But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, has learned. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.
government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus.
In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture. According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. In contrast to today’s wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein’s widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people.
But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.
In the documents, the CIA said that Iran might not discover persuasive evidence of the weapons’ use — even though the agency possessed it.
Also, the agency noted that the Soviet Union had previously used chemical agents in Afghanistan and suffered few repercussions.
It has been previously reported that the United States provided tactical intelligence to Iraq at the same time that officials suspected Hussein would use chemical weapons. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks.
But the CIA documents, which sat almost entirely unnoticed in a trove of declassified material at the National Archives in College Park, Md., combined with exclusive interviews with former intelligence officials, reveal new details about the depth of the United States’ knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.
Top CIA officials, including the Director of Central Intelligence William J. complicity in violating international law." At the time, the military attaché’s office was following Iraqi preparations for the offensive using satellite reconnaissance imagery, Francona told.Casey, a close friend of President Ronald Reagan, were told about the location of Iraqi chemical weapons assembly plants; that Iraq was desperately trying to make enough mustard agent to keep up with frontline demand from its forces; that Iraq was about to buy equipment from Italy to help speed up production of chemical-packed artillery rounds and bombs; and that Iraq could also use nerve agents on Iranian troops and possibly civilians. According to a former CIA official, the images showed Iraqi movements of chemical materials to artillery batteries opposite Iranian positions prior to each offensive.Officials were also warned that Iran might launch retaliatory attacks against U. interests in the Middle East, including terrorist strikes, if it believed the United States was complicit in Iraq’s chemical warfare campaign. Francona, an experienced Middle East hand and Arabic linguist who served in the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he first became aware of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran in 1984, while serving as air attaché in Amman, Jordan."As Iraqi attacks continue and intensify the chances increase that Iranian forces will acquire a shell containing mustard agent with Iraqi markings," the CIA reported in a top secret document in November 1983. The information he saw clearly showed that the Iraqis had used Tabun nerve agent (also known as "GA") against Iranian forces in southern Iraq.The declassified CIA documents show that Casey and other top officials were repeatedly informed about Iraq’s chemical attacks and its plans for launching more."If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border," the CIA said in a top secret document.