Stuart McMillan, “Biowarfare over Cuban skies,” The Manatoban, Feb. 25, 1998

Biowarfare over Cuban skies
Biological weapons are strictly off-limits... unless you're the American

By Stuart McMillan

Once again, the world is on the brink of another war - this time, supposedly, because the U.S. thinks Saddam Hussein may be hiding biological weapons stockpiles. That the U.S. already has its own such stockpiles - and uses them - is less well-known.

Even though many countries have stated the need for more discussion and negotiation in the current controversy over possible Iraqi stockpiling of biological weapons, the U.S. appears determined to show Iraq a lesson. The U.S. has continued to make statements that, "If Saddam doesn't agree to the U.N. resolution, we will have no other option than to initiate a substantial strike." They seem determined to get the support and involvement of as many countries as possible.

Iraqi opposition to the Security Council Mandate has been well documented, but what the agreement is about remains highly vague. To the media - as they sell it to the public - it is about preventing violations of the ban on chemical and biological weapons.

But this being the case, then the supposed defenders of freedom - a.k.a. the U.S. - may need the most intense policing and control of all. Could the U.S. government be so hypocritical as to threaten military strikes because Saddam Hussein might potentially be making weapons of biological warfare, even as it was being accused of deploying similar weapons against another nation?

Still leading the league

The U.S. leads the development and production of bacteriological and chemical weapons on a worldwide scale. Their use by the U.S. military in the wars in Korea and Viet Nam is well documented by U.S. government documents and the by media. What is not as well documented is U.S. use of such weapons in covert operations. On the official books, all U.S. biological weapons were destroyed in 1972, after signing of the Biological Weapons Convention. In this way, the U.S. is much like Iraq. Unofficially, however, research, development and use of biological weapons by the U.S. government has long been suspected, and recently, a strange incident involving a U.S. plane has brought the subject to light once again.

On October 21, 1996, an S2R crop-dusting plane registered to the U.S. State Department was en route from Florida to Colombia via Grand Cayman island. The plane was flying over an area known as the Giron Corridor, heavily travelled by international aircraft. The plane had Cuban permission to overfly, supposedly being part of a regularly scheduled U.S. narcotics eradication operation.

Flying over the same area was the regular flight of CU-170 Cubana de Aviacion from Havana to Las Tunas. The pilots noticed the U.S. plane flying in an almost parallel direction to them, 1,000 feet above. The Cuban pilot saw a "white or greyish mist," as they put it, discharged from the plane in an intermittent fashion some seven times. The Cuban pilot immediately reported the discharge of unknown substance to Flight Control.

The Cuban Air Controller made contact with the U.S. plane. The Cuban Air Controller's tape records them asking if the aircraft was having any technical problems, to which the American pilot answered "No." When asked what type of plane it was, the answer was "a single-engine AY-65." Which it was not; it was a an S2R. How strange that a pilot would forget what kind of plane he was flying.

On December 18, 1996, the first sign of a foreign insect pest occurred in a potato plantation on the Lenin State Horticultural Farm. Samples were sent to the Central Quarantine Laboratory of the National Pest Control Centre, the insect being totally unknown to Cuba. An investigation identified the organism as Thrips palmi karay.

Trouble with Thrips

Thrips palmi is indigenous to Asia. Since 1985, it has spread across certain Caribbean countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. It infects practically all crops, weeds and ornamental plants. It is self-propagating in the field and is easily transferred when transporting any plant material or soil. It is resistant to temperature changes and many insecticides. In short, it is an agriculturalist's nightmare.

Could the two incidents be connected? The Cuban government certainly believes so and has organized considerable amounts of information to prove it, information which it submitted, in a formal complaint, to the U.N.

After registering its complaints with U.S. diplomats, the Cuban government complained to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, charging that Thrips "strikes and severely damages practically every crop and is also resistant to a considerable variety of pesticides."

Surely the U.S. government would not violate the Biological Weapons Convention, which it signed in 1972? But there are many reasons to believe that the U.S. has violated and continues to violate this convention. Although "The U.S. State Department denies the veracity of these Thrips facts, alleging that" it has not committed a single act violating the 1972 agreement.

The U.S.'s own information releases paint a very different picture, showing that, through successive administrations, the U.S. has continued to run covert operations that started nearly 40 years ago.

It was 1959 and the Cuban Revolution had just occurred. The U.S., initially very supportive of Castro, was beginning to grow uneasy with the government's Communist leanings. CIA director Allen Dulles felt he had clear authorization from President Eisenhower to assassinate Fidel Castro, his brother Raul Castro and Che Guevara, Castro's military chief.

The surgeon general warns that...

The U.S. never wanted to be connected to the assassinations directly, so a number of unusual plans were attempted. These including spraying Castro's broadcast studio and a box of cigars with an LSD-like compound, so Castro would appear publicly delerious and unfit to rule. When this failed, the CIA attempted to exploit Castro's fondness for a certain kind of cigar, by treating a quantity of such cigars with botulism toxin, but failed to deliver them properly. Had the delivery occurred, it could have successfully eliminated Castro. The U.S. Senate papers document these and other attempted assassinations.

By 1962, the CIA, under direct orders from Kennedy himself, developed an operation known as MONGOOSE with the goal of destroying the Cuban Revolution. It was the largest covert operation undertaken by the CIA at that time. Operation MONGOOSE is well documented in Arthur Schlesinger's book, Robert F. Kennedy and His Times. Operation strategies included military force, sabotage, assassination and the training of mercenaries in the Panama Canal Zone and Guatemala. All of these tactical options were deemed somewhat undesirable; because they were so blatant, Kennedy feared increasing the Cold War tensions.

The U.S. enlists bacteria

It was at this point that U.S. intelligence services and the military undertook the development of bacteriological warfare, which included blights that attack food crops, sugar cane defoliants and bacteria, as well as various diseases and viruses that affect humans and animals. The development and implementation continued throughout the sixties.

In 1971, Newsday revealed that a virus originating in Fort Gulik, in the Panama Canal Zone, had been delivered by fishing boats to anti-Cuban agents. In 1972, CIA agents introduced the African swine fever virus, which decimated Cuban swine production, causing a half-million pigs to be incinerated and buried. This was well documented by a book entitled The Fish is Red and was admitted by a U.S. intelligence source in 1977. A few years later Newsday reported that a biological warfare program aimed at poultry production had failed for reasons not disclosed.

Between 1979 and 1981, four more destructive diseases were unleashed against Cuba: haemorrhagic conjunctivitis, dengue fever, sugar cane rust and tobacco blue mould. CovertAction, a Washington-based publication, boldly stated that the CIA-Pentagon introduction of dengue fever had infected hundreds of thousands of people, leaving 158 dead - 101 of which were children. The Washington Post reported that, "the CIA had a program aimed at Cuban agriculture, andŠsince 1962 Pentagon specialists had been manufacturing biological agents to be used for this purpose." In 1984, Eduardo Arocena, a leader of the anti-Cuba terrorist group Omega 7, admitted before a U.S. court that, in 1980, he had participated in a operation to introduce germs into Cuba as part of the U.S. "war" against Cuba.

"Plausible deniability"

Throughout the history of the U.S.'s operations against Cuba, "plausible deniability" has been one its standard public-relations tactics. Kennedy never wanted to be seen as an aggressor, so all operations were orchestrated to appear to be the work of another organization or as a random biological outbreak. The primary appeal of biological weapons is their deniability. It is difficult to prove beyond a plausible doubt that an aggressor is the cause of an infection. It is easy to blame random infection, especially when a disease or bacteria is already active in an area. It is to the advantage of the perpetrator of biological warfare to use an organism that has already proven to be deadly and destructive in the target area, because its presence is known and it may have adapted itself somehow, and thus, appears easily explainable. Also, bacteria and insects don't reveal who gave them their orders.

Kennedy and Clinton have in common an active hormonal life, but they may have more than that. Kennedy began, and Clinton may be continuing, the tradition of "plausible deniability."

Kennedy's hormones are linked to one of the assassination plots against Castro. According to Senate documents, from January, 1961, through March 22, 1962, Kennedy had an affair with Judith Campbell. Judith Campbell was also the mistress of Chicago mafia chief Sam Giancana. The documents show that, in late 1960, Giancana was hired by the CIA to kill Castro in exchange for $150,000. Many attempts were made, but all failed.

But someone bought it in the end

A secret investigation was called, which eventually led to the release of U.S. Senate Report 94-465, entitled Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders. Shortly after being called to testify about his involvement in assassination plots, Sam Giancana was shot seven times in the throat and mouth, and his accomplice was hacked to pieces, stuffed into an oil drum and dumped into the ocean off the coast of Miami. Both murders were committed by an unknown assailant who was never found. Thus, plausible deniability remained the U.S. standard.

As it remains today. State Department spokesperson John Dinger denied any American violation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention in the Thrips affair, stating that, "the U.S. destroyed all stockpiled biological agents before the treaty took place," calling the Cuban government's allegations outrageous and accusing Cuba of "deliberate disinformation."

The U.S. reaction is not at all surprising. In response to a note of complaint presented to the U.S. Interest Section in Havana by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. attempted to explain what occurred on October, 1996, in the Giron Corridor. It was claimed that the pilot was unsure if the Cuban airliner flying beneath him had spotted his plane. "Following caution and safety procedures," the American response continued, "and with the purpose of securing positive visual contact, the pilot used a smoke generator, which all small aircraft of this kind are equipped with." It was also stated that, "during long flights the sprinkling system is not operational because it is used in the case to store the fuel necessary for the journey."

Er, maybe it was an exhibition flight

On first impression, explanations like this one may seem like "plausible denials," except that a little research makes it clear the U.S. response lacks all plausibility. The norms and regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) do not make any reference to the use of smoke generators to announce the position of flying aircraft - it is not a known practice. The ICAO does not require smoke generators on small, mid-size, or large commercial planes nor does it require them on crop-dusting planes. The only normal circumstance where a smoke generator is installed is in acrobatic aircraft involved in exhibition flights.

Furthermore, the plane was flying under Instrumental Flight Rules, which hold the Air Traffic Controller responsible for the separation of aircraft during flight. It seems ludicrous that the U.S. pilot was so unsettled by the approach of Cubana de Aviacion aircraft that he decided to activate an alleged smoke generator without ever reporting this to the Air Traffic Controller who was guiding him. Nor did the pilot make any report of the use of the alleged smoke generator upon arriving at his destination airport. The total lack of documentation of any flight difficulties, together with the contradictions in the discussions with the Air Traffic Controller, reveal the lack of believability in the U.S. claims.

The fact that the pilot who was flying the Cubana de Aviacion had worked as a fumigation pilot for many years makes the U.S. story even less believable. He knew the apparent difference between smoke and liquid substances. The pilot assured that it was not smoke he saw, but a substance.

Upon considering the insect population found at the main source of the outbreak, on December 18, 1996, specialists estimated the beginning of the Cuban Thrips plague began three or four generations back. Considering the reproductive cycle of Thrips, the infection began approximately October 21, 1996. Odd - the exact date of the alleged smoke release by the concerned American S2R pilot! It has also been confirmed that the area of highest Thrips concentration correlates directly with the areas of probable infection based on the wind patterns and the direction of the S2R flight.

The U.S. also claimed that the Thrips insect would not survive to infect effectively if it had been disseminated by aircraft. Sounds somewhat believable, except that experiments made by U.S. citizens show that that type of agent has been dropped from even higher altitudes. During its larval stage, Thrips is very well protected and highly resistant to insecticides. According to the Federation of American Scientists' "Report of the Subgroup for Investigation of Claims of Use or Escape of Agents which Constitute Biological or Toxin Weapons," of February 29, 1996 (just eight months previous to the incident), Thrips palmi is included among the invertebrates that could come under the Biological Weapons Convention. The report states that, because of its hardiness, ease of dissemination and voracity for all crops and plants, Thrips palmi is an ideal biological agent for inflicting heavy damage upon agricultural food crops. Maybe it blew over from Florida U.S. officials also claimed that the "credibility of the Cuban claim is undermined by the fact that the Thrips palmi is found in other Caribbean countries like Haiti, and Jamaica before infesting Cuba." It would be expected, then, that the region of Cuba affected would be the one closest to other infested countries - on the east coast. Yet, that area has no Thrips problem; the current infestation is 600 kilometres away.

It seems blatantly obvious that the Thrips palmi outbreak in Matanzas province is related to the deployment of an unknown substance by the U.S. State Department. Yet, the posturing for war against Iraq continues to escalate and tensions rise. It is shameful that the U.S. is willing to destroy so many more civilian lives under the evidently false pretence of moral concern for the potential threat of biological weapons.

There has been little positive documentation that Iraq is hiding any biological weapons in its presidential areas. The presidential areas of the rest of other U.N. Security Council members are certainly off limits; we are not informed of their secrets. The hypocrisy may appear more pronounced when we think back to the devastation unleashed by "smart bombs" upon innocent people during the Gulf War. At a time when the U.S. ought to promote meaningful and peaceful discussion, it points fingers and makes threats. Before the U.S. investigates polices the rest of the world, it should investigate and police itself, with the same rigour it demands of weaker nations.