it as the "big blow". However, we've also been looking for the logs of the demolition units that were operating in the area at the time. In the log of the 60th EOD unit, we find an entry for March 12th that indicates 840 five-inch rockets were destroyed. Five inches is a quarter of an inch larger than 122mm's, so it's approximately the same size rocket. It does not indicate that they were in the pit, and it does not indicate that they were chemical. It just says 840 five-inch rockets. However, it's two days later than what we previously thought was the last day of demolition operations in the Khamisiyah area.
So we are in the process of trying to locate individuals, part of this 1,100, that can shed light on this event.
Q: This is March 12th?
A: March 12th.
Q: Are you raising the possibility that 840 more chemical rockets were destroyed on March 12th?
A: I'm raising the possibility that an event occurred on March 12th, that 840 rockets some place at Khamisiyah may have been destroyed. What's in them, we have no idea. The entry in the log says HE. However, we have the discrepancy in reporting on events on the 10th where some of our individuals remember trying to destroy three stacks of rockets, and others remember that they destroyed six stacks of rockets, and trying to piece... People were in there in different times. It's a two or so kilometer long pit. We're trying to figure out how this could have been. It's possible there's an error in the log entry. It's possible they got the date wrong. Or it's possible that two separate events occurred. We're in the process of trying to sort that out.
Q: I thought the 37th Engineers did the March 10th pit demolition.
A: The 37th Engineers? It's the 307th.
Q: I think you've been saying the 37th Engineers.
A: Well, they're both involved.
Q: They may be both involved; but you previously said the 37th Engineers did the demolition in the pit area.
A: I am not attempting to rewrite any history here. Whatever we've been saying is what I intend to say. I don't have anything new on that. But we can check. We can give you that chronology, because that's already been written down. I, off the top of my head, can't remember it.
Q: But this is the 60th...
A: The log entry I'm talking about is the 60th EOD. The 60th EOD was operating in support of the 307th. We can provide you that in exquisite detail. The 60th EOD supported the 307th with 12 people, 12 EOD specialists -- three at headquarters, three with each company of the 307th. And these folks were in the pit and did some of these demolitions.
Q: Have you found the person that wrote that log entry? Has that person been talked to?
A: We found the person. We know the person who kept the log. He reports that if his log says March 12th, then it's March 12th. We have also found the person who was in the pit rigging the rockets for destruction, and he recalls very vividly that they destroyed the rockets in the pit on the day of the "big blow" which would have been the 10th. So he cannot explain why an entry would have been made for the 12th. So we have this discrepancy right now.
Q: You said it didn't say it was the bunker or the pit. Could it have been somewhere else?
A: It could have been.
Q: And they can't remember.
A: It could have been. The entry in the log, the location is identified by coordinates, which are the center of Khamisiyah. That's how the entry is made. All the other activity at Khamisiyah is all located by a geographic locator. It doesn't tell you within the area of Khamisiyah where they were.
So we don't know yet what to make of this, is the actual story.
Q: So in fact it could be 840 additional rockets beyond those that we've already talked about.
A: It could be an event with 840 additional rockets. Whether they would be chemical, we have no way of saying.
Q: Do you have any evidence...
Q: ...from UNSCOM that these were possibly... I thought the 550 pit rockets were a result of the UNSCOM/CIA estimates.
A: The search for the 550 rockets is precisely that. It's based on an estimate of how many of these stacked up rockets there were in the first place. That is, we have a differential memory of 'I saw three stacks, I saw nine stacks, I saw six stacks'. Then you have the memory of 'how high were they'. Then you have to kind of do some calculations as to how many rockets that would translate into.
We know from the rockets that UNSCOM found there in the fall of '91 and the number that they destroyed, and you subtract that from what you think might have been the number there after you do this magic calculation of what was there, and you end up, depending on assumptions, but the most conservative assumptions, there could have been as many as 550 rockets unaccounted for. That's where the number 550 comes from. There are obviously some error terms possible in those calculations. We may have the number of stacks not exactly right, or their height, all of those crates may not have been filled. There are obviously some areas of uncertainty in this.
Q: Activists are -- you won't be surprised to hear -- already critiquing your announcements today. One question they're raising is, how did you make the 50 kilometer decision? There are those who believe they are sick who were not within that area, so they want to know how you made that decision, and whether you are able to say today that you're convinced that there were no other emissions of chemical weapons anywhere else in the country.
A: Let me answer the latter question first. We are in no position today to say that we are certain about anything with regard to the possible chemical presence or release. The last thing we want to do, while we have a very intensive investigation going on, is pronounce definitively in areas of such great uncertainty.
We are looking everywhere we can, we are going to follow up every report we get, we're looking at every anomaly we can find. We will try to run these down as best we can. I think we all have to recognize at the end of the day, we may not have a certain answer. We may have people who were there who remember it differently. We may have an inability to associate any phenomenology with any illness. But it will not be because we are not trying everything we know how to do. So that's the answer to the second question.
The answer to the first question about 50 kilometers, is actually part of a more complicated question. The real issue is not just 50 kilometers, but what time frame. Let me explain how we arrived at this determination.
The units that we are reaching out to, this 20,000 plus in the 50 kilometer range, is bounded in space by 50 kilometers, but in time by the time March 4th to March 15th. March 4th is the date of the demolition of the Bunker 73, so that's the first potential chemical release date. March 15th is three days after March 12th. If March 12th were by any chance a chemical rocket release, we would assume the three days it would take for all the chemical agent to dissipate and degrade. So we take a margin of three days after any potential release. Until we knew about this date of the 12th, we would have just gone out to the 13th from the 10th. So we've gone out to the 15th.
By doing that, you add to the number of units because there are a lot of units who moved through the area during that time period. They weren't there continuously that whole time. But anybody who comes inside this ring in my 11-day period gets counted.
The second thing we've done is, the question is okay, why 50 kilometers? Fifty kilometers is arbitrary, but not random. Previously when we talked about a zone of health effects or an area where you should have experienced some sort of symptom if there was a chemical release, that area is roughly 25 kilometers. Now this is under the most conservative assumptions. If we assumed that there were as many as 550 rockets -- and there's a number of uncertainties that go with this, and I want to keep emphasizing this -- If you assume there were 550; if you assume they were all filled with sarin or cyclosarin; if you assume that the purity of that agent was 100 percent -- which we have never seen in Iraqi chemical munitions, but if you assume that -- and if they all exploded nearly simultaneously and you got a maximum kind of aerosol cloud out of that. Under that scenario, your lethal zone is three to five kilometers. Anybody that close should have died. We know nobody died as a result of chemical release at this time.
Outside of that lethal zone is the zone of health effects, where it would be very visible if you were exposed to chemical weapons you would know it. Runny nose, blurry eyes. Visible health effects. Incapacitating health effects, presumably.
We, at present, have no reports of anybody experiencing those effects at the time. Now we don't rule that out. That's what this letter is going out and we'll survey people, we're asking people. But at the present time we know of nobody who experienced or reported experiencing those effects. That would be about 25 kilometers.
Because we don't have great certainty in this, we doubled that range, for a margin of safety, to 50. So we reach out to 50 kilometers. It does take the number up to 20,000 instead of the 5,000 or 6,000 that you'd have in the immediate 25 kilometer area. But that's a conservative assumption, because in part we need to learn more about this and we want to reach out.
The final thing we did is, you'll notice, it's a circle. We are not dependent on any assumptions about wind or time or day or anything else. We've reached out 50 kilometers in all directions. And that's important because of the two different times. We know the wind was blowing north, roughly, on the day of Bunker 73. It was blowing generally southernly on March 10th, at the time of the pit. Although some people who were there say it was blowing west, but we think it was blowing south. We're not dependent on any assumptions about wind or weather by reaching out in an entire circle.
Q: If you're taking into consideration the March 12th date, and three days after that the cloud would have dissipated, why aren't you taking into consideration that there might have been 840 rockets that contained what -- you said 550? What if it was 1,390, what would the radius be?
A: We know it wasn't 1,390 because UNSCOM recovered 700 plus that they had to destroy themselves. So the demolitions were not 100 percent successful. The most any analyst estimates could have been set off at one time were the 550.
Your question is very well taken. That was assuming it was all on one day on the 10th, with a 1,200 ceiling. What if there were some on the 10th and 840 on the 12th? We would assume that 840 weren't destroyed since so many were recovered later. But clearly that's a clouding factor. We think we've captured that by going out to the 15th. Any possible outcome from that.
Q: In other words, that radius indicates the 1,300 rockets on March 10th and March 12th, both days.
A: Yes. Because we've gone out to the 15th to bound it.
Q: So you're assuming the possibility of another 485...
A: We're trying to take that into account. And clearly, if we got more information of either a confirmatory event or some better estimate of the size if we have to make an adjustment, we'll make an adjustment. But right now we don't have...
Q: ...eight or nine tons of sarin nerve gas in two days.
A: I don't think anybody believes that 840 rockets full of sarin would have been set off to create that kind of event at one time, but right now we don't know. All we have is this log entry.
Q: You're saying it's possible now.
A: It's highly unlikely because of the number of rockets that were recovered in the pit by UNSCOM.
Q: What's the maximum you think is likely? 550?
A: I think right now we'd have to say 550 because that's our best information. But what we have is this anomalous log entry date with 840 rockets which it says were HE, and which we don't know where they were or if it occurred. It would be a pretty big leap to assume there were 840 chemical rockets, but...
Q: That's why you're going to 50 kilometers.
A: We're trying to be conservative, that's right.
Q: What's HE?
A: High explosive.
Q: All the soldiers will be compensated when they go to the medical examinations, if they decide to go get one, they'll be compensated in their transportation to there, and...
A: The procedures that we use routinely are in place for this. There's nothing special as a result of Khamisiyah.
Q: Have you any plans to conduct such an intensive survey regarding Gulf War Syndrome complaints of military personnel attendant to exposure to insecticide, vehicle painting, oil fires, and...
A: There's a huge amount of research that has gone on and that is going on, and some of it is summarized in the handout we'll give you. In addition, we are underwriting $5 million of research on low level chemical exposure with FY96 money, and are likely to underwrite $10 million more that the Congress earmarked in FY97 money for research on chemical exposure. So there's a lot of health-related research that we are undertaking. In addition to that research, there's about $12 million worth of other DoD-funded research on this issue. All of these potential causes have been researched or are in the process of being researched. And of course as the government-wide effort in conjunction with the Persian Gulf Coordinating Board, and the Veterans Administration is really quite wide ranging.
We also have, and I would call this to your attention, it takes a little time, but we are in the process of conducting wider surveys of people who were in the Persian Gulf -- carefully constructed scientific surveys with the appropriate reference populations, to see if we can't get a better understanding of these illnesses, and whether there's any pattern to their distribution of their symptomatology.
Finally, the efforts of this Department to inquire, to ask the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to look at our overall effort and advise us on our research structure and whether we need to be doing additional things is another part of our ongoing effort here to have a broad ranging investigation.
Q: We're confused on the 550 and 840. Is the basic position that 550 is probably the maximum destroyed on the 10th, and 840 the maximum on the 12th? Or is it an overall maximum of 1,340 on any time during that period? I'm a little confused on where you...
Q: You're trying to have it both ways.
A: I'm telling you that we have anomalous data right now that we can't reconcile.
Q: It's possible, then, that you had 1,300 rounds on March 10 and 12.
A: Except that UNSCOM recovered over 700, so it's highly unlikely.
Q: What units were in that area?
A: We are releasing an entire list of the units which will be handed out to you. There's a lot of them.
Q: What about all those soldiers that had really nothing to do with that area, but still have these symptoms? What are you trying to do for them?
A: The same things that we have had ongoing continuously. We have the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program. Any person associated with the Department of Defense who wishes to enroll in that program can enroll. We have around 25,000 people currently enrolled in that.
The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a registry which is upwards of 60,000 right now. So we already have over 85,000 people who are enrolled in these registries being evaluated, receiving care if they need it. Anybody who needs care is getting care. Anybody who needs an evaluation can get an evaluation. All of that is ongoing, and a commitment of both departments and of this government, irrespective of Khamisiyah.
Q: I'm a little confused about what you hope the questionnaire will resolve. Do you hope that you'll just get a numerical answer as to how many people believe what happened on what date and resolve it from that perspective? Or what do you hope the questionnaire will show?
A: Two things. One is, we'd like to know any information people have about the events at the time that might be helpful to us in better understanding what happened at Khamisiyah. Second, we'll be interested in knowing if any of these folks have health problems that they believe are related to their service, and we want to make sure they know of the programs that are available to them if they wish to avail themselves of them.
You have to keep in mind that one of the puzzles of Khamisiyah is that supposedly some amount of sarin and cyclosarin was released into the atmosphere. That's a very toxic substance and we have no reports of any symptoms. If we could get reports that would help us kind of bound this event and understand it. If we get no reports with this intensive search, then obviously we have to assume that there wasn't much agent released, and that's important too in understanding exposures at lower levels. So it's really to help us understand this event.
Q: What are you doing, and this is obviously putting a lot of energy into trying to find out what happened at this event, but this has nothing to do with detections by the Czechs and the French in the early days of the air war, detections that have not been denied, that have been found to be credible. What is being done to find out what caused those detections?
A: Those issues have been examined in quite a bit of detail in this Department over the last three years. You have to remember that at the time of the Czech detections, for example, U.S. chemical forces were sent to those areas to try to verify the detection. You have to remember in this air war there were a lot of alarms going off in various places which could never be verified. The Czech detections, in most cases, were never verified and not asserted by the Czechs to be valid. There are two that were said to be valid. We have been unable to identify any potential source for those detections. They were a long way away from anything going on in the air war.
Subsequent to the war the equipment that the Czechs used was evaluated very carefully. It's good equipment. In other words, there was no reason to think it was a false alarm. So we assessed those two detections, at least, as credible. But there is no indication as to what could have caused them, or that they were part of some larger use of chemical weapons. And that, of course, has been, that was the focus for a long time in this arena, and the focus of the DSB panel and all those other activities in '92 and '93. It's a very well trod trail.
Q: Did the DSB panel in 1993/'94 suspect chemical munitions were at An Nasiriyah and Tal al-Lahm and Khamisiyah?
A: Well clearly not at Khamisiyah because we've only learned about Khamisiyah recently. At the other facilities, I would have to speak from memory because I don't have the DSB report in front of me, but UNSCOM was inspecting those facilities in the aftermath of the war as chemical facilities. So I think that would be obvious.
Q: In one of these photographs you showed the bunkers that had been destroyed during the air war. Is there any reason to believe or not to believe that they contained chemical agents?
A: There is no reason to believe that they did contain chemical agents. We have a couple of factors there, the most significant of which is that the Iraqis said they put the chemical weapons in Bunker 73 and that's the bunker where UNSCOM has confirmed that rockets capable of delivering chemicals were. Can we say for certain that there were no chemical weapons? No. We cannot say for certain, but we have no reason to think there were.
Q: Can you walk us through very, very quickly what the 850 and the 550, just how that fits in with one another.
A: If you'll bear with me for a second. (Pause)
I'm looking at the CIA's published analysis from earlier this August where they provide the calculation of how they estimate the... Unfortunately, they don't do the pit estimate, and I don't have the calculation that was done on the pit. Perhaps we can respond to you...
Q: Are these satellite photographs?
Q: U-2 photographs, aerial photographs?
A: I think it's safe to say they are aerial photographs, yes.
Q: Do you have any on March 10th or March 12th or March 4th? That's March 1, '91.
A: This is the imagery I have available that we can declassify.
Q: These have been declassified so we can see them.
A: That's right.
Q: And you would just say they're aerial photographs.
Q: Would there be any reason not to declassify the ones for the days in question?
A: If we can declassify imagery we are declassifying it for this purpose, and if we haven't declassified it's because we can't.
Q: Did you see photographs of those days? March 4, 10, and 12? Did you see it? Aerial photographs.
A: I can't respond to that question.
Q: Are there any other incidents that are still being, allegations of incidents still being investigated elsewhere in the country?
A: We have a number of incidents that we would like to be investigating intensely. Not only the other reported detections that have been mentioned, but anything that any person who was there calls up and has an incident that they would like us to look into, the Persian Gulf investigation team is designed to do that.
One of the things that we have not been able to do is vigorously look at many of these other incidents this summer, because our focus has been so intensely on Khamisiyah and the surrounding events. But we are continuing this as part of our assessment of our overall effort in this regard. We're going to make sure we've got the right number of resources and the right analytical focus to continue looking at any incidents that come to our attention.
Q: Do you have any other incidents where chemical alarms detected nerve agent? In this period.
A: In this period around Khamisiyah?
A: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q: Ken mentioned mustard when he talked about this earlier. Did you have any mustard...
A: If you'll recall, it's better displayed on a different map. But at the Khamisiyah complex as a whole, there was Bunker 73, there was the pit, and then slightly off this photo but up here was an open field. That open field was where UNSCOM found rounds of mustard gas. Actually, our forces knew there was mustard out there. We did not destroy the mustard gas. UNSCOM took care of that.
Q: How many people have been making the phone calls to the 1,100, and how many people are prepared to either carry out the surveys or answer the hotline at some point?
A: We have two shifts of operators that will be available to handle phone calls. In other words, we've increased our level of manning of the phone lines in the anticipation that we might get additional volume. In addition to that, we are making arrangements, if even that's not enough, a system where people will not get a busy signal, but they'll be able to leave a message and somebody will call them back. So we're hoping that we have anticipated any possible additional volume, and we're going to monitor that very closely. If it turns out that we don't have enough resource on that end, we'll increase it.
Q: How many people about on a shift?
A: I believe it's going to be ten people each shift.
Q: Where are they physically located?
A: In California. This is organized by the Defense Data Manpower Center which is the same organization that will manage the mass mailing.
I know this came up earlier about notification. One of the reasons we're doing this and the way we're doing it is we had to get the infrastructure in place before we just start notifying people randomly to call a number and then there's nobody there to answer the phone. So we have to get our infrastructure in place, we have to get our databases with our mailing lists. In this case, to the 20,000 we were sending this letter to anybody who was there, including people who are no longer on active duty or in the reserves, which means we will have to use the Veterans Administration database to help, but all the letters will come from DoD. We had to get the operators located, trained, everything ready. So we've set this in place now, and now the process of notification will be underway.
Q: How many people have been calling the first 1,100? Is that the ten people?
A: The first 1,100, that effort to contact has been conducted by our Persian Gulf investigation team based here in Washington. They're focused very intently on the Khamisiyah investigation, so they've been doing that calling. And we basically have run out of phone numbers. We have called everybody we can find. That's why we're moving to the second stage of a certified letter.
Q: Is it your estimate now that the CIA computer model would stop at 50 kilometers or go further?
A: I have no estimate of the CIA computer model or any other computer model. Let me take a minute or two to describe this modeling activity for you. It's a terribly complex problem. It challenges the best models we have. There are really three challenges to the modeling.
First you have to model the source event. You have to be able, the best I understand it, and this is kind of a layman's explanation of modeling, but you have to be able to understand what happened in terms of the release of agent and express that mathematically.
This is an especially difficult case because we have two different agents. We have sarin and cyclosarin, sort of a medium nerve gas and longer lasting nerve gas, or persistent nerve agent. These release in different ways and they might interact in different ways, so that's a hard modeling question. First you have to understand that part, and it makes a difference in how much of it is aerosol, how much of it is drops, and it makes a difference how much you assume the shell just breaks open and leaks versus how much it goes up in the air and how much it detonates. There are a lot of assumptions that are difficult and all those have to be expressed mathematically.
Then you have to try to deal with the transport of vapor that's released, or droplets, over some period of space. The agents degrade. Sarin and cyclosarin degrade at different rates. They're affected by weather, they're affected by sunlight, they're affected by wind. So you have to somehow model that transport through a medium. A very hard problem.
Then you have the weather, which over a three-day period, which is the decay period for sarin, will change; the wind will be differential at different times of day; the wind will be different at different altitudes -- surface winds, 15 meters up, higher still. The wind will be dynamic. In other words, it will move. It will move up, it will move down, pressures. A very hard thing to model.
Now no single model is very good at all aspects of that, and one of the reasons that we are having a lengthy technical analysis of these very modeling efforts is to try to figure out if we can get a reasonable approximation of what happened. But even if we could do that, and we've got some pretty high powered modelers, and they might be able to come up with something, the greatest uncertainties are about weather and about the source event.
Now weather, we're looking. We've got information coming in. They're search is a sort of world-wide to try to figure out as much as we can about the weather, but we don't have a lot of good observations of the weather at this time in this area. So some of it has to be inferred.
Q: On those days?
A: On those days.
Q: No overhead satellite photos...
A: Overhead satellite data which our people are looking at. There's also this Geo-I system, you may have heard of which had some missing data in it, but lately we've been successful in piecing together a little bit more information. So all that information is being gathered and being looked at.
Even if you could do the weather and even if your model could handle the weather, by far the biggest factor in determining modeling results is going to be the source event. That's why the uncertainties about the time and the number of rockets and the purity of the agent and the manner in which they were destroyed is so critical. The more we can learn about that, the more we can narrow the uncertainties, the less we are looking at 300 scenarios and the more we can focus in.
Again, the issue for us is not modeling. The issue for us is what actually happened, and can we identify real experiences of real people that will enable us to deal with any potential health outcomes.
Q: But answer the question as far as going beyond the 50 km [klick] radius. Do you think, from what you just described, it's going to... The plume from just 550 rockets are going to go beyond 50...
A: From what we know now, there is no plume, if you understand what I'm saying. We have to understand what the source event was. If 550 sarin rockets go off, somebody should die and somebody should have acute health effects. Until we can identify those to some degree of certainty, then it's very difficult to talk about other phenomenology.
Obviously if we don't get any of those effects, even with all our look, and some agent was released, then any exposure that occurred had to be at a level so low that a person didn't notice. Those people would have been in the 50 kilometer area too, presumably, so that's why we start there to look and see if we can discover anything.
Q: Has there been any additional success in locating the missing pages of the CENTCOM logs for these days in question?
A: I'll have to get back to you on that. I'm not sure of the answer and I don't want to mislead you.
Q: Do we have 37th Engineer logs?
A: I'll have to check. The PGI is doing that. I haven't seen them. We'll have to check. I'm not saying we don't, I just don't know.
Q: We do know that there is one soldier who says he got a positive M-256 kit during the course of the March 4th explosion. Have you been able to find any place else where anybody else got a positive reading in their test kit for...
A: No. So far in all of the interviews that the investigation team has done, around both the bunkers and in the pit event, that's the only report of a positive.
Q: Do you have any reason to suspect this gentleman got it wrong?
A: I don't have any reason to suspect that he got it wrong. I also have no information as to why he got it right. I have no information on that.
Q: Is your office addressing the issue of soldiers who feel well today, but ten years from now may come up with some symptoms? What are you doing to alleviate those fears? I was there, I was in the Gulf War. I'm fine today, but...
A: The best medical evidence that we have today does not indicate that there should be any long term health effect from an exposure to nerve agents over a short term -- whether it's acute or low level. Now we are going to spend a lot of money to see if we can identify some potential health effects from exposures even at sub-acute levels. But as of today, we know of no reason that there should be a health effect from that exposure.
Press: Thank you.
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