Status of the Efforts of the DCI Persian Gulf War Illnesses Task Force
A Statement for the Record by Robert D Walpole Special Assistant to the DCI for Persian Gulf War Illnesses Issues Central Intelligence Agency to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses
4 September 1997
When George Tenet appointed me his Special Assistant earlier this year, he tasked me with managing and reviewing all intelligence aspects related to the Persian Gulf war illnesses issue with the goal of "getting to the bottom" of it. I committed to him and myself that I would be completely honest and as thorough as humanly possible. I have stood by that commitment, sometimes brutally so. In the course of our efforts to date, we have:
- Reviewed the previous search criteria;
- Conducted broader searches;
- Ensured the passage of classified material to DoD and others;
- Supported ongoing modeling efforts;
- Implemented a comprehensive communications strategy with this committee and others;
- Continued to manage declassification efforts; and
- Provided and continue to provide analyses of relevant information.
Early on, we discovered that this effort could not be simply one of declassification. We must go beyond that, and measure our success by looking at the breadth of our efforts; counting only the number of documents released to date, or measuring how quickly we have done so, would be short-sighted.
This is the first time the Agency has fully integrated an analytical component into the task force. With this analytical team, we are able to run to ground every thread of interest uncovered on the issue and to prepare papers providing the analytical context surrounding relevant material. For example, the large amount of information we have released the past two months on Ukhaydir is based on UNSCOM information and new analysis of older raw intelligence. Releasing older documents on Ukhaydir that do not contain information pertinent to the illnesses issue would be of no value to the veterans. On the other hand, the analytical documents we have prepared are of significant value.
This broader approach is designed in part to discover and illuminate any evidence about the potential exposure of US forces to chemical weapons or other hazards; to facilitate inquiries into those potential exposures; and to ensure the honest review of the information surfaced in government investigations.
We directed components to conduct new searches for relevant documents employing broader search terms and time periods than previously used. Components captured over a million documents as a result. As you can imagine, searching a decade's worth of material using over 20 pages of broad search terms, we captured many documents that are not only unrelated to veterans' illnesses, they are not even related to the war. For example, the word 'facility' captured numerous unrelated documents. We used this broad approach to hedge against anything being missed.
One of the reasons we broadened the search criteria was to create a larger net to capture documents for DoD for its potential use in case studies of Gulf war illnesses issues. We have not read them for relevancy; rather, we are making them all available to DoD. In that manner, any documents that have not already been declassified that DoD wishes to use in unclassified studies in the future will be reviewed by CIA for release to the public.
Another reason the task force broadened the search criteria was to create a pool of documents for its own searches for additional documents pertinent to veterans' illnesses--most of the documents released to date relate to Khamisiyah. The task force is currently conducting analyses related to potential causes of the illnesses--biological, chemical, radiological, environmental factors, and foreign reported sicknesses. These analyses are being used to generate tailored search criteria to review the million-plus documents to identify those that contain information pertinent to illnesses issues. Pertinent documents will be reviewed for release. As necessary, additional analytical papers will be prepared by the task force to place released documents or other material into an understandable context.
Probably no one in this room could wish more than I that we had been able to move faster than we have. Six months ago I naively thought that we could complete our task in 60 days as originally announced. That simply has not been the case, but I believe anyone aware of our activities recognizes that we have proceeded at a rapid pace and accomplished a significant amount to date. While I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, completing the critical declassification efforts as described above will take more time.