NO OUTCRY ABOUT BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS IN CUBA
Por Ike Seamans
Russian scientist Ken Alibek was perplexed. He couldn't understand why there wasn't an outcry about Cuba's biological-weapons threat.
Alibek is on solid ground. In the 1980s, he taught Cuban scientists much of what they know about weapons of mass destruction. ''This work was to be used for developing biological weapons or biological agents,'' he told me in his suburban-Washington office. ``As a result, we helped Fidel Castro create biological weapons. It was such a stupid decision.''
In his book, Biohazard, Alibek says that against the advice of many Soviet scientists, then-Premier Leonid Brezhnev gave the technology to Cuba, after meeting with an enthusiastic Castro in 1981. '' Within a few years,'' Alibek writes, ``Cuba had one of the most sophisticated genetic engineering labs in the world, capable of the kind of advanced weapons research we were doing on our own.''
The inventor of one of the most deadly strains of anthrax, Alibek defected to the United States 10 years ago. He's the former deputy director of Biopreparat, the Soviet Union's secret biological-weapons program.
There's another clue that Cuba was creating a germ-warfare program. Whenever Soviet scientists went to Havana, they were denied entry to areas suspected of conducting biological-weapons research -- the same technique that Alibek used when U.S. inspectors visited his labs after the 1975 U.S.-Soviet nonproliferation agreement. The laboratories were secretly producing tons of biological agents and chemical weapons. Alibek says that after one trip to Cuba the Biopreparat director returned to Moscow convinced that Castro had an active bioweapons program.
The story has been largely ignored by many experts and journalists, many of whom have denied that Cuba has the resources or ability to develop biological-weapons technology.
But there's plenty of circumstantial evidence:
• In 1995, the U.S. Senate released a report charging that Cuba is one of 17 countries believed to possess biological weapons and to be capable of making them.
• In 1996, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which investigates terrorist threats, said: ``Cuba has been a supply source [to terrorist groups] for toxin and chemical weapons.''
• In 1998, former SouthCom Commander Gen. Charles Wilhelm told the Senate Armed Services Committee: ``They have the capability to produce those types of substances, but they have not weaponized them.''
• Also in 1998, then-Defense Secretary William Cohen warned of ``Cuba's potential to produce biological agents.''
In the October journal, Nature Biotechnology, a Cuban defector charged that because of a deteriorating economy, Cuba was selling its vaunted biotechnology to terrorist nations, which might use it to produce lethal biological agents such as anthrax and smallpox. José de la Fuente, former director of research and development at Ha- vana's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, claims that Iran has been a big customer since 1995. A few months before his article appeared, Castro traveled to Teheran and, standing beside grinning Iranian leaders, proclaimed: ``Together we'll bring America to its knees.''
Several members of Congress, notably Florida's Sen. Bob Graham and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also have been sounding the alarm. Yet Cuba's biological-weapons connection continues to be overlooked.
On March 19, Carl Ford, assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Cuba has ''provided dual-use biotechnology to rogue states.'' I couldn't find the story reported by the media.
Now State Department Arms Control Chief John Bolton charges in a recent speech (which received wide coverage) that Cuba is developing biological-weapons technology and working with terrorists. He quotes an unnamed Bush administration official who claims that the evidence is ``incontrovertible.''
Undoubtedly, there's at least one reason why the story has been disregarded: Castro's critics have complained so loudly and for so long about everything he does, including developing biological weapons, that this story sounds like ''crying wolf.'' Maybe it's time to start listening.
''There are plenty of activities going on with bioweapons in Cuba,'' says retired Florida International University Professor Manuel Cereijo, who gathers information about Cuba's biological threat. ``It merits an international inspection like we have done with Iraq.''
Ike Seamans is senior correspondent for WTVJ-NBC 6.
The Miami Herald
May 9, 2005