“The Number-One Fear”
Schumacher, whose 32-year military career included more than 20 in the Army’s elite Special Forces, welcomed a chance to present his information to the committee. His opportunity never came, as he was not called — an omission Irvine termed “an unbelievable dereliction which, in my sense of things, suggested that this was not really a committee that was interested in ascertaining true facts.”
In an interview with Joyce Lashof, a psychiatrist with a background in public health who chaired the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, Freedom reminded her of Irvine’s testimony before her committee and asked why Schumacher had not been summoned to testify. Schumacher’s name, she said, “just doesn’t ring a bell, but my memory isn’t the best.”
Yet Schumacher had unique knowledge: for roughly six months before allied forces swept into Iraq in early 1991, he headed the military portion of a team at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) tasked with developing a device to detect lethal biological agents released from aerosol sprayers possessed by the Iraqis.
The sprayers, reportedly manufactured in Italy, were compact enough to be mounted on a pickup truck or speedboat, efficient enough to pose the greatest threat to allied forces. Under weather and climate conditions that existed in the area of combat operations, Schumacher told Freedom, “we would have had an exposure in excess of 180,000 troops if just one of these sprayers was turned on.”
“We weren’t worried about artillery,” he said. “We weren’t worried about aircraft.” These could be neutralized by superior allied firepower. And if Scud missiles were launched, most of their toxic payload would be destroyed by heat when they exploded. Consequently, he said, the sprayers “were the number-one fear that we had.”
According to records Schumacher had access to while on the project, as many as 52 sprayers had been shipped from Italy to Iraq while that nation was locked in its eight-year war with Iran.
Secret Operation Obtains Sprayers
Using a U.S. agricultural firm as a front, Schumacher’s SRI team endeavored to obtain a truck-mountable aerosol sprayer from the manufacturer prior to the launch of Desert Storm.
The manufacturer insisted that it didn’t make sprayers to the specifications requested. This was simply not true, Schumacher told Freedom, adding that the SRI team had access to dates of shipments to Iraq as well as the machines’ specifications — precise descriptions that they sought in the sprayer they ordered.
After the SRI team was unable to obtain a machine directly from the manufacturer, a secret operation, reportedly under the aegis of the CIA, extracted two sprayers from Iraq, with one brought to the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, the other to SRI. There, according to Schumacher, his team worked intensively, their mission known only to a component within the CIA, developing 12 prototype detectors for biological agents and shipping them to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, shortly before Desert Storm.
Designed to “sniff out” multiple agents and to sound an alarm instantly, the devices were not deployed, however. They fell victim to what Schumacher described as a combination of infighting and a lack of understanding of how vital the equipment would be, given the potential of biological warfare activity in the Gulf. Chemical detection systems, on the other hand, were deployed during the Gulf War, sending out many thousands of alarms.13
SEEKING ANSWERS FOR VETS AND THEIR FAMILIES
During the Gulf War, Arvid Brown became severely ill, as later did his wife, Janyce.
Their children were born with physical problems that the Browns (above) attribute to Arvid’s exposure to communicable toxins during the war.
One member of that crew, Officer A*, interviewed by Freedom, described serious health problems following the detail, including frequent headaches, exhaustion, joint pain, rashes and memory loss — none of which he suffered previously. Furthermore, both his wife and child developed severe ailments around the same time that have troubled the family to the present.
There was also the cancer. Officer A had this disease in the 1980s, but it had gone into remission, remaining so for several years before the Gulf War. After handling the equipment returned from the Gulf, he developed another form of cancer. After treatment, his prognosis regarding the cancer is good, but other problems remain.
“Every Organ... Disintegrated”
The death of another young Army officer, Major Williams* — a member of the 1991 inventory detail — was pivotal in a series of events that caused Schumacher to believe that fears of the biological warfare capabilities of the Iraqis, aided by the sprayers on the Gulf War battlefield, were well justified.
Schumacher knew the young officer, who died in 1996 in California.
“Every organ in his body disintegrated,” Schumacher said. “Liver, pancreas, stomach linings, kidneys — everything was just gone.”
Like the others on the inventory detail, Williams had not served in the Persian Gulf.
Colonel Grant White, who knew this young officer and others on the detail, described health problems encountered by four individuals who had helped to unload materials returning from the Persian Gulf: “[Officer A] had gone over seven years without having any problems with cancer,” White said. “But he ended up having another relapse of cancer. [Major Williams] is dead. [Person C]’s knees gave out so he couldn’t run anymore. And I understand that [Person D] had problems with her hips.”
Officer A described how the detail unloaded shipping containers and cleaned items returned from the Gulf. Although nothing of cloth was to have been shipped to America, the detail found canvas-covered seats still in the trucks. The containers also held sleeping bags and other items that could have harbored germs.
No masks, gloves or other protective gear was issued. “We had no anticipation of there being any problem at all,” Officer A said.
“Stonewalled in Every Direction”
When reports of “Gulf War Syndrome” surfaced in the early 1990s, Schumacher was skeptical. But by the mid-1990s, he, like many other military officers, had come to believe veterans’ claims warranted a thorough probe. One reason was that those reporting symptoms were, in Schumacher’s words, “not whiners. They just don’t fit into that category. These are guys that, if they broke their leg on a parachute jump, they wouldn’t tell you.”
Something different had arisen in the annals of American warfare, increasingly alarming as the numbers grew. For nearly two years, Schumacher pursued avenues within the government, seeking to get information about the biological sprayers into the hands of those responsible for helping veterans that might have been exposed to pathogens.
Five of Iraq’s biological sprayers, recovered by allied forces after Desert Storm, turned up on battle damage assessment reports, according to Schumacher. Even if Saddam had never ordered the sprayers used, he said, aircraft strafing or other damage might have released their lethal contents into the atmosphere to poison allied forces that passed by.
“I wanted to know what the status of those five were,” he said. “Where were they in relationship to sick people?”
His simple question found no easy answer. “I was stonewalled in every direction,” he said. “When I began asking questions about where the sprayers were in relationship to the ill troops, that’s when the sprayers didn’t exist. Nobody heard of the sprayers.”
Then, in July 1996, Williams, a member of the 1991 inventory detail — and who had later served on Schumacher’s staff — entered a hospital, seriously ill, and died there. He was 36. An analysis of the nine-page autopsy report found his physical condition to be “not unlike others that had Gulf War Illness that progressed.”15
Not long after Williams’ death, Colonel Irvine talked with Schumacher by telephone, informing him that when Williams had served under his command, he had been part of the detail that inventoried equipment brought back from the Persian Gulf, and that a number of people had become sick.
As Schumacher watched evidence of illness mount, he wrestled over what to do. In late 1996, following his conversation with Irvine and believing he had no alternative if he wanted to help fellow soldiers now sick or dying, Schumacher took his information to the public, granting interviews to reporter Ethan Gutmann for use on the television program, “American Investigator.”
Gutmann, currently a visiting fellow at the Project for the New American Century, a nonprofit educational organization based in Washington, D.C., broke the story of the sprayers in late 1996 while chief investigator for NET, a conservative television network. In an interview with Freedom, Gutmann said he only moved forward with the story after the sprayers’ existence had been confirmed by other sources, including another member of the SRI project to develop real-time detectors.
Yet another source had informed Gutmann that approximately 15 sprayers, hidden by the retreating Iraqis, had been found by allied forces.
“The fact that they were buried in the sand was interesting,” Gutmann said, “because it indicated that even though they [the Iraqis] left lots of equipment just lying around, including tanks, this was something they did attempt to hide.”
* In respect for the wishes of personnel on the detail and their families, real names are not used.