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Cuba May Have Bio Warfare Program

Cuba May Have Bio Warfare Program
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration believes Cuba is trying to develop biological weapons and transferring its technical expertise to countries hostile to the United States.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton's accusation Monday marked the first time the United States raised the possibility of Cuban involvement in weapons of mass destruction. He said transfers to what he described as ``rogue states'' involve biotechnology that can have legitimate uses as well.

Bolton, the State Department's top official dealing with proliferation of mass-destruction weapons, spoke to a gathering at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.

The allegations appeared to add to the administration's rationale for keeping Cuba on State's list of countries accused of engaging in international terrorism.

Bolton said the administration believes a definite link exists between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a leading congressional opponent of the President Fidel Castro's government in Cuba, praised Bolton for the speech. ``It's about time that those who continue to defend Castro realize that they are defending a terrorist,'' he said.

An administration official said U.S. intelligence officials have known for some time about Cuba's secret program but withheld the information to protect its sources. Bolton believed the information was too important not to be made public, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bolton did not identify countries with which he alleged Cuba has been sharing biotechnology but noted that last year that Castro visited Iran, Syria and Libya, all members, with Cuba, of the State Department's list of terrorism sponsors. A CIA report released in January said Iran has a biological weapons program and that Libya and Syria are believed to have them as well.

For four decades Cuba has maintained a well-developed and sophisticated biomedical industry, Bolton said. Analysts and Cuban defectors long have cast suspicion on activities conducted in the facilities.

Cuba's ability to threaten U.S. security has received less attention in recent years as Castro halted his efforts to promote Cuban-style revolutions elsewhere.

The administration acknowledged last year without elaboration that it was examining whether Cuba could engage in computer network attacks that could disrupt American military movements.

Bolton noted that a 1998 Pentagon report concluded that Cuba did not represent a significant military threat to the United States or the region. In the preface, however, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said he worried about Cuba's potential to develop biological weapons, given its ambitious biotechnology program.

Bolton said a major reason the report may have understated the threat potential was that a contributor to the study was Ana Belen Montes, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who was arrested last fall on charges of spying for Cuba. She pleaded guilty in March.

Bolton said: ``The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort.

``Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states. We are concerned that such technology could support BW programs in those states.

``We call on Cuba to cease all BW-applicable cooperation with rogue states and to fully comply with all of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.''

There was no immediate reaction to Bolton's speech from the Cuban government. A man who answered the telephone at the Foreign Ministry spokesman's office in Havana said he was unfamiliar with Bolton's declaration and no response had been issued.

Castro's government in the past has accused the United States of using biological means to destroy crops and livestock on the island.



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