Military Leaders Take Heat over Gas Findings in Gulf War Ignored, Specialists Say

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Two military chemical-weapons specialists told Congress on Tuesday that their units had made confirmed detections of nerve agents in the vicinity of U.S. troops in Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. But they said their superiors never followed up.

Testifying before a House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee, Army Maj. Michael F. Johnson and Marine Gunnery Sgt. George J. Grass said they took pains in both cases to verify the detections and to make sure they were reported up the chain of command.

Both men said, however, that the detections were ignored at the time and that no one from the Pentagon hierarchy ever questioned them about what they had discovered, even though they disclosed the incidents publicly before a presidential advisory panel last year. Their stories appeared likely to add to doubts about the Pentagon's insistence that all such detections by U.S. chemical teams either could not be confirmed or were later proved to be inaccurate. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., the subcommittee chairman, said the incidents bolstered suspicion by lawmakers that top military officials - and the Pentagon's civilian leaders - simply were not aggressive enough in pursuing the mystery of Persian Gulf War illnesses. "You are all voices in the wilderness that nobody is listening to," he said. The issue has been controversial because many of the Gulf War veterans who have been suffering from illnesses that they believe they acquired during the war contend that their illnesses stem from exposure to toxic chemicals in Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Although the Pentagon has begun investigating those allegations more fully, top Defense Department officials have insisted that they knew of no such exposures. They have said that virtually all such detections by chemical warfare teams have proved to be false. On Tuesday, however, Johnson and Grass insisted that they had taken steps to verify the detections they reported and told lawmakers that they heard of dozens of other instances in which U. …