August 31, 2005


U.S. backs away from claims that Cuba has bioweapons program

By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder Newspapers, Aug 30, 7:11 PM ET.

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration backed away Tuesday 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."

U.S.: Cuban Militant Shouldn't Be Deported

AP, August 30, 2005.

A Cuban militant and accused terrorist is not eligible for asylum in the United States but shouldn't be sent back to Cuba, a lawyer for the government told a judge in the opening day of the man's deportation hearing.

Luis Posada Carriles requested asylum after being arrested in May on charges that he sneaked into the country illegally through Mexico. He was arrested in Miami.

Lead government attorney Gina Garrett-Jackson told the judge Monday that federal officials hadn't yet decided if they would oppose Posada's deportation to Venezuela, where he has been accused of orchestrating the deadly 1976 bombing of a Cuba jetliner.

She cited concerns about torture in opposing his potential deportation to Cuba.

A number of governments that had citizens aboard the jetliner have demanded the deportation of the one-time CIA operative. The government of Venezuela has requested that the 77-year-old Posada be sent back to that country to stand trial on charges accusing him of plotting the bombing while in Caracas.

A Venezuelan lawyer is expected to be the first witness on the stand when the hearing resumes Tuesday. Attorneys in the case have not said what the lawyer will testify about.

Posada, who is Cuban, has denied any involvement in the bombing, which killed 73 people when it crashed off the coast of the Barbados. He also has declined to name a country he would prefer to be deported to if his request for asylum is denied.

A recently declassified CIA document quotes an unnamed former Venezuelan official saying that shortly before the bombing Posada was heard to say that he and others "are going to hit a Cuban airplane."

CIA documents show the spy agency trained Posada in 1961 to participate in the Bay of Pigs. An immigration judge last month asked lawyers in the case to prepare briefs on whether the invasion was a terrorist act.

Posada's lawyers have said he did not participate in the failed attempt to topple Fidel Castro's communist government.

He was acquitted by a Venezuelan military court but that decision was later thrown out when it was decided that he should be tried in a civilian court. He escaped from a Venezuelan jail in 1985 before the trial had been completed.

The chief of the Organization of American States said Monday that the U.S. should extradite Posada if there is evidence of links to the 1976 bombing.

"If evidence against him exists in Venezuela, extradition must proceed," OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza said. "He should be extradited to Venezuela to face justice."



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