C.I.A. may have purchased Iraqi chemical weapons, bolstering veterans’ claims of exposure

Soldiers from the Maryland Army National Guard's 231st Chemical Company, based in Greenbelt, Md. scan a simulated village for chemical weapons during a Sept. 8, 2013, training exercise at Gunpowder Military Reservation. Photo by 1st Lt. Kristofer Baumgartner

For years, many veterans who served in Iraq during the mid-2000s have complained that they felt they were exposed to chemical weapons. The official word from the U.S. government, however, had been to remain tight-lipped citing “classified materials.”. A recent report from the New York Times, however, may prove that these claims were true, leading to even more questions.

According to a recently published report from the NY Times, Operation Avarice was an arms purchase plan set into motion by the C.I.A. from 2005 to 2006. The C.I.A. and American troops and military intelligence worked together during the Iraqi occupation to purchase nerve-agent rockets from an Iraqi seller. They then tested and destroyed the munitions so they wouldn’t fall into the hands of terrorists.

During Operation Avarice, it is thought that at least 400 Borak rockets were purchased and destroyed by the United States. These rockets, which have been condemned by the United Nations as weapons to carry chemical weapons, were filled with Sarin gas. Thanks to the efforts of the C.I.A. and the Army’s 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion, hundreds of these previously undiscovered weapons have now been destroyed. But despite that victory, several other questions are being raised now that details of Operation Avarice are coming to light.

Back in October of 2014, the New York Times published an article stating that between 2004 and 2011, American and America-trained Iraqi troops had been attacked with chemical weapons on at least six separate occasions. Through heavily redacted intelligence documents, the NY Times was able to report that roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, or bombs had been uncovered during that time, but the government never publicly acknowledged the findings.

These findings also lend more credence to veteran claims that they were never warned about the risks of chemical weapons being used on them. More alarmingly, soldiers that may have been exposed to chemical attacks did not have adequate medical supplies and treatments available to them, since it was not an acknowledged risk.

The NY Times reports that even as Operation Avarice was securing their 400th rocket back in 2006, American troops were being exposed to chemical weapons. Some of these wounded soldiers reported that the medical doctors that treated them were unaware that there were any chemical weapons in Iraq, thus the treatment was substandard.

This doesn’t seem to be an isolated case or two. According to the Pentagon, more than 600 veterans reported that they felt they were exposed to chemical weapons during their time serving in Iraq. The NY Times reports that many of these soldiers were forbidden from discussing what had happened to them.

“If we were aware of these compounds, and as it became clear over the course of the war that our troops had been exposed to them, why wasn’t more done to protect the guys on the ground?” asked Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. He claims that the lack of education provided to the soldiers and dispersed from the Pentagon raises questions about how committed the military really was to the health and safety of the soldiers. “It speaks to a broader failure,” he continued.

While most of the sources in the article remained anonymous, due to the classification of the information they were exposing, some details of Operation Avarice became clear. Neither the C.I.A. nor any other military official was able to ascertain whether the buyer was an Iraqi agent, a freelancer, a smuggler, or something else.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Richard P. Zahner, who was the top American military intelligence officer in Iraq during Operation Avarice, told reporters “This was a timely and effective initiative by our national intelligence partners that negated the use of these unique munitions.” When asked if they were able to ascertain the source of the weapons, he told reporters “They were pushing to see where did it originate from, was there a mother lode?” But they were unable to get that information, and the relationship with the supplier eventually stopped.

Now, the major questions seem to be what can be done for our soldiers who may have been exposed, and what culpability the military might hold if they knew weapons were being used, but not informing soldiers of the risks.

By Brett Gillin



  • Brett Gillin is a journalist and fiction writer based in South Florida. Many of his friends and family members have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, as Police Officers, and first responders. Gillin is currently working on several screenplays, and his writings have been published in numerous national and international publications and websites.

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