Ernesto F. Betancourt
The October 18-25 issue of The New Yorker carries a well researched story by Richard Preston that has created quite a furor: the possibility that the mysterious encephalitis outbreak in New York City was really a deliberate bioterrorist attack generated by Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The
CIA was described as being deeply involved in research on biological terrorism and potentially interested in following up the Iraqi connection. However, according to a report on 10/12/99 in The Washington Post, a CIA anonymous spokesman arrogantly refuted the story without offering any
explanation to the mysterious outbreak. In fact, he stated "To imply that there is an investigation gives it more credibility than it deserves." Regardless of whether or not Iraq is involved in this specific outbreak case, The New Yorker article offers an interesting lead into
possible Cuba-Iraq cooperation in germ warfare that should not be ignored.
On page 105 of the magazine, a quotation is made of a conversation in which Saddam refers to a dossier about "details of his ultimate weapon, developed in secret laboratories outside Iraq...Free of UN inspection, the laboratories would develop the SV1417 strain of the West Nile
virus--capable of destroying 97 percent of all life in an urban environment..." Now, where could such a research be undertaken? A few characteristics will help narrow our location choices:
it must have a technological capability to undertake such research;
it must be a country friendly to Iraq and hostile to the US;
it must be outside the reach of any UN inspection;
it must be a close society, where these activities can be free of press coverage; and,
it must be located within the reach of migratory birds.
There is only one place on earth that meets those requirements: Castro's Cuba. Under Castro's close supervision, as will be explained further, a program for using migratory birds to introduce epidemics into the US has been going on in Cuba since the early eighties. In the recently released
book Biohazard, former Soviet Colonel Ken Alibek, reports that his boss in the Soviet germ warfare program returned from Cuba stating: "the Cubans have developed a germ warfare capability." This is a fairly reliable and well informed source. Besides, the comment was made in a
context that was neither accusatory nor politically motivated. It was a private conversation among colleagues.
There are many other indications that Cuba meets the technology capability requirement, including the report presented last year on the Cuba threat to US security by Secretary of Defense William Cohen recognizing that Cuba's capabilities in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology could be directed
to develop such weapons, although the US had no evidence at that time it had done so. No report is known on any Cuban effort to develop weapon delivery systems. However, Secretary Cohen's comment does not exclude the possibility that the Pentagon was not looking for migratory birds and mosquitoes
as delivery systems. In conclusion, Cuba certainly meets the technology capability requirement.
Castro's hostility to the US is so well known that it does not require any documentation. As to friendly relations with Iraq, the links go back to the so-called Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Cuba back in 1979. Castro even provided doctors to perform back surgery on Hussein. As a fellow
rogue state, Cuba has always supported Iraq at the UN against the US.
Getting closer to possible cooperation on germ warfare activities between the two countries, there is an intriguing piece of news. Dr. Manuel Limonta, Director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, an institution suspected of being a cover for germ warfare research and
development, was reported in June this year to have been dismissed from his position amid widespread rumors of corruption in his dealings with Iraq. On June 29, 1999, the regime officially reported his dismissal, although with the clarification that no corruption was involved. But the reference to
Iraq reflects the fact that there is some exchange going on between the two countries in this field.
This industry is managed under the direct supervision of Castro, with his personal Support and Coordination Group acting parallel to the formal chain of command. Contrary to reports indicating it is an industry open and accessible, there are reports of plants kept under very tight security
rules. In fact, a July 1993 UNDP mission to draft a program to provide management assistance and training to the industry ended in failure when an American member of that mission, Dr. Stuart Diamond, attempted to introduce a questionnaire asking about relationships among the network of industry
enterprises. To the dismay of the professor, the Cubans saw his professional good faith inquiry as a spying effort. The questionnaire was rejected, the UN was informed they did not want Americans doing the training and the negotiations ended in an impasse. So, not even those trying to help Cuba
escape the veil of secrecy maintained for this industry. As to being a close society, with the exception of North Korea, Cuba is as closed as you can get.
Finally, the research undertaken in Cuba is precisely centered on developing virus strains suitable to be inoculated to the many migratory birds that fly North-South in the Fall and South-North in the Spring. It can be concluded that Cuba is the most plausible candidate for the germ warfare
research and development activities referred to by Saddam Hussein in The New Yorker article.
Therefore, it will be advisable to look at the other facts related to use of migratory birds-mosquitoes as delivery systems in germ warfare. First, two points related to the New York case:
It was widely reported there was a diagnostic turnabout in the case of the outbreak of encephalitis in New York. An alert staffer at the Bronx Zoo, pathologist Tracey McNamara, associated an unusual level of dead birds with swollen brains to the outbreak. As a result, it was concluded that
the initial St Louis virus CDC diagnosis was incorrect The outbreak was then linked to the West Nile virus. A recent report added another virus. But no plausible epidemiological explanation is still available or shared with the public.
West Nile fever was originally diagnosed in Uganda in 1937. There was an outbreak in 1950 in Egypt. The most recent outbreak took place in Romania in 1996. John Roehrig of CDC said "it is not yet clear how the virus got to New York, but it could be from bird migration or from
virus-carrying imported birds that infected the area's mosquito population." According to the researchers quoted, how this virus reached the US is an epidemiological mystery, since it has never been identified in North or South America.
As an investigative hypothesis for solving this epidemiological mystery, it would be worthwhile to consider some related events from Cuba. This hypothesis is predicated on linking a few facts.
Fact number one is a book published in 1998 by Miami Editorial Universal. The book is entitled Matumaleza Cubana. Its author is Carlos Wotzkow, a former researcher at the Cuban Zoo Institute who now lives in Switzerland. The book is related to environmental damage to Cuba caused by
Castro's regime and the author's personal travails. However, on page 54, Mr. Wotzkow accuses Dr. Rosa Elena Simeon of falsely blaming the US for a porcine virus epidemic that led to a decision to kill all pigs, an accusation for which, according to Mr. Wotzkow, she was rewarded with the presidency
of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. The decision to kill the pigs "had a dual purpose, to accuse the CIA and the American government of introducing infectious diseases in Cuba and to confiscate the meat from domestic consumption in order to can it for export to Africa." This
accusation against the CIA, incidentally, is rebutted in the current issue of the quarterly journal Critical Reviews in Microbiology as being totally unfounded. Reflecting the prevailing confusion on these matters, the author of this research also considers Cuba is not engaged in
developing biological weapons.
On page 57 of Wotzkow's book, fact number two, the author explains what he calls the militarization of science in Cuba, as experienced at the Zoological Institute. He claims he was fired, among other reasons, for his opposition to a military project within the Institute. The project was
proposed by Castro himself and led to the creation of what was called the Biological Front: "An idea to undertake biological warfare against United States territory through introducing viruses of infectious diseases inoculated in migratory birds." According to Mr. Wotzkow, as a
result, the Zoo Institute--eventually merged into another agency--became associated with the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute in research aimed at identifying viruses that could be transmitted through birds.
Raul Castro is reported to have expressed, in a private conversation early in the eighties, the intention of the Cuban Government to retaliate in kind against the US for introducing viruses such as the one that allegedly caused the Hemorrhagic Dengue epidemic, by resorting to the same
tactics allegedly used by the US. In Alibek's book, Castro's decision to undertake the development of germ warfare capabilities is linked to his accusation that the US was responsible for the outbreak of Hemorrhagic Dengue in the early eighties. In addition, on January 29, 1997, Fidel
Castro warned the US that Cuba "was a lamb that the dragon could find was filled with poison," a statement interpreted as a veiled threat of Cuba's potential use of germ warfare against the US. These statements tend to support Mr. Wotzkow's comment. Fact number three.
Whatever the motivations, the fact is that Castro has been for almost twenty years engaged in the development of germ warfare capabilities as well as in a delivery system using migratory birds to introduce epidemics into the US to be transmitted by mosquitoes. The huge investment on
genetic engineering and biotechnology plants, reported by Jocelyn Kaiser in Science on November 28, 1998 to reach one billion dollars, could easily hide these activities. Since Cuba lacks the financial resources to make such an investment, one has to wonder if Hussein is paying for this in
exchange for doing his bidding in germ warfare.
The effort involved is described by Dr. Luis Roberto Hernandez in an interview with El Nuevo Herald. In that interview, Dr. Hernandez, at present a professor of Entomology at the University of Puerto Rico, reports he worked in the Biological Front Project until 1995, when he defected
in London. They identified and produced virus strains and selected migratory birds to carry them. The center is located in secret installations outside the Miramar complex housing the rest of the biotechnology laboratories, at the farm La Chata, the former country home of President Carlos Prio
Socarras. The Cuban researchers were unwittingly and naively helped in their program by American researchers who shared with them information on techniques related to "ringing" migratory birds and the data obtained about their migratory habits from that research. According to La
Revista Cubana de Medicina Tropical, Vol. II, 1996, unaware of what the Cubans were doing, CDC provided them in 1988 with strains of the St Louis virus to further their research. That is fact number four.
In July this year, the Cuban government organized a trial, before the usual kangaroo court that has typified the Castro regime, accusing the US of genocide against Cuba. The court issued an unenforceable sentence ordering the US to pay reparations amounting to US$ 181 billion. This trial
was based mostly on the embargo and actions such as the Bay of Pigs. Charge Number VII, however, covers accusations that the US was responsible for introducing the viruses that caused porcine and hemorrhagic fever epidemics as well as many other hostile actions in biological warfare. The
individual accusations are now being broadcast daily in one hour TV programs. Vitral, a Catholic Church publication, complained that these broadcasts aimed at encouraging US hatred among Cubans. This is fact number five.
The virus first appeared in New York in July and August shortly after birds returned North. Then, during the recent initial session of the UN General Assembly the Cuban delegation made the genocide accusation the central issue of its attacks against the US, including undertaking biological
warfare measures. The return of this delegation to Havana was unique. They were received at a mass event at Havana University, Castro addressed the event. On September 30, 1999, the Granma headline stated: "Historic and victorious battle right in the Empire's heart." Could
this victory be fact number six?
Surprisingly, among the delegation speakers at Havana University was Dr. Rosa Elena Simeon, the same woman who made the initial accusations against the CIA and now heads the agency directly accountable to Castro for overseeing research to send viruses to the US by inoculating migratory
birds. There was no explanation given as to why this woman, who has no diplomatic role to play in the delegation to the UN General Assembly, was included. Could it be she came under diplomatic cover to verify delivery system preparations on the US side or because something went wrong? Could
this be fact number seven?
Nobody is saying that these individual pieces of evidence conclusively prove that the New York encephalitis outbreak has been caused by Cuba. They raise quite a plausible hypothesis, however. As is said in police investigations, the evidence points to motive, opportunity and the weapon. It
could be that CDC finds a completely unrelated explanation to this specific outbreak. But as long as they are not able to provide such alternative explanation, they neither have the right to summarily reject any hypothesis, nor to refuse to investigate, as was stated by the anonymous CIA spokesman.
Much less when CDC unwittingly helped the Cuban research effort that may have resulted in creating this potential threat.
In the context of the possibility that Cuba is the surrogate country mentioned by Saddam Hussein in The New Yorker article, the urgency of a thorough investigation of these facts cannot be exaggerated. Americans have a need and a right to know. The situation demands a thorough and
unambiguous explanation, not an arrogant cover-up.
Ernesto F. Betancourt, 10/18/99 - (301) 770-0929 or e-mail: email@example.com.