Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One of the most troubling threats in America’s backyard is the emerging axis of Cuba’s Communist regime and the Iranian government, assisted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Cuban President Fidel Castro has been cultivating the Islamist regime in Tehran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Currently, the relationship focuses on jamming radio and television broadcasts. Relations concerning “dual-use” biotechnology (material with both military and civilian uses) have also flourished since September 11. Both regimes are closely allied with Mr. Chavez, who has reciprocated with extensive military and intelligence ties.

In a May 2001 address to cheering Iranian youths at Tehran University, Mr. Castro said that “Iran and Cuba, 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.” He said American “imperialism” would be overthrown just as Iranians had toppled the shah. In July 2003, the Cuban dictator began jamming Voice of America transmission as well as radio stations operated by Iranian democracy advocates. According to Chris Simmons, a former counterintelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Cuba has established four regional intelligence centers located in Iran, India, Pakistan and Turkey, which are aimed at obtaining information about U.S. military operations abroad.

The possibility of Tehran-Havana biological-warfare activities also bears watching. In August 2006, the State Department imposed a two-year sanction against Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology for carrying out unspecified transfers of technology and equipment to Iran. In February 2007, Roberto Ortega, a former chief of Cuban military medical services who defected to the United States, said Cuba is producing weaponized biological agents such as plague, botulism and yellow fever at an underground plant near Havana. The purpose of this activity, he told the Miami Herald, was to “blackmail the United States in case of an international incident.” Mr. Ortega said he went public with the news because U.S. authorities did not appear to be following up on the information he provided.

Indeed, the US. government’s permanent bureaucracy is actively obstructionist when it is not indifferent. Former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton’s efforts to expose Cuban biowarfare activities became a “problem” when President Bush nominated him as ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Bolton had clashed with Christian Westermann, a career State Department intelligence analyst who questioned reports about Cuban biological warfare efforts. “After failing to recognize the signs of biological weapons development in Cuba and Cuba’s cooperation with Iran, Westermann was promoted to become national intelligence officer for Cuba,” veteran journalist Ken Timmerman writes in his book “Shadow Warriors.”

And, for his part, Mr. Chavez makes one state visit after another to Iran to demonstrate his solidarity with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while providing Mr. Castro an economic lifeline through the sale of cheap subsidized oil.

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