14 October 2014, NYT: Chemical Secrets of the Iraq War
14 October 2014, NYT: The Secret Casualties of Iraq's Abandoned Chemical Weapons
OCT. 27, 2014
Investigating Abandoned Chemical Weapons in Iraq
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
An investigation by The New York Times found that during the Iraq War, American troops encountered aging chemical weapons abandoned years earlier,  and that some servicemen injured by these munitions received inadequate care. Readers submitted a range of questions for the journalists who wrote the story, including why the United States government kept the discovery of these munitions largely secret. C.J. Chivers, a Times reporter, and John Ismay, a contributor, responded to selected readers’ questions
Why Such Secrecy?
Q. Wonder why the U.S. government would have wanted it kept secret? Would seem to me to have bolstered their argument for intervention.
-- Erik LaPresta via Facebook
As far as we know, and what every source involved -- from those who were exposed to those involved in planning and assessing the recovery and destruction of the aged shells and warheads -- has said, the weapons that were recovered were all manufactured before 1991.
Further, there were indications again and again that the weapons could not have been used as designed. They were rusty or pitted, and often missing features necessary for them to be fired, such as rotating bands on the artillery shells or rocket motors for the rockets. Many had been buried and damaged, and no longer were true to size and shape after rough handling, corrosion or other damage.
They were, in short, the discarded remnants of a program that had been destroyed and dismantled by a combination of the 1991 Gulf War, unilateral Iraqi destruction or burial, and the United Nations inspections and demilitarization programs.
They were certainly dangerous as caches that could be breached by handling or hasty destruction, or when repurposed into makeshift bombs. But they were not weapons that posed the risks they might have posed had they been fired and still functioned as intended long ago.
It has baffled us, as it baffles you, why the United States did not disclose its findings.
The effects are many, but among them have been that veterans seeking care for their exposures, or their suspected exposures, to chemical weapons have been told by care providers that there were no chemical weapons in Iraq.
The withholding of the incident data and the laboratory analysis of the chemical agents or residues in the old ordnance has been maddening for the victims, who wish to know more about their exposures.
Another downside to the pattern of secrecy and nondisclosure is laid out in a brief essay on the Just Security blog  describing how the United States’ handling of chemical weapons it found in Iraq appeared to fall short of the obligations of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
This is a potentially embarrassing and hypocritical position for the United States to be in, given its public positions about how other nations declare, handle and destroy chemical weapons under their control.
All of that said, while we have uncovered no evidence of post-1991 vintage chemical weapons, or of active programs, we are open to evidence indicating otherwise. Many sources have made clear to us that were more incidents than those of which we are aware, and as further evidence surfaces we will look at it with interest.
-- C.J. Chivers
Is There a Cover-Up?
Q. This is outrageous. If American troops, injured by chemical agents while performing their duties, were denied care and recognition of their exposure to meet some political agenda someone needs to be held accountable. Who issued the orders to suppress these discoveries? It was common knowledge that Iraq had chemical munitions; they had used them on their own people. Chemical weapons are not in themselves a W.M.D. They are just another type of ordnance, a banned one at that. Why is information about these incidents still being covered up? The first priority should be to assure all those exposed to these munitions are provided the care and compensation they deserve. The second priority should be to hold to account the scoundrels that suppressed information and denied care to service members. If criminal prosecution is in order, so be it! We ask young people to join the military and serve their country, at times being exposed to extreme risk and even death. They should have reasonable expectation that the country has their back.
-- Jack from Thelma, Ky.
We know the names and the positions held of specific officers who victims or fellow service members said instructed them not to discuss these incidents. We have tried contacting these gentlemen. They have either declined to comment or have not returned our written messages and phone calls.
But when set against a larger pattern of information flow of the American military in Iraq, related in part to bureaucratic decisions early in the war, such an order was in some ways unnecessary. By the military’s practice in the war in Iraq, field reports were classified upon creation as "Secret, Releasable to United States of America and Multinational Coalition Forces - Iraq" (abbreviated as SECRET//REL USA, MCFI on documents and files). Some received a higher classification, and much more limited distribution.
The resulting practice simplified the task of service members whose job it was to enter reports into a computer database called CIDNE (Combined Information Data Network Exchange), which resided on an encrypted government network called the SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network).
By making everything classified from the outset, the practice spared low-ranking military personnel from having to wrestle over whether any one detail in any given incident should be classified. That may have relieved a potential burden on clerks. But the result was that the records for even the most common and ordinary incidents -- dismounted patrols that faced small-arms fire, roadside bomb blasts that struck convoys, rockets that hit forward operating bases -- were classified. And most of the documents about chemical-weapons incidents remain classified.
We have sought declassification of these reports and of related analysis for well over a year. But the government -- command by command -- has steadfastly refused to release the details, except for a very limited release of a few redacted pages out of many hundreds that interest us.
Further, we have had sources threatened for talking with us, and one career officer to whom we submitted a query about one of the mustard-agent documents we sought had his computer scrubbed by a security team because of the mere mention of the classified report in his email traffic with a reporter.
What we found is that on the issue of sustained nondisclosure, the government holds a trump card. It can simply declare anything classified if it so chooses, in a closed and opaque process that to this day withholds the records -- even of known or suspected exposures of troops who handled or encountered chemical weapons and who wish now to know more.
-- C.J. Chivers and John Ismay
How High Does This Go?
Q. I have a question for the authors of this piece: how far up the chain of command did knowledge of the presence of these weapons and their effects on the troops did this go? The Joint Chiefs of Staff? Retired Adm. Michael Mullin? Secretaries Donald H. Rumsfeld and Robert Gates? Is there an internal government memo or report related to this betrayal of the troops?
-- Vesper from Brooklyn
A mix of active duty and retired generals and admirals we contacted claimed to have no knowledge of the incidents we documented until we described them. It is possible that information about these incidents was squelched by midlevel officers, but there are ample indications as well of senior and well-placed people knowing of these incidents. All of that is still an active line of our investigation. However, the National Ground Intelligence Center did perform multiple SECRET-level analysis of the recovered chemical weapons in Iraq. How widely read or circulated those reports are is beyond what we know. We have sought declassification of select documents and still seek that declassification.
-- C.J. Chivers and John Ismay