CASTRO'S CUBA: ASYMMETRIC THREAT TO THE U.S.?
PART ONE: Castro's Capabilities
By Servando González
July 1, 2002
A speech on May 6 by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton brought up the issue of Fidel Castro's capabilities for waging asymmetric warfare against the United States. But, as we know, the military equation has two main variables: capability and intent. This article deals with Castro's capabilities.
Many knowledgeable sources agree that Fidel Castro has been for many years trying to develop weapons of mass destruction to use against what he considers his main enemy: the United States of America.
Juan Vivés, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected to the West, claims that, for several years after the missile crisis, Castro unsuccessfully tried to build his own missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons. For the ultra secret project he recruited military engineers and professors from Cuban universities. The missile, a sort of primitive V-1 bomb similar to the one developed by the Nazis, would use a MiG-21 jet motor. The testing of the prototypes of the Cuban missile, called libertadoras, (liberators) was a series of failures, but in1977 the project was still active.
According to Vivés, Castro said that the missiles were not intended as offensive weapons, but they would be used against the U.S. in case of an American attack against Cuba. Cuban nuclear capability at the time seemed remote, so Castro mentioned using the missiles for bacteriological warfare.
After his missile development projects ended in failure, Castro's nuclear dream was postponed, but not forgotten. In December, 1971, Castro announced his intention to turn to nuclear power for electricity generation in Cuba. Since that date, two Soviet-designed VVER-440 nuclear reactors began construction at Juraguá, not far from the city of Cienfuegos, in Cuba's southern coast, about 150 miles south of Key West. The Soviet VVER-440 reactors are known to be fatally flawed poorly designed, made with defective materials and assembled incompetently, allowing for many unsafe welds in their critical cooling systems.
But, keeping in mind Castro's previous attempts to have the bomb, this nuclear program raised questions about the true nature of his nuclear ambitions. As professor Michael Mandelbaum has pointed out, it doesn't take a superpower to pose a nuclear threat. Any small, poor country with a few nuclear explosives and the means to deliver them could wreak terrible damage to the United States. Castro's Cuba fits professor Mandelbaum's description. It is a small, poor country just ninety miles from Florida, that has been desperately trying to get nuclear capability and has the means to deliver its deadly radiation to the U.S. simply by allowing the wind to do the job.
Cuban intelligence defector Juan Antonio Rodríguez Menier told this author that he positively knows that Castro has been actively seeking the possibility of having nuclear weapons. The fact, according to Rodríguez Menier, was common knowledge among Cuban senior intelligence officers. Menier's claims have been corroborated by other sources. According to these sources, in the mid-1980s Castro began a highly secret nuclear-bomb research project. Most of the hard currency he needed for the project was coming from his involvement in the narcotics trade and perhaps explains one of the reasons why he decided to collaborate with the Latin American drug barons.
Nuclear research, under the direction of Castro's eldest son, nuclear engineer Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, began at two installations, one located between Jibacoa and Arroyo Bermejo beaches, on the north coast of Cuba, not far from Havana, and the other one in Las Villas province. Furthermore, the Cuban authorities have given no indication as how they will dispose of the waste from the weapons-grade uranium they will use to power their 10-megawatt Soviet-designed research reactor. The reactor is similar to Iraq's Soviet-made IRT 10-megawatt research reactor, which was a key element of that nation's military nuclear program until it was bombed by U.S. planes during the Gulf War.
In 1982 Castro Díaz-Balart told an associate that they were very close to acquiring the necessary knowledge to produce a nuclear weapon. The facilities also were involved in research on nerve gases and bacteriological weapons that could be delivered to the U.S. by different ways. In the early 1990s Castro ordered another large nuclear research complex to be built at Pedro Pi, southeast of Havana. The facility occupies a seven-square-mile area and contains 27 buildings. Moreover, as late as 1991, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report indicated that Castro was still showing a strong interest in acquiring fissionable material capable of producing nuclear weapons.
In 1989 General Rafael del Pino Díaz, the highest ranking Cuban defector, said that at the time of the Grenada operation in 1983, Castro ordered Cuban MiG 23 pilots to program their computers to attack targets in Florida. Among the selected targets was the Turkey Point nuclear plant, which Castro said had the potential of producing a nuclear disaster larger than Chernobyl. According to Gen. del Pino, Castro's words were: "I don't have nuclear bombs, but I can produce a nuclear explosion."
In another interview, Gen. del Pino claimed that, in 1968, when a group of Cubans were authorized to recover a MiG-17 taken to the U. S. by a defector, Cuban agents secretly made detailed photographs of Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. The base, Gen. del Pino said, had been targeted for an air attack by Cuban planes. The intention of the attack, Castro told the Cuban Air Force officers, would be to provoke the United States into an even stronger action "so the Soviet Union would become involved."
Evidence of strange activities in Cuba indicate that Fidel Castro has been toying with the idea of a nuclear holocaust and is preparing himself for the event. Newsweek reported in early 1992 that Castro has been building a massive network of underground tunnels and concrete shelters, allegedly to protect the Cuban people from U.S. bombs. Later inquiries brought out that, at least since 1981, more than 10,000 Cuban troops were working 24 hours a day digging an intricate network of concrete-reinforced tunnels and bunkers beneath Havana and other parts of the Island. It is believed that some of these tunnels could house an entire division of troops, plus tanks and equipment.
The construction of tunnels is still going on. As late as January, 1999, the newspaper Tribuna de La Habana reported positive advances in tunnel construction in Havana during the previous year. Castro's daughter Alina mentioned what has been a rumor running for many years in Cuba. Based on the fact that the tunnels have iron grills similar to jail cells, some people have speculated that their real purpose is to trap the people and kill them using poison gas. As the Soviet army approached Berlin, Hitler ordered the floodgates to be opened and drowned thousands of German citizens who had taken refuge in the city's subway. Havana has no subway, so perhaps Castro is hurriedly building a makeshift one just in case.
In its March 6, 1996, issue, the authoritative Jane's Defence Weekly published a short note under the headline: "Cuban special forces prepare for U.S. attack." The note tells how, since 1990, Cuban Special Forces troops (the ones under the direct command of Castro himself) have been training for the possibility of an attack directed at some parts of continental United States, most likely Florida. Intensive training courses have been underway, at least since 1990, under a program provided by Vietnam, at the Vietnam People's Army base at Hoa Binh, an inland town south-west of Hanoi.
According to sources in Cuba, in the mid 1980's Castro created a special military school for an élite force of some 3,500 men in a region known as El Cacho, not far from the city of Los Palacios, in the Pinar del Rio province west of Havana. The training center is known as the Baraguá school, and was founded by the notorious de la Guardia twins following Castro's direct orders. Personnel attending the school specialize in commando attacks and infiltration. They are considered by experts to be a very professional group, with great potential to inflict damage to a country. They are between 20 and 35 years old, and speak fluent English. The training operations of this military base were documented in 1997 by NBC, and shown as part of a special section of NBC Nightly News.
General Jose Luis Mesa is the military director in command of the school, and Colonel Ramírez is the director of daily operations. Both men have experience in several African wars, and in Vietnam. The school has had some Vietnamese advisors acting as professors. These men are trained in infiltration techniques and operations and can be effectively used to carry bacteriological and chemical warfare to the United States.
In October, 1992, it was unexpectedly announced that Castro's son had been fired from his post as Executive Secretary of the Cuban Atomic Energy Commission and as Director of the Cuban Atomic Energy Program. The concise note, which appeared in Cuba's main official newspaper Granma, gave no reason for the demotion. Some have speculated that it had to do with the problems plaguing the construction of the Juraguá nuclear plant, but others believe that Castro fired his son because of his failure to produce the promised nuclear bomb. Perhaps the rumors about the real reason for the firing of Díaz-Balart were true, because lately Castro's plans for the final solution of his American problem seem to have taken a different course.
Since the early 1980's Fidel Castro has been actively involved in the research and development of chemical and bacteriological warfare agents. In 1981 Castro began an ambitious chemical-weapons development program. The first step included the building of Quimonor, an underground complex in Matanzas province, east of Havana. The plant was involved in the production of tricothecen, a component of the highly toxic defoliant "yellow rain." Some years later the program was expanded to produce germs and toxins, anthrax among them. Castro's goal was to create a capability for waging asymmetric warfare against the U.S.
To reach his goal Castro ordered the creation of several centers that do research and development in the areas of biotechnology, biomedicine, and related subjects. Within these centers, according to some engineers who have defected, there are special groups working on projects to develop CBW (Chemical, Biological, and Bacteriological Warfare) agents.
The centers involved in this activity are: the Biotechnology Center, the Immunology Center, the Genetic Engineering Center, the Tropical Medicine Institute, the Finlay Institute, the Biocen, the Academy of Sciences, the Oceanographic Institute, the Biological Preparations Center, the Center for the Breeding of Laboratory Animals, the National Center for Animal and Plant Health, the Neuroscience Center, and "La Fabriquita."
Many Cuban engineers and scientists have been trained in former East Germany, Russia, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, and China. Since 1991, Castro has spent over $1.5 billion in instruments, equipment, and materials, apparently with very little commercial application because only a few vaccines against hepatitis and meningitis have been produced.
Under the cover of legitimate scientific work, the research groups work by sections and departments, with little connection among themselves, following more the intelligence principles of need-to-know and compartmentation than of a scientific community. They have developed, among others, a paralyzing toxin which is now ready to use. In 1992, the Institute of Oceanographic studies conducted an experiment with the Academy of Sciences to find which places in the Cuban coast were the best to let bottles and containers with cards inside reach the United States coast line fastest and most effectively. The cards said they were part of a scientific study of marine currents and asked finders to write down the exact time and location of the finding and send them to a government agency in Cuba. Their true goal, however, was to find out the best places in Cuba to throw containers with bacteriological material which may reach the United States. Some of the bottles discovered in American waters have been found by or given to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Cuban scientists also have carried out studies on the propagation of microorganisms by means of fumigation with aircraft or microjets. They have tested the use of microjets on land and in the air. This same system could become the basis for the application of bacteriological weapons.
A few years ago the Castro government bought three expensive 10,000 RPM, high capacity centrifuges shielded against lethal agents, an important tool for the development of bacteriological agents. These machines were installed, and are now in operation, at a facility located in East Havana, which Cuban General of the Army Raúl Castro affectionately calls La Fabriquita (the Little Factory). Though Raúl Castro calls the plant "La Fabriquita" (the Little Factory), the plant is huge, reportedly covering an area larger than two football fields.
According to the defense publication Jane's, there is strong suspicion that La Fabriquita could be engaged in producing an anthrax toxin like the one reportedly being developed by the Russians,. Russia's new variant of the anthrax toxin is totally resistant to antibiotics and could cause a catastrophe. In their book America the Vulnerable, Joseph Douglass and Neil Livingstone informed that Russian instructors at Cuban chemical warfare schools in the 1980s boasted that Castro was prepared to kill tens of millions of Americans with toxins he had stockpiled.
After the September 11 attacks, some U.S. government officials mentioned that only three countries in the world have the installed technology to successfully weaponize anthrax: the U.S., Russia, and Iraq. The information, however, is not totally accurate, because Castro's Cuba also has the technology to weaponize anthrax, and has been experimenting with it for many long years. Therefore, if we discard the U.S. and Russia as the producers of the anthrax employed in the attacks, the two remaining suspects are Hussein's Iraq and Castro's Cuba.
The fact that Fidel Castro, a sworn enemy of the U.S., has the technology for weaponizing anthrax is very disturbing, particularly under the present circumstances. Even more disturbing is the fact that, unknown to the majority of the American people, Cuban commercial planes routinely fly over the U.S. territory almost every single day, and it would be extremely easy to aerosolize weaponized anthrax spores from a plane flying over the U.S. in a biological warfare attack as lethal as a nuclear one.
It seems that, after more than thirty years of prohibition, the Federal Aviation Administration, probably following Clinton's orders, lifted in 1998 the ban against Cuban planes flying over U.S. airspace while going to and from Canada. Since then, Cuban planes are now permitted to fly two paths, one over land on the U.S. east coast, and other offshore over the Atlantic Ocean near the U.S. coastline.
Ken Alibek (the name adopted by Soviet Colonel Kanatjian Alibekov after he defected to the U.S.), a gifted doctor and a talented scientist, was first deputy director of the Soviet Union's main bioweapons directorate before defecting in 1992. Until his defection, Alibek was the head of Biopreparat, the largest biological warfare production complex in the world, at Stepnagorsk in what is now the Central Asian independent Republic of Kazakhstan, for many years one of the most closely guarded secrets in the Soviet Union's arsenal.
In an interview published a few weeks after the publication of his book Biohazard, Alibek said he is convinced that Castro's bacteriological warfare program is at the same technological level of any European country, or even the United States. Alibek, who has lived in America for several years, is widely respected in the U.S. biological warfare community. Though he has no firsthand knowledge of Castro's programs, he heard some details about them from his boss, Maj. Gen. Yuri Kalinin.
Alibek mentioned that in 1990 Kalinin, deputy minister of the Soviet medical and microbiological industry, visited Cuba as a member of an official mission. Because of his job, he got in contact with the Cubans engaged in biotechnology. According to Alibek, Kalinin came back to Moscow convinced that the Cubans were actively engaged in a bacteriological warfare program.
One of the things that caught Alibek's attention was that the Cubans were using the same cover stories the Soviet intelligence had developed, claiming their factories were producing single-cell bacteria for animal feed."Maybe we were over-suspicious," said Alibek, "but we did not believe their stories. You have to understand that bio-weapons is one of the most sensitive topics in the world. No one shares this type of information, even with best friends. But in my personal opinion, I have no question Cuba is involved"
Other sources seem to confirm Alibek's suspicions. Ex-Cuban intelligence Major Florentino Azpillaga, now living in exile after he defected in 1987 while visiting Prague, is probably the Cuban intelligence defector with the highest rank and credibility. Azpillaga, still under the protection of the U.S. government, told a reporter how in 1985 he delivered a parcel, sent by a Cuban intelligence officer in Japan, to a physician working at a secret biological weapons lab in a mansion at the Cubanacán section of Havana, the so-called Polo Científico del Oeste (West's Scientific Pole).
Azpillaga says that, on another occasion, he heard a secret recording of a speech by Fidel Castro, delivered to high-ranking intelligence officers, saying that, if Cuba was attacked or threatened by the U.S., he would use bacteriological warfare against the United States. According to Azpillaga, Castro's words were precise and concrete, leaving no doubts as to what his intentions and capabilities were. The recording was made around 1979-1981, and was so secret that even senior intelligence officers had to sign a document declaring that what they were going to hear was a state secret. Since that day, says Azpillaga, he and the rest of the senior Cuban intelligence officers, were convinced that Castro was working on a program of bacteriological warfare.
For his part, Castro said that he is not "afraid of America, and the Cuban nation, 40 years after its revolution, is now stronger than ever." "Iran and Cuba," Castro added, "in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees. The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up."
Cuban has several cooperation agreements with Iran. One of them refers to the area of scientific investigation and vaccine production technology a common cover for the secret production of bacteriological agents in a high-technology laboratory now nearing completion in Iran. But there is probably more than meets the eye in the Cuban-Iranian agreement. According to José de la Fuente, a Cuban scientist now living in the U.S., this technology, used to manufacture lifesaving medical products, can be easily adapted to produce lethal agents for biowarfare, like anthrax bacteria or the smallpox virus. Many steps in the fermentation process that produces vaccines and other medicines are similar to the ones used to manufacture biochemical weapons.
In mid 1997 the U.S. Senate ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) treaty. Part of the treaty calls for the sharing of "defensive" chemical weapons manufacturing technology, including equipment, with other parties to the CWC. Castro's Cuba is among the countries which signed the CWC treaty and, consequently, it is safe to surmise that he has been benefitting from the sharing of know-how and manufacturing technology.
It seems that, despite overwhelming evidence, at least until very recently, the U.S. government has not been too concerned about Castro's capabilities for producing chemical or bacteriological weapons that could be used against the American people. Actually, a few days after Bolton's speech, some officers at the Department of State expressed their doubts about Castro's capabilities for producing bacteriological warfare agents. This was not a surprise, because for many year the U.S. government has been playing down Castro's aggressive threats and actions against the United States.
© 2002 Servando González - All Rights Reserved
Servando González is a Cuban-born American writer and intelligence analyst. His book The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol, a study of Castro from the point of view on intelligence and espionage, was published early this year. His book The Nuclear Deception: Nikita Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis will appear this Fall.