HEARING BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON WESTERN HEMISPHERE,PEACE CORPS AND NARCOTICS AFFAIRS OF THE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS UNITED STATES SENATE
|Carl W. Ford Jr.|
June 5, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is my pleasure to come before the Subcommittee today to discuss the issue of what we in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research assess to be Cuba’s efforts to date in the area of biological warfare. My remarks in this open forum will necessarily be limited owing to the need to protect sensitive intelligence information, but I would welcome the opportunity and am prepared to give classified remarks in a closed session.
On March 19, in my statement in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I stated INR’s judgment that: The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited, develop-mental, offensive biological warfare research and development effort. Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to rogue states. We are concerned that such technology could support BW programs in those states.
That assessment and our concerns have not changed in the intervening 2 1/2 months.
Among the various weapons of mass destruction (WMD) disciplines, biological warfare (BW) is perhaps the most difficult to clearly identify, absent unambiguous reliable intelligence information, owing to the dual-use nature of the technology and materials used to support a BW program. In today’s world, many nations, including Cuba, have in place robust biotechnology infrastructures, as some of the world’s best scientific talent has turned to this avenue of modern science to promote medical and agricultural advances in their countries.
Distinguishing legitimate biotech work from work that is pursued to support either offensive or defensive BW efforts or pro-grams continues to be a difficult intelligence challenge. In a nutshell, since basic BW production does not require large, sophisticated programs or facilities it makes the intelligence assessment function more complicated.
Cuba has several facilities involved in biological-related efforts in agriculture, medicine and veterinary science, which, as in any country, could be used for illicit purposes. This dual-use problem presents all who are committed to combating the BW threat with the dilemma of how best to assess the capabilities of any given facility against the intent to develop biological weapons. What then can I say about the evidence for our assessment? The nature of biological weapons makes it difficult to procure clear, incontrovertible proof that a country is engaged in illicit biological weapons research, production, weaponization and stockpiling.
Cuba’s sophisticated denial and deception practices make our task even more difficult. That said we have a sound basis for our judgment that Cuba has at least a limited, developmental, offensive biological warfare research and development effort. I am prepared to discuss the evidence we do have in a closed session or leave behind a classified statement for the record.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.
Documents provided by Senator George Allen.
CUBA’S BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS PROGRAM: A BRIEF HISTORY OF CONCERNS, QUESTIONS AND SUSPICIONS
In a transmittal letter accompanying the Defense Department’s May 1998 report,The Cuban Threat to U.S. National Security, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen wrote to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee: ‘‘I remain concerned about Cuba’s potential to develop and produce biological agents, given its bio-technology infrastructure. In its public Executive Summary, the report stated,"Cuba’s current scientific facilities and expertise could support an offensive BW [bioweapons] program in at least the research and development stage.
Cuba’s biotechnology industry is one of the most advanced in emerging countries and would be capable of producing BW agents.’’In the October 2001 issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, Jose de la Fuente,the former director of research and development at Cuba’s premier Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, wrote he was ‘‘profoundly disturbed’’ that Cuba was selling to Iran technology that could be used to produce biochemical weapons. He wrote, ‘‘No one believes that Iran is interested in these technologies for the purpose of protecting all the children in the Middle East from hepatitis, or treating their people with cheap streptokinase when they suffer sudden cardiac arrest . . .."
During a May 2001 visit to Tehran, Castro proclaimed,"Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees." In October 2001, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham (D-FL) told the Miami Herald that Cuba "clearly has the capability of producing chemical and biological ingredients that could become weapons of mass destruction." He added that it was impossible to know what Cuba was up to because international inspection agencies have not been given access to facilities. He said,"Nobody, at least nobody that I’m aware of in the United States, feels that we know what Cuba’s doing." An October 2001 study by the University of Georgia’s Center for International Trade and Security found that safeguards to prevent terrorists and rogue nations from acquiring the equipment and material necessary to make biological and chemical weapons are dangerously inadequate. Cuba, one of 19 countries examined, rated a C– in limiting exports of such equipment and material. (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 26, 2001.)
An October 10, 2001, report on MSNBC.com said, ‘‘With help from the Soviet Union’s massive secret biological weapons program, Castro was able to build one of the world’s most sophisticated biotechnology industries which can also be used to build weapons of mass destruction.’’ Former Soviet scientist Ken Alibeck (see below)says he helped to train Cubans in this technology, which he now regrets. "This work would be used for developing biological weapons or biological agents. As a result of this, we helped Castro develop biological weapons. It was such a stupid decision.’’Also reported: Gen. Charles Wilhelm, a former Southcom Commander said: "The indications we have is that they have the capability to produce those type of sub-stances."
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which investigates terrorist threats, said in a 1996 report, "Cuba has been a supply source [to terrorist groups]for toxin and chemical weapons." At an October 11, 2001, hearing of the House Intelligence Terrorism and Home-land Security Subcommittee, Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), noted that the Pentagon lists 15 countries believed to have biological weapons—among them, Cuba. (Associated Press, October 11, 2001)In his 1999 book Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World—Told from the Inside by the Man Who Ran It (Random House), former KGB Colonel Ken Alibek, second in command of the Soviet offensive biological warfare program until his defection in 1992, wrote that his former boss, Maj. Gen. Yuri Kalinin, visited several Cuban biotechnology facilities in 1990 and told him he was convinced the Castro regime was deeply involved in a biological warfare research effort. Alibek, who is widely respected in the U.S. biological warfare community, told the Miami Herald (June 23, 1999), ‘‘Kalinin saw no weapons production, but with his experience in offensive biological warfare work, it was his opinion that they were doing offensive work also. They are using the same cover stories we had developed, about factories to produce single-cell bacteria as animal feed. Maybe we were over-suspicious, but we did not believe their stories. . . .In my personal opinion, I have no question Cuba is involved.’’
In an October 2, 2001, commentary in the Los Angeles Times, author Jeremy Rifkin (The Biotech Century, Tarcher Putnam, 1998) notes, ‘‘Iraq, long known as a threat for biological warfare, is not alone in its interest in developing biological weapons. In a 1995 study, the CIA reported that 16 other countries were suspected of researching and stockpiling germ warfare agents-ban, Libya, Syria, North Korea,Taiwan, Israel, Egypt, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Bulgaria, India, South Korea, South Africa, China and Russia.’’In his 2001 book Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox (Atlantic Monthly Press), Jonathan Tucker, a leading expert on biological and chemical weapons writes, ‘‘leaks and rumors of uncertain reliability suggested that several countries might have inadvertently or deliberately retained specimens of the virus from the time when smallpox was a common disease. Possible suspects included China,Cuba, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Yugoslavia.’’
In their 2000 book Living Terrors: What America Needs to Know to Survive the Coming Bioterrorist Catastrophe (Delta Publishing), experts Michael Osterholm and John Schwartz cited a 1999 report by the congressionally created Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction that said "most of the nations identified as sponsors of terrorism either have or are seeking weapons of mass destruction. (Those nations are Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria).’’In the July 12, 1999, issue of the New Yorker, Richard Preston, an expert on bio-logical and chemical weapons, reported that the U.S. government ‘‘keeps a list of nations and groups that it suspects either have clandestine stocks of smallpox or seem to be trying to buy or steal the virus.’’ The classified list is ‘‘said to include’’ Cuba along with nine other countries.
A March 31, 1998, article in the Washington Post said, ‘‘Cuba has one of the most sophisticated biotech and pharmaceutical industries in the hemisphere. Because lethal biological materials can be produced by countries with biotech industries, it is difficult to determine when a country moves from simply having the capability to produce deadly viruses, to the intent or plans to do so.’’ It said, ‘‘while [Clinton] administration officials do not allege that Cuba has such weapons, ‘You can’t say there’s no capability,’ said one defense official.’’According to Insight Magazine (July 20, 1998), ‘‘A classified annex to the Pentagon final report to Congress [in 1998] further warns: ‘According to sources within Cuba, at least one research site is run and funded by the Cuban military to work on the development of offensive and defensive biological weapons.’’’
A December 1993 Office of Technology Assessment report ‘‘Technologies Under-lying Weapons of Mass Destruction’’ identified Cuba as one of 17 countries possessing a bioweapons capability.In 1988, syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak revealed that Soviet-supplied Cuban troops fighting in Angola had used chemical weapons against the U.S.-backed forces of Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA. They cited evidence ‘‘scrupulously documented’’ by the senior United Nations consultant on chemical warfare, Dr. Aubin Heyndrickx of Belguim.
Toxicologists certified that residue from chemical weapons —including sarin— was found in areas of recent action. When questioned by then -Sen. Dennis DeConcini about the then- rumours, Heyndrickx replied, ‘‘There is no doubt anymore that the Cubans were using nerve gases against the troops of Mr.Jonas Savimbi.’’ Also, the columnists noted that Heyndrickx had warned the United States that if Soviet-Cuban managers in Angola used gas in the past, they could use it in the future.
More evidence of Cuba’s use of chemical agents in Africa surfaced in a July 28,1998, Reuters report that Wouter Basson, former head of South Africa’s covert chemical weapons program, had given a sworn statement implicating Cuba. He said that South Africa had been forced to begin its chemical weapons’ program after Cuba had used chemical warfare on South African troops fighting in Angola. At the time they had been unprepared and defenseless. (South African troops fought in Angola until 1990.)
DOES HAVANA HAVE A BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS PROGRAMS?
Excerpts from BIOHAZARD: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World by Ken Alibek (1)(Random House, 2000).
Pages 273-277 When Yuri Ovchinnikov died in 1987, I joined a group of Biopreparat scientists at his funeral services in Moscow. The conversation eventually turned to Cuba’s surprising achievements in genetic engineering. Someone mentioned that Cuban scientists had successfully altered strains of bacteria at a pharmaceutical facility just outside of Havana.‘‘Where did such a poor country get all of that knowledge and equipment?’’ I asked.‘‘From us, of course,’’ he answered with a smile. As I listened in astonishment, he told me that Castro had been taken during a visit to the Soviet Union in February 1981 to a laboratory where E. coli bacteria had been genetically altered to produce interferon, then thought a key to curing cancer and other diseases.
Castro spoke so enthusiastically to Brezhnev about what he had seen that the Soviet leader magnanimously offered his help. A strain of E. coli containing the plasmid used to produce interferon was sent to Havana, along with equipment and working procedures. Within a few years, Cuba had one of the most sophisticated genetic engineering labs in the world—capable of the kind of advanced weapons research we were doing in our own. General Lebedinsky visited Cuba the following year, at Castro’s invitation, with a team of military scientists. He was set up in a ten room beach-front cottage near Havana and boasted of being received like a king. An epidemic of dengue fever had broken out a few months earlier, infecting 350,000 people. Castro was convinced that this was the result of an American biological attack. He asked Lebedinsky and his scientists to study the strain of the dengue virus in special labs set up near the cottage compound.
All evidence pointed to a natural outbreak—the strain was Cuban, not American—but Castro was less interested in scientific process than in political expediency.. . . Cuba has accused the United States twelve times since 1962 of staging biological attacks on Cuban soil with anti-livestock and anti-crop agents . . .Kalinin was invited to Cuba in 1990 to discuss the creation of a new biotechnology plant ostensibly devoted to single-cell protein. He returned convinced that Cuba had an active biological weapons program.The situation in Cuba illustrates the slippery interrelation between Soviet support of scientific programs among our allies and their ability to develop biological weapons.. . . For many years, the Soviet Union organized courses in genetic engineering and molecular biology for scientists from Eastern Europe, Cuba, Libya, India, Iran and Iraq among others. Some forty foreign scientists were trained annually.
Many of them now head biotechnology programs in their own countries. Some have recruited the services of their former classmates.In July 1995, Russia opened negotiations with Iraq for the sale of large industrial fermentation vessels and related equipment. The model was one we had used to develop and manufacture bacterial biological weapons. Like Cuba, the Iraqis maintained the vessels were intended to grow single-cell protein for cattle feed . . .A report submitted by the U.S. Office of Technological Assessment to hearings at the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in late 1995 identified seven-teen counties believed to possess biological weapons ‘‘Libya, North Korea, South Korea, Iraq, Taiwan, Syria, Israel, Iran, China, Egypt, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Bulgaria, India, South Africa and Russia.’’
(1)Mr. Alibek is a former deputy director of Biopreparat, the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program.