A report from the New York Times uncovered the CIA repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a single seller in Iraq, as part of an operation to remove chemical weapons from Iraq.
Operation Avarice was intended to prevent the weapons from falling in the wrong hands. From 2005 to 2006, the United States acquired at least 400 Borak rockets, which had been manufactured by Saddam Hussein’s government in the 1980s.
The Pentagon was hesitant to confirm or deny the CIA’s involvement in Operation Avarice, citing secrecy concerns. “Without speaking to any specific programs, it is fair to say that together with our coalition partners in Iraq, the U.S. military worked diligently to find and remove weapons that could be used against our troops and the Iraqi people,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a written statement.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Richard P. Zahner said it was the most successful intelligence program - reducing the number of chemical weapons in Iraq. He said Operation Avarice quietly took hundreds of weapons off the market. “This was a timely and effective initiative by our national intelligence partners that negated the use of these unique munitions,” he said.
The New York Times report also revealed that the military failed to dispose of the chemical weapons safely, possibly exposing soldiers to dangerous Sarin gas. Hundreds of veterans have reported being unwittingly exposed to gas.
“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?” Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said. “It speaks to the broader failure.”
Neither the CIA nor soldiers were able to persuade the single Iraqi seller to reveal where he he procured the chemical weapons.