THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Saturday, November 2, 1996 TAG: 9611020306 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A4 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: ASSOCIATED PRESS DATELINE: WASHINGTON LENGTH: 59 lines
Under growing pressure to tell what it knows about possible exposure of U.S. troops to poison gas, the CIA said Friday it has no evidence that Iraq used chemical weapons during the Persian Gulf War. ``Nobody is hiding anything,'' CIA Executive Director Nora Slatkin said.
At the start of an unusual news conference at CIA headquarters, Slatkin read a lengthy statement insisting that the agency is committed to disclosing as much as possible about the issue.
In the five years since a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, many U.S. personnel who served in the 1991 conflict have complained of a variety of unexplained illnesses.
Until June, the Defense Department maintained that there was no evidence that U.S. troops were exposed to chemical or biological weapons during the war. But now the Pentagon says up to 15,000 could have been exposed when U.S. Army troops destroyed an Iraqi ammunition depot at Kamisiyah in southern Iraq.
A presidential advisory committee is examining intelligence reports and hearing testimony from veterans who complain of symptoms that include memory problems, fatigue, diarrhea and insomnia.
Slatkin said the CIA has given the committee all the material it collected on possible exposure to chemical agents.
``On the basis of a comprehensive review of intelligence, we continue to conclude that Iraq did not use chemical or biological weapons during the gulf war,'' Slatkin said.
She also said that CIA Director John Deutch has asked the agency's inspector general to look into allegations by Patrick Eddington, a CIA analyst who resigned from the agency last year, that the CIA and Pentagon were withholding evidence that Iraq used chemical weapons during the war.
Slatkin said the inspector general also would investigate Eddington's contention that the CIA retaliated against officials who agreed with him.
``Every document we have was made available to the presidential advisory committee,'' she said. ``Nothing was held back.''
Eddington has said that the material was turned over to the committee only after he threatened to go public with it.
Slatkin said that contrary to allegations that the CIA withheld information, it was an agency analyst who first raised questions that focused attention on Kamisiyah.
In response to a flood of inquiries about gulf war illnesses, the Pentagon established a site on the Internet in 1995 called Gulflink, as a repository for information.
The web site included intelligence reports that the CIA asked the Pentagon to remove from the site in February so they could be reviewed for classified information.
Bruce W. Kletz, who is publishing Eddington's version of the controversy, put the documents back on the Internet on Thursday. Slatkin told the news conference that the CIA also had put the documents back on the Internet the same day.
Slatkin denied that the disclosures by Eddington and Kletz had anything to do with the CIA decision to restore the material to the Internet.
KEYWORDS: PERSIAN GULF WAR CHEMICAL EXPOSURE by CNB