Stricter Study, U.S. Scales Back. Claim on Cuba Arms.
By Steven R. Weisman
New York Times
The Bush administration, using stringent standards adopted after the
failure to find banned weapons in Iraq, has conducted a new assessment
of Cuba's biological weapons capacity and concluded that it is no longer
clear that Cuba has an active, offensive bio-weapons program, according
to administration officials.
The latest assessment contradicts a 1999 National Intelligence Estimate
and past statements by top administration officials, some of whom have
warned that Cuba may be sharing its weapons capacity with "rogue states"
or with terrorists.
It is the latest indication that in the wake of the Iraq intelligence
failures, the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies are taking a closer
look at earlier threat assessments and finding fault with some of the
conclusions and the way the reports were prepared.
The new assessment says the intelligence community "continues to believe
that Cuba has the technical capability to pursue some aspects of an
offensive biological weapons program," according to an intelligence
He added, "There is still much about Cuba that is cause for concern,
including the production and export of dual-use items and cooperating
with countries on the State Department's list of state sponsors of
terrorism." The term "dual use" refers to items that could be used for
both civilian and military programs.
Administration officials said that the new assessment had been prepared
at the request of the State Department for a report it will be making to
Congress and that it had adopted tougher standards because the past
assessment on Iraq had been proved wrong.
"The new assessment is the product of a fresh, hard look at the
reporting," said an intelligence official. He added that the new
standards were "exceptionally stringent in how we treat our sources,
evidence and analysis."
The Bush administration's past assessment accusing Cuba of producing
germs for possible biological warfare has been a matter of dispute since
it was first disclosed in the spring of 2002. Cuba angrily disputed the
charges, and some experts suggested that Cuba's large pharmaceutical
industry involved conventional activities and materials that were
misinterpreted as a threat by opponents of Fidel Castro, the Cuban
In March 2002, John R. Bolton, under secretary of state for
nonproliferation, asserted that "the United States believes that Cuba
has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and
development effort'' and had also "provided dual-use biotechnology to
other rogue states.''
A month later, he ratcheted up his comments that Cuba remained a
"terrorist" threat to the United States and that its biological weapons
program should be seen in that light. Mr. Bolton declined to comment on
the revised assessment on Friday.
Around the same time, Carl Ford, the assistant secretary of state for
intelligence and research, reported the same formulation to the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee on Cuba. He listed Cuba as a country over
which the United States was "most concerned" in the category of
possessing chemical and biological weapons.
Mr. Bolton's warnings were applauded by supporters of a tough line on
Cuba, many of whom are supporters of President Bush's re-election and
are based in Florida. But there were dissenters even within the
administration who said privately that Mr. Bolton seemed to be
exaggerating the nature of the threat.
The new intelligence assessment was described by an intelligence
official and a second government official. Both said they had been
briefed on it. They spoke on condition that their names and agencies not
Both officials said they believed that the new assessment was more
accurate than the old one and reflected a welcome effort by American
intelligence agencies in the wake of the Iraq experience to acknowledge
uncertainties in their analysis.
A new National Intelligence Estimate on biological weapons is being
prepared and is still several months from completion, administration
A State Department official, asked to comment on the new assessment,
said, "We don't comment on reported intelligence matters."
The intelligence official who was familiar with the new assessment said
the intelligence community continued to believe that Cuba "has the
technical capability to pursue some aspects of an offensive biological
weapons program" but that "as a result of the reassessment, it is
unclear whether Cuba has an active, offensive biological weapons effort
The officials also said that even the original report was accompanied by
cautionary information suggesting that the conclusion had been based on
"The intelligence community knew and informed its customers at the time
that the sourcing behind that conclusion was fragmentary, and that there
were some problems with some of the reporting used in that argument,"
said an official, referring to the earlier assessment of the danger
posed by Cuba.
The original National Intelligence Estimate in 1999 said Cuba had "at
least a limited, developmental biological weapons research and
development effort," according to the intelligence official.
Mr. Bolton employed that same language in addressing the issue, as has
Roger F. Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere
The intelligence official said it was not unusual for experts to review
their findings on weapons of mass destruction.
"The intelligence community constantly reassesses its evidence,
tradecraft and the judgments that flow from them," he said. "And in
light of the lessons learned from the Iraq W.M.D. estimate, we are being
exceptionally stringent in how we treat our sources, evidence and
analysis. Others expect that of us, and we expect that from ourselves."
At the time of Mr. Bolton's assessment in 2002, his office declined to
elaborate on what sort of weapons might have been the focus of Cuba's
program. Other administration officials were quoted in The New York
Times as saying that Cuba had been experimenting with anthrax and other
deadly pathogens that they declined to identify.
Cuba, however, has a major drug and biotechnology program and has been
involved in making vaccines for an extensive immunization program that
has been widely praised by scientists and physicians. Many of these
products are sold to other countries.
Some of these sales have been cited by some experts as evidence of a
potential threat from Cuba, although the latest assessment is likely to
be seen as supplying a cautionary note.
Armando F. Mastrapa III
Dept. de Investigaciones
La Nueva Cuba
September 22, 2004