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July 12, 2002                                                                                                                                          Wayne Smith, Anya Landau

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Groundless Allegations Squander U.S. Credibility on Terrorism




On May 8, 2002, CIP challenged the May 6 statements of Under Secretary of State John Bolton suggesting that Cuba was somehow involved in the development of technology for the manufacture of biological weapons. We noted that in fact there was not a shred of evidence to substantiate those claims. On May 24, CIP also took issue with the State Department’s May 21 Overview of State Sponsored Terrorism, which again listed Cuba as a terrorist state. Point-by-point, CIP demonstrated each of the State Department’s bases for so describing Cuba to be false. For the convenience of the reader, links to the slightly updated versions of those publications can be found at this end of this report, and can also be found at .


The focus of the present paper is on subsequent developments which point up again the mendaciousness of the State Department’s efforts to describe Cuba as a terrorist state with hostile intentions toward the United States.


Indeed, not since Iran-Contragate back in the mid-80s has a foreign policy been accompanied by such a barrage of blatant misrepresentations. And no wonder! Our Latin American policy today is in the hands of many of the same people who were running it then: Elliott Abrams, Otto Reich, et al.


But in this post-September 11th world, such conduct is simply unacceptable. In the context of our war on terrorism, and especially at a time when the President is speaking of preemptive strikes against those listed as terrorist states, it is vital that our credibility be unquestioned. And yet, that credibility is being undermined by allegations against Cuba which other governments can see are groundless and made for domestic political reasons, i.e., for the benefit of the hard-line Cuban exiles in Miami, thus, the President calculates, enhancing his brother’s chances for reelection in the coming gubernatorial elections in Florida. But are the elections in Florida more important than the war against terrorism?


Castro Statement in Tehran a Fabrication

In its efforts to demonstrate Cuba’s hostile intentions toward the United States, Bolton played up a statement Fidel Castro supposedly made at Tehran University last year. Allegedly, Castro said: “Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with one another, can bring America to its knees.”


 In our May 8 response to Bolton, CIP assumed that Bolton was basing himself on the text of the Castro speech. Thus, we did not question the accuracy of the quote; rather, we took issue with the interpretation of its intent. But it now turns out that the quote itself was a fabrication. Professor Nelson Valdes of the University of New Mexico has acquired and carefully analyzed all the transcripts of all Castro’s public statements while in Iran and has confirmed that the Castro quote does not appear in any of them. [1] Valdes also notes that with one highly questionable exception, none of the wire services represented in Iran carried such a statement. According to Valdes, “Neither the Iranian news service (IRNA) [2] , nor the Cuban media carried the alleged Castro statement. Nor could it to be found in the files of the BBC, or in the U.S. government’s Foreign Broadcasts Information Service.” [3]


The single exception was a mysterious Agence France Presse (AFP) story dated May 10, 2001, i.e., just after Castro’s visit to Iran. But AFP cannot produce the text on which the story was based nor explain where the quote came from. Interestingly, the AFP version was at first only picked up by El Nuevo Herald, an anti-Castro exile newspaper in Miami. As Valdes notes, “it then made the rightwing press circuit, ” as others picked it up from El Nuevo Herald.


However the alleged quote got into the AFP story, it was a phony. Castro himself has categorically denied ever saying such a thing, and in fact any analyst familiar with his rhetoric can see that it is not his style. Castro frequently criticizes the U.S. government and its policies toward Cuba – sometimes in the most acerbic terms – but he just as often expresses his sympathy, even affection, for the American people and assures them that Cuban territory will never be used to launch hostile acts against them. [4]


 Indeed, this past 4th of July, the Castro government staged a cultural event at the Karl Marx Theatre to honor the “noble” American people. [5] In describing the event, Granma, the Communist Party daily, said, “The cultural and moral legacy of the American people is also the patrimony of Cuba and the Cuban people.” [6]


Bolton Fails to Appear before Congress on June 5

Senator Christopher Dodd called for a hearing of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 5 to discuss the statements made by Under Secretary of State John Bolton the previous month. As the hearings opened, however, Senator Dodd reported that Secretary of State Powell had decided that Bolton was not the proper official to testify and thus the latter would not be present; rather, the State Department would be represented by the Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, Mr. Carl Ford, Jr. Senator Dodd expressed his puzzlement and unhappiness over this decision since Mr. Bolton was the official who had made the statements in the first place. [7] Indeed, the fact that Bolton would not come – or was prevented from coming – to defend his earlier statements is yet another indication of their improbity. One must wonder why Powell would not allow Bolton himself to defend his statements if they were in fact defensible and legitimate.


Hearing Produces No Evidence

During the hearing that followed, both in the open hearing and (according to a number of sources who were there) the closed session, it became clear that Mr. Ford did not have any hard evidence to back up the suggestion that Cuba was working on the development of biological weapons and passing technical data to other rogue states which could possibly be used by them in developing such weapons. As Mr. Ford himself said, “We never tried to suggest we had a smoking gun.”


In fact, it became clear that they have nothing at all – except their own suspicions. It is well-known fact that Cuba does have a highly sophisticated bio-tech industry which manufactures medicines and a number of advanced vaccines. The industry is indeed sufficiently advanced technically that it would be capable of producing biological weapons. There is not a shred of evidence, however, that it has done so or is in the process of doing so. Nor could Mr. Ford point to any evidence to indicate that Cuba even has such intentions.


A Matter of Defending Themselves Against a U.S. first strike?

On the question of Cuba’s intentions, Mr. Ford suggested that if the Cubans are indeed trying to develop biological weapons, it could be in order to defend themselves against us. “They have…clearly have a capability…and they don’t like us….The fact is that they are worried about the United States. They are afraid that we are going to use a weapon of mass destruction [against them], biological they’ve argued, or more likely in their minds probably some sort of nuclear weapons, and that gives them cause – that gives them a reason why they might want to use this capability as a weapon.”


Going on in the same vein, he said: “Indeed, we think that if you want to talk about intentions, that it has to do with their fear of the United States and wanting to have a deterrent, wanting to have something in their capability [with which] they could strike back at us. I certainly see no indications that there is a first strike capability or effort to attack the United States.”  


Following Ford’s rationale, Senator Chafee asked the obvious question as to why, then, more wasn’t being done to reassure the Cubans that none of that is necessary, that we have no aggressive intentions against them.


Mr. Ford had no answer to that. All he could say was that as the question had to do with policy, it should be directed to Secretary of State Powell. 


One can only ask, is this only Mr. Ford’s personal assessment of Cuban intentions, or is it the assessment of the State Department as a whole, and beyond it, the Administration? If the latter, it becomes even more difficult to understand the logic behind the Bush Administration’s policy toward Cuba – the most hostile and threatening towards Cuba in many years. If it is the Administration’s belief that Cuba may be trying to develop biological weapons in order to deter a U.S. attack against them, perhaps even a nuclear attack, then surely a policy which further stimulates that fear is decidedly counterproductive. Or is it that the Bush Administration wants to goad them into developing biological weapons?


Unexplained Discrepancy Between Bolton’s Statements of Nov. 19, 2001 and May 6, 2002

Mr. Ford could not even answer the question as to why Under Secretary of State Bolton, while ringing alarm bells over the possibility of Cuban biological weapons in his statements of May 6, 2002, had not even listed Cuba as a state over which we were concerned in a speech he gave to a meeting in Geneva on November 19, 2001. [8] He had listed virtually every other country that posed anything resembling a problem in the field of biological weapons, but had not included Cuba on the list. How was it, then, that just six months later, Cuba seemed to have become a top-priority threat? Certainly it was not because Cuba had developed some overnight capability; not even Mr. Bolton had suggested that. And several days after Bolton’s speech in May—which was given just days before Jimmy Carter was to arrive in Cuba—Secretary of State Powell stated that the administration was “not breaking new ground” with these allegations.


So perplexing were the charges that former President Jimmy Carter revealed that he had asked the high level White House and State Department intelligence experts who briefed him before his May trip to the island about any “possible terrorist activities that were supported by Cuba….I asked them specifically on more than one occasion is there any evidence that Cuba has been involved in sharing any information to any other country on Earth that could be used for terrorist purposes. And the answer from our experts on intelligence was no.'' [9]


Mr. Ford had no explanation for the discrepancy and suggested that the committee should put that question to Mr.Bolton—which of course Senator Dodd had wished to do, if only Mr. Bolton had been present.


Violation of Biological Warfare Convention

In earlier statements, the State Department had suggested that Cuba might be in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and had called on it to honor its commitments. But when asked by Senator George Allen if Cuba was in fact violating the BWC, Mr. Ford said he was simply the wrong person to ask; he had only a hazy knowledge of what was in the Convention. But this was obviously deceptive. If Cuba were in fact violating the BWC, one can be sure that Mr.Ford would be fully aware of it and would not have hesitated to say so. The fact is that no evidence has been presented that Cuba is in violation and so far as CIP has been able to ascertain, no other government believes that it is.


What is clear is that were there any concern in the international community that Cuba is not honoring its commitments under the BWC, the United Nations could be called upon to inspect Cuban facilities as necessary. During President Carter’s visit to Cuba, Fidel Castro invited him to visit any laboratory or biotech facility he wished and, further, said they were open to inspection by any appropriate international agency. This position has been subsequently confirmed by the Cuban Foreign Ministry. If the State Department were truly concerned about alleged Cuban violations of the CBW, one can only wonder why it does not ask the United Nations to investigate the matter?


As for the allegation that Cuba is helping other rogue states, Cuba has indeed sold medicines and vaccines to a wide variety of states, including Iran. But there is no evidence whatever that any of the compounds provided by Cuba have been used for anything other than the humanitarian purposes intended. Cuba maintains that its sales agreements strictly prohibit misuse of its technologies.


Administration officials fail to back up Bolton’s statements
As if Carl Ford’s testimony before Congress weren’t bad enough, when Senator Dorgan recently questioned Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich about why the bioweapons claims were omitted entirely from the latest State Department report on global terrorism, Reich replied, “I do not know who publishes that particular document.”


Dorgan, incredulous, told Reich, “It’s your department that publishes it…..this is a State Department publication.” Astonishingly, Reich’s response was simply, “It must be incomplete.”


But how could the U.S. Department of State have issued an incomplete report on global terrorism—and following the worse terrorist strike ever against the U.S.? Though Reich may wish the report were incomplete, the fact is that the State Department was never prepared to follow up with any evidence of Cuban bioweapons development. The day after Bolton’s speech, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to offer any evidence, saying only that he would let Mr. Bolton’s words speak for themselves. [10]


Secretary of State Colin Powell backed away from the claims just days after Bolton made them.  “We didn't say it actually had some weapons but it has the capacity and capability to conduct such research,” Powell said. [11]


But Bolton had gone much further than suggest that Cuba had the capability to conduct research. He had described Libya, Syria, and Cuba as “rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction – particularly biological weapons.” [12]


He was not simply suggesting that it had the technical capability to conduct research; rather, he was saying that Cuba was intent on acquiring, i.e., producing, biological weapons. That was clear also in his assertion that, “Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort.” [13]


If one has a “development effort,” then presumably one has gone beyond the research stage. Who are we to believe? Mr. Bolton? Or the Secretary of State?

[1]Valdes, Nelson.  “Fidel Castro, bioterrorism and the elusive quote,” Counterpunch. May 28, 2002.  Http:// Valdes, who has been studying Cuba and Fidel Castro since 1969, directs Academic Research on Cuba at the University of New Mexico.

[2] IRNA, the official Iranian press service, often is confused with the Iranian Press Service (IPS), an independent Iranian news organization.

[3] Valdes, ibid.

[4] Speech by Fidel Castro, San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba, September 22, 2001.

[5] Snow, Anita. Communist Cuba pays homage to America. The Associated Press. July 5, 2002.

[6] Ibid.

[7]Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing:  Subcomittee on Western Hemisphere Hearing on Cuba and Biological Weapons, June 5, 2002.

[8] In the November 19th speech Bolton named six countries of concern:  Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria—Cuba was not among them.  Higgins, Alexander. “US accuses six nations of bio weapons,” The Associated Press.  November 19, 2001.

[9] Statement by Carter in Cuba, after his visit to the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana. The Associated Press. May 13, 2002.

[10] Transcript: State Department Noon Briefing. May 6, 2002.

[11] Powell eases off U.S. accusation on Cuba weapons. Reuters. May 13, 2002.

[12] Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional threats from weapons of mass destruction. Speech given by Undersecretary of Arms Control John Bolton at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. May 6, 2002.

[13] Beyond the Axis of Evil, ibid.

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