Nominee to head CIA faces grilling on chemical arms


WASHINGTON -- The Central Intelligence Agency's conflicting accounts about the possible exposure of U.S. troops to chemical weapons shortly after the 1991 Persian Gulf war could create the first significant hurdle to the confirmation of George Tenet as the agency's director, congressional officials said yesterday.

The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Republican Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, said through a spokeswoman that the committee was "very concerned" about the handling of the issue by the CIA and that "the committee is definitely looking into this" as it prepares for confirmation hearings for Tenet, who is now the deputy director of central intelligence.

Earlier this week the CIA apologized to Gulf War veterans as it made public a report showing that the agency had solid information as early as 1986 that chemical weapons had been stored at an Iraqi ammunition depot.

Detailed information was not passed along to the Defense Department, and the depot was blown up by U.S. soldiers in March 1991, possibly exposing thousands of troops to a cloud of nerve gas.

Tenet is expected to face questions at the Senate hearings about his possible role in preparing recent public statements on the issue that have proved to be inaccurate and possibly deceptive. He has been acting director since December.

Pub Date: 4/12/97

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