Thinktank disputes Bush administration claims of biowar development in Cuba
May 2002

May 8, Center for International Policy-The Bush administration made a number of grossly misleading and unsubstantiated allegations concerning Cuba's attitudes toward terrorism and its supposed manufacture of biological weapons in an address by Undersecretary Bolton at the Heritage Foundation on May 6. These are quoted below with the Center for International Policy's point-by-point comments on each--"The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort.' Undersecretary Bolton prefaces this very serious allegation by stating that, 'Cuba leads in the production of pharmaceuticals and vaccines that are sold worldwide. Analysts and Cuban defectors have long cast suspicion on the activities conducted in these biomedical facilities.'

Bolton does not provide any evidence or even say who the analysts and defectors may be. His comments, however, seem to reflect those made by one analyst and one defector whose uncorroborated and admittedly speculative theories are continuously recycled among hard-line exiles. The analyst is former Soviet Colonel Ken Alibek, who in his 1999 book, Biohazard, writes that his former chief, Maj. Gen. Yuri Kalinin, told him he thought Cuba had an active bacteriological arms program. Alibek's allegations concerning Cuba--comprising 3 pages in his 291-page book--were based on his former boss's own speculation. 'It was his opinion,' Alibek has said, acknowledging that his former boss, in fact, 'saw no weapons production [in Cuba].'

In 1999, commenting on the Alibek book, the State Department said, 'We have no evidence that Cuba is stockpiling or has mass-produced any BW [biological warfare] agents.' Robert Zilliniskas, a senior scientist at the Center for Non-proliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, backed that up, saying, 'there's been no evidence they're doing anything.'[1]

U.S. officials interviewed by The Miami Herald following publication of the Alibek book stated that there is 'no proof.' The Herald quoted one U.S. official, having just 'checked with appropriate agencies' about the book, who said, 'With all the intelligence we get from defectors and other means, there's never been evidence.' Another U.S. official said, 'We get lots of reports from defectors and others, but when we go to check them out it's always second and third-hand, and the stuff doesn't check out.'[2]

It is indeed strange that after all these indications from U.S. officials that there is no evidence that Cuba is developing a biological warfare capability, Bolton now says we have reason to believe it is. In November of 2001, Bolton announced U.S. concerns over six nations believed to be interested in bioweapons productions. Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria were all on that list. Cuba was not.

--'Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states.' The supposed cooperation in BW with rogue states probably refers to the statements of Cuban defector Jose de la Fuente, the former director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana. He alleged in a Nature Biotechnology commentary that Cuba has sold to Iran biotechnologies associated with treating heart attacks, viral diseases and with the development of vaccines. In 1999, A U.S. official interviewed by the Miami Herald in 1999 commented on the Cuban biomedical industry's capability to produce bioweapons: 'Stuff that sophisticated always has dual use [medical and military], no way around it. .But none of what we know adds up to Cuba having offensive biological warfare capabilities.'[3]

De la Fuente stated that his concern was not that Cuba sold the technology but whether Iran would use the technologies to care for its population or to attempt to develop biological weapons. De la Fuente has also acknowledged that he has no cause to think that Cuba had sold the technology with malicious intent and that he could not "in any way confirm the use of this technology for anything other than [vaccines]."[4] Further, de la Fuente has stated that, "I heard no account of any effort for developing biological weapons in Cuba."[5] Is this defector's mere suspicion Mr. Bolton's evidence that Cuba is providing dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states? If he has other evidence, he should produce it.

--'Castro has repeatedly denounced the U.S. war on terrorism.' This is not true. At the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, Cuba criticized the U.S. bombing campaign as resulting in excessive civilian casualties. Castro also expressed alarm at the prospect of an open-ended war that he feared would entail, as President Bush had said, 'every necessary weapon of war,' and that would take lives of more innocent people. But these differences over tactics aside, Cuba consistently expressed its support for the overall struggle against terrorism. Indeed, Cuba's immediate response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was to condemn them and to express Cuba's 'solidarity with the American people.' Cuba offered its airspace to planes en route to the U.S. on September 11th that might have been stranded when the U.S. closed its own airspace. It also offered humanitarian aid to the victims. That weekend, thousands in Cuba marched in 'solidarity with the American people during the national tragedy they are living through.'[6]

On September 22, 2001, Castro pledged that, 'The territory of Cuba will never be used for terrorist actions against the American people and we will do everything within our power to prevent such actions against that people.' He reiterated Cuba's 'willingness to cooperate with every country in the total eradication of terrorism.'[7] Indeed, Cuba signed all 13 of the ensuing United Nations counter-terrorism resolutions. Cuba offered no objections to the U.S. use of Guantanamo naval base for its detainees and it even offered to return any escapees and consult with medical personnel at the base. Also, Interpol Secretary General Ron Noble, an American, was 'absolutely satisfied' with the anti-terror briefings he received in January 2002 meetings with Cuban police and Ministry of Interior officials.[8]

Finally, Cuba has asked the United States to sign a bilateral agreement providing for joint efforts against terrorism and narco-trafficking. The United States has declined to cooperate.[9] Mr. Bolton of course does not mention this.

'Castro continues to view terror as a legitimate tactic to further revolutionary objectives.' This is patently untrue. Castro has over and over against denounced terror as a legitimate tactic, as referenced in the September 11th and September 22nd statements above. Bolton quotes a speech of Castro's at Tehran University in which he said that, 'Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other can bring America to its knees. The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up.'

Castro's words were irritating to be sure. Clearly, however, Castro was not actually proposing that Iran and Cuba together defeat the United States in a literal sense--as of course they could not. Rather, he was suggesting that U.S. hegemony, to which both Cuba and Iran see themselves as victims, would be overcome and the so-called strength of the Iranian and Cuban systems would prevail. Bolton does not tell us that Castro went on to praise Iranians for deposing 'the strongest gendarme of the region not with guns, but with your thoughts.'[10]

This is hardly an endorsement of terrorism.--The 1998 Pentagon report "underplayed the threat Cuba posed to the United States."Bolton concludes that Defense analyst Ana Belen Montes, who pleaded guilty on March 19 to charges of spying for Cuba, is the major reason why the Pentagon report found Cuba no longer a threat.

This is an absurd allegation and is insulting to the dozens of analysts in the Defense Intelligence Agency and throughout the Defense Department who participated in the preparation of the report. It is inconceivable that Ana Belen Montes's view prevailed over those of the dozens of loyal and competent analysts who helped produce the report. But, if conducting intelligence operations against the United States were cause for placing a country on the terrorist list, then Israel would long since have been on it--along with a lot of other states. Convicted several years ago, the spy Jonathan Pollard severely compromised U.S. national security, as he gave up NSA code-breaking techniques, the identities of nearly a hundred U.S. agents in the Middle East, top-secret military and diplomatic codes and Mideast war-fighting plans. After years of denial, Israel finally admitted in 1999 that Pollard was a spy for Israeli intelligence. Unfortunately, such intelligence operations are all too common a part of international relations, even among 'friendly' nations. The Montes case is no exception and offers no justification whatever for keeping Cuba on the terrorist list.

--Cuba is 'harboring terrorists from Colombia and Spain, and fugitives from the United States.' This is the State Department's tired old canard for keeping Cuba on the list of terrorist nations in the first place. In fact, to be harboring someone, that person must be sought or pursued by someone else. But the Basques living in Cuba are not sought by the Spanish government. On the contrary, many of them came there years ago as the result of an agreement with the government of Felipe Gonzalez which asked Cuba to take them. Others have come subsequently and the present Spanish government does not consider the earlier agreement any longer to be operative. But the present government has not asked for the extradition of any of the Basques living in Cuba. It apparently is content to have them remain there. And we note that the President of the autonomous Basque Republic just this month paid a state visit to Cuba, which he would not have done if he considered Cuba to be harboring Basque terrorists. In fact, Spain thanked Cuba for denying asylum to two ETA members in late 2000.[11] The presence of the Basques in Cuba, therefore, is obviously no cause for keeping Cuba on the list.

As for the Colombians, the Colombian government has expressed gratitude for the helpful role Cuba has played facilitating talks with the ELN guerrillas. Just last month, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Colombia, General Fernando Tapias, told the House Committee on International Relations that, 'there is no information.that Cuba is in any way linked to terrorist activities in Colombia today...Indeed Cuban authorities are buttressing the peace movement....And this is the information that I have from the president and from the commissioners that are involved in that regard.'[12] President Pastrana has publicly stressed the important role Havana plays in the peace process.[13]

As for the American fugitives, yes, there are a number of them. There is no evidence that any are engaged in terrorist activities or in activities against the United States. Further, while there are American fugitives in Cuba, there are Cuban fugitives in the United States, and a number of them are terrorists with extensive FBI files. President Bush recently insisted that anyone who harbors a terrorist is a terrorist, and that no one can pick and choose their terrorist friends. But we note that his father, the first President Bush, freed Orlando Bosch, the Cuban exile arch-terrorist responsible for the deaths of dozens of innocent people and over 30 terrorist acts documented by the U.S. Department of Justice, and freed him at the urgings of Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and now-Governor Jeb Bush and other Florida politicians.[14] Does this, then, make them, by President Bush's definition, terrorists?

Regardless of how many fugitives either country would like returned, the old U.S.-Cuban extradition treaty has been inoperative for more than forty years. In 1977, the Carter administration began a normalization process with Cuba. Negotiation of a new extradition treaty was discussed as one of the steps that needed to be taken. Unfortunately, the normalization process was stalled long before that step was reached.--'We know that Cuba is collaborating with other state sponsors of terror.' Do we indeed? In what way is Cuba collaborating with these states? By sending medical personnel to them? By selling them medical technologies that they sell the world over? By making highly rhetorical speeches at their universities? Mr. Bolton does not say. Indeed, he presents no evidence at all. --Why bioweapons accusations now? Why has the Bush Administration suddenly decided that Cuba is involved in some form of bio-terrorism? It is most unlikely that it has any evidence today that it did not have in November 2001, when it left Cuba off the list of countries of concern. Indeed, it has produced a carefully worded statement but no evidence at all. Why then this sudden attack?

Cuba watchers know well the reasons why. Many hardline Cuban exiles and their political allies are riled that the Bush administration is permitting former President Jimmy Carter to travel to Cuba. For several years now, coalitions of business, agriculture, political and rights groups have joined forces with an overwhelming majority in Congress to lift trade and travel restrictions against Cuba Opponents understand that the writing is on the wall for the embargo. This would appear to be a desperate effort to stay the inevitable.

Staunch supporters of the failed U.S. policy toward Cuba have been anxious for the administration to fulfill its campaign promise to toughen U.S. Cuba policy. Some of these groups have been complaining that the administration was not taking seriously enough their accusations concerning biological weapons in Cuba. With Jeb Bush running for re-election in November, the Administration would seem to have decided to silence those complaints and do what the hard-line exiles require.

But this will not fool our allies in the war against terrorism and it will not fool Congress. Such transparent tactics aimed at winning domestic political battles only detract from our seriousness of purpose in the struggle against real terrorism. Making unsubstantiated, politically expedient charges against Cuba in no way serves the interests of the American people.

[1]. Tamayo, Juan. U.S. skeptical of report on Cuba biological weapons. The Miami Herald. June 23, 1999.[back to article]

[2]. Ibid.[back to article]

[3]. Ibid.[back to article]

[4]. San Martin, Nancy. Cuba forced to sell biotechnology. The Miami Herald. October 10, 2001.[back to article]

[5]. Johnson, Tim. Talk of Cuba's germ warfare potential could affect embargo. The Miami Herald. May 7, 2002.[back to article]

[6]. Cuba rallies against terrorism, supports US people. The AP. September 16, 2001.[back to article]

[7]. Speech by Fidel Castro Ruz. San Antonio de los BaOos, Cuba. September 22, 2001.[back to article]

[8]. Interpol chief picks up Cuban anti-terror dossier. Reuters. January 16, 2002.[back to article]

[9]. Cuba seeks deals with U.S. to fight terror, migrant smuggling, drugs. Agence France Presse. March 19, 2002; Boadle, Anthony. U.S. thanks Cuba, but declines anti-drug accord. March 19, 2002.[back to article]

[10]. Valinejad, Afshin. Castro calls U.S. "imperialist King.'' AP, May 9, 2001.[back to article]

[11]. Goodman, Al. Suspected ETA Members Arrested. CNN.com. November 7, 2000. Alleged ETA terrorists held after Cuban asylum bid fails. Agencia EFE, S.A. November 7, 2000.[back to article]

[12]. House Committee on International Relations hearing on Global Terrorism and Illicit Drugs. FDCH political transcripts. April 24, 2002.[back to article]

[13]. Johnson, Tim. Colombian leader takes new stance on Cuba ties. The Miami Herald. January 17, 1999.[back to article]

[14] Examples of controversial pardons by previous presidents. A report prepared by Minority staff, Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, April 20, 2001; Hancock, David. U.S. decides to deport Bosch; terrorist activities are cited. The Miami Herald. June 24, 1989; Marquis, Christopher. Indignant exiles rally for Bosch. The Miami Herald. June 25, 1989; Schmalz, Jeffrey. Furor over Castro foe's fate puts Bush on spot in Miami. The New York Times. Aug. 16, 1989; The Bosch case does violence to justice. The New York Times. July 20, 1990; Lacey, Mark. Political memo: resurrecting ghosts of pardons past. The New York Times. March 4, 2001.[back to article]

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