US changes position on Cuba's weapons
Campaign News | Thursday, 8 September 2005
Split between US intelligence and policy communities leads to reassessment of Cuba's 'biological weapons.'
Christian Science Monitor 8 Sept:
In 2002, John Bolton, then US undersecretary for arms control and international security (and current US ambassador to the United Nations) said that Cuba had "biological weapons capabilities" and was sharing them with "rogue nations." Mr. Bolton and the Bush administration were adamant that Cuba was a potential threat to the United States because of this.
So it came as somewhat of a surprise last Tuesday when the US retreated from this early claim that Cuba has "an offensive biological weapons effort." The new position was made public in a State Department document released last Tuesday, when almost the entire United States was focusing on the effects of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico region.
Knight Ridder news agency reported that the Bush administration acknowledged in the document that 'there is a split view' among intelligence analysts on the question.
The Knight Ridder story notes that this is the first time that the US has "publicly softened" its charge that Cuba had biological weapons, which has been "controversial from the outset."
The Economic Times of India said the new position amounts to a "volte face" by the US.
The new finding on Cuba is based on a US intelligence-community-wide assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, completed last year. In that estimate, which is classified, 'the Intelligence Community unanimously held that it was unclear whether Cuba has an active biological weapons effort now, or even had one in the past,' the State Department report states. A senior State Department official, briefing reporters on the document, said biological weapons programs are 'some of the most difficult activities to verify' because the facilities needed are small.
The BTC News blog points out that during the Senate confirmation hearings for Mr. Bolton (who was never approved by the Senate, instead getting his job via presidential recess appointment), one of the charges leveled against him was "a substantiated accusation that he tried to have two State Department intelligence analysts reassigned when they wouldn’t back his position that Cuba had an active biological warfare program."
The US position on Cuba highlights a problem that has been pointed out by opponents of the Bush administration - that policymakers interpret the information in whatever way suits them at the particular moment, often ignoring the cautions of the intelligence community or pressuring them to change their views. David Adams, the New York Times Latin America correspondent, hits on this point in an opinion piece.
Government intelligence experts 'unanimously held that it was unclear whether Cuba has an active offensive biological warfare effort now, or even had one in the past,', the report says. But, using the same information, the policymakers insist the 2003 finding 'remains correct.'
They base their concern on Cuba’s 'technical capability' to pursue bioweapons thanks to the island’s highly advanced biotech and pharmaceutical industry. Critics say such a hypothetical scenario is hardly the basis for making such a serious allegation.
Does the lead-up to the Iraq war ring a bell?
GlobalSecurity.org, a leading security think tank, reports that Cuba's biotechnology industry is "one of the most advanced in emerging countries." As a result, Bush administration officials, like Bolton, believe that Cuba is "capable of producing biological warfare agents, and Cuba's biotechnology industry could produce many types of toxins" although there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case.
The Associated Press reported that the 108-page document, while admitting to a "split in opinion" over Cuba, claimed that "Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Syria continue to maintain biological weapons programs," while China "maintains some elements" of a program. China denied the charge.
WASHINGTON 30 August - The Bush administration has backed away from claims that Cuba has an offensive biological weapons effort, acknowledging in a report to Congress that "there is a split view" among intelligence analysts on the question.
The report says instead that Cuba has the "technical capability" to pursue biological weapons research and development because of its advanced pharmaceutical industry. But it leaves open the critical question of whether it has done so.
The State Department report apparently marks the first time that the U.S. government has publicly softened its earlier charge, which has been controversial from the outset.
Then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton had tried to reassign two intelligence analysts at the State Department and National Intelligence Council who had challenged Bolton's view that Cuba had biowar capabilities, according to testimony at Bolton's nomination hearing to become United Nations ambassador.
Democrats prevented a full Senate vote on Bolton's nomination. President Bush circumvented lawmakers with a recess appointment on Aug. 1.
The 108-page State Department report, mandated by Congress, assesses other nations' compliance with their arms-control obligations.
It repeats U.S. charges that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon in violation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
However, on a positive note, it states that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has lived up to promises to dismantle his country's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
The new finding on Cuba is based on a U.S. intelligence-community-wide assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, completed last year.
In that estimate, which is classified, "the Intelligence Community unanimously held that it was unclear whether Cuba has an active biological weapons effort now, or even had one in the past," the State Department report states.
A senior State Department official, briefing reporters on the document, said biological weapons programs are "some of the most difficult activities to verify" because the facilities needed are small.
Also, the technologies needed to make bioweapons are in some cases indistinguishable from those necessary for a pharmaceutical industry or for constructing defenses against biological weapons, which is permitted under international law.
The senior official, briefing on condition of anonymity, said the report was written to reflect that "there are a couple different views within the administration" on Cuba's efforts.
Cuba has denied any biological weapons work.
The classified evidence behind the U.S. charges has never been detailed publicly, but it's believed to include interviews with Cubans who worked in such programs and Cuban biotechnology sales to Iran.
The new stance on Cuba's efforts is a retreat from the unequivocal language in a previous report in June 2003. That document stated: "The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited, developmental offensive biological warfare research and development effort."
Tuesday's report states that while U.S. intelligence agencies are divided, policymakers believe the earlier statement "remains correct."