Castro Weaponizes West Nile Virus: Cuban Defectors Say Fidel Castro's `Biological Front' Studied Ways of Spreading Infectious Diseases through Birds with Migratory Routes through the United States. (World: Cuba)

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As the Bush administration prepares for war with Iraq a growing threat to its rear flank is being ignored, according to senior officials who believe that Cuba's biological-weapons (BW) program is at more advanced stages than officially is acknowledged. There now are reports that P-4 containment systems used to store the deadliest toxins have been identified at suspected bioweapons labs inside Cuba.

A member of the intelligence community expresses concern, but says that an open hearing on this issue would provide "feedback" to Cuba on "how much we know about its BW effort." Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, the source says, was scheduled to deliver details of the Cuban program to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June, but the testimony was suppressed by the intelligence bureaucracy.

In his gagged statement, a copy of which was obtained by INSIGHT, Bolton expresses "frustration" at the apparent unwillingness of U.S. intelligence agencies to disclose information about Cuba's biological weapons which could include anthrax, smallpox and variants of encephalitis such as West Nile virus. Recent outbreaks of West Nile virus that have killed more than 30 Americans and infected another 675 have been traced to birds that may have been infected at Cuban bioweapons labs, according to defecting scientists who report Fidel Castro's experiments using animals as carriers of weaponized germ agents.

Carlos Wotzkow, a leading Cuban ornithologist who defected in 1999, says that Castro's "Biological Front, which coordinates military and scientific research, was extended to the Institute of Zoology in 1991 to develop ways of spreading infectious diseases, including encephalitis and leptospirosis, through implantations in migratory birds."

Roberto Hernandez, another exiled Cuban scientist, says, "We were instructed to look into viruses such as encephalitis which are highly resistant to insecticides. Military-intelligence officers running the labs ordered us to trap birds with migratory routes to the United States with the idea of releasing contaminated flocks which would be bitten by mosquitoes which, in turn, infect humans."

A dead crow infected with West Nile virus recently was discovered on the White House lawn, according to the Washington Post. Sixty similarly infected birds fell around the U.S. Navy base in Boca Chica, Fla., during September 2001, causing an encephalitis epidemic that killed a civilian employee.

Scenarios worthy of Stephen King's sci-fi horrors are corroborated by Col. Alvaro Prendes, a former vice chief of the Cuban air force and exiled leader of Union de Soldados y Oficiales Libres (USOL), a clandestine pro-democracy movement within Cuba's armed forces. He tells INSIGHT that Castro's biotech facilities operate under the close control of a colonel of the Directorate of General Intelligence (DGI), Librado Reina Benitan, a longtime protege of Raul Castro, Cuba's defense minister and brother of Fidel Castro [see "Fidel Castro's Deadly Secret," July 20, 1998].

One fortified compound near a military hospital in east Havana is the size of two football fields and contains six giant bubbles to retain toxic gases. It is fronted as a cattle-feed producer, according to documents smuggled out of Cuba by military dissidents. The laboratory is equipped with a 10,000 Reid vapor-pressure centrifugal reactor and has its own water system and backup generators. It is in any case supported by high-priority circuits that feed a nearby artillery base storing Russian-made SS-22 medium-range missiles capable of reaching south Florida, according to Cuban documents obtained by INSIGHT.

"Castro plans a Gotterdammerung if his regime becomes seriously threatened by an invasion or internal upheaval," warns Prendes, citing a doomsday plan that is code-named Lucero. "Known dissidents would be rounded up and herded into tunnels beneath Havana to be exterminated with poison gas," according to the former fighter pilot who was close to Castro and was decorated as a "hero of the revolution" for shooting down CIA-manned bombers during the aborted Bay of Pigs operation in 1961. …