QUESTION FOR THE READER: DOES CUBA HAVE THE CAPACITY TO PRODUCE BIOWEAPONS?
By Manuel Cereijo
THE THREE MAIN CENTERS ( among 11 large ones)
The core of the biowarfare efforts of the Cuban government is the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology ( GIGB), located at 31 Avenue, between 158 and 190 streets, Cubanacan, La Habana. This institution is at the vanguard in the Hemisphere, second only to selected centers in the United States. Over 1,100 engineers, scientists, technicians work at the Center.
It occupies a total area of over 62,000 square meters, with buildings occupying approximately 44,000 square meters, including laboratories, offices and service areas. There is a huge greenhouse of 1,700 square meters and 2.7 hectares of fertile soil. They also house a theater for conferences and congresses, and rooms for seminars, libraries, gymnasium, etc.
The main production plant of bioagents covers 7,500 square meters, although the CIGB shares production with the Biopreparations Center, or BIOCEN, located in Bejucal, at Carretera Beltran km 1 ½, nearby the electronic espionage and interference base.
The CIGB is structured into several big sub directions: research, quality control, production, engineering and services, teaching. The main oriented work lines are: pharmaceutical, vaccine, immunology, clinical, preclinical, automation, chemistry/physics, mammal cell genetics, plant molecular biology, cloning.
The CIGB has a CIGBnet which is the network for the Center. It provides computer communications, database access, information services and data processing. It is operated by the Network Services Group of the Automation Division of the CIGB. It provides computer networking access to some 600 members.(out of the 1,100). LANs located in the Center are linked together using both dialup UUCP technology and RENACYT, the national academic X.25 network, operated by ICIMAF/CIDET.
Protocols running on the LAN side are IPX/SPX, giving access to both Netware based and UNIX base services. PWGlue is an off line email management system of the Center, based on the Pegasus Mail. Glue code to get those two shareware packages working together was developed at the Center. Data batching and compression engines were also added. Data compression engines are compatible with UNIX standard compress utility or GNU's gzip.email for certain personnel in the Center follow as this: last firstname.lastname@example.org
The CIGB has a biotherium, barrier zones, white rooms, for research with sensitive and lethal bio agents. The CIGB' modern and efficient technological equipment includes mass spectrometers, infrared and ultraviolet electron and scanning microscopes, gamma counters, DNA synthesizers. Also, and very important, downstream fermenters, drying and milling machines, centrifuges, which can guarantee research and development of bioweapons, such as bacteria and virus agents.
The process of weaponizing anthrax, for example, can be done at these facilities. A few grains of the freeze-dried bacteria are kept in a stoppered vial. Then, a small amount of a nutrient medium is put into the vial. A mother culture is created. With tiny pippetes, the mixture is drawn out of the vial and a small amount is transferred into several slightly larger bottles. The bottles are left to incubate in a thermostatic oven for two days. This process, up to this point, is very similar to the one to make a vaccine.
A seed stock in a standard vial will swell to billions of microorganisms after 48 hours, but it will take weeks of brewing to produce the quantities required for weaponization. Once the culture emerges from the oven, it is siphoned off into large flasks. The flasks are taken into a special room, where they are connected to air-bubbling machines, which turn the liquid into a light froth. The bacteria then grow more efficiently.
Each new generation of bacteria is transferred into larger vessels, until is vacuum pressure into fermenters. The substance is incubated for two days in the fermenters, until it reaches maximum concentration. At this stage, the process is passed through a centrifuge to be concentrated as much as thirty times further. However, we do not have a weapon yet. The pathogen has to be mixed with special additives to stabilize it over a long period. Then, the weapon is ready.
Smallpox virus can also be produced at the Center. Tissue cells are obtained from animals or humans. The tissue is kept alive outside its natural habitat in cell lines and stored at very precise temperature. Cells are obtained from the kidneys of green monkeys or from the lungs of human embryos. A special combination of amino acids, vitamins, salts, and sera, distilled with de-ionized water, is crucial for the process.
Many of the equipment needed for the production of bioagents are similar to the equipment used in the dairy industry, liquor industry, and sugar mills. Therefore Cuba has the technology and the facilities to produce its own specialized equipment.
China has developed a large biotechnological area in its Northeastern part of the country. It is close to one of China's nuclear research centers. China has concentrated its efforts in the development of viral diseases and toxins.
Since 1997 China has been working very closely with Cuba in the research and development of bioweapons. China has provided Cuba, among other equipment, with two High Performance Computers, needed in the specialized production of certain bioagents, as well as to study weather patterns for a better delivery or attack with bioagents. Chinese military scientists have now joined Cubans at the CIGB conducting joint ventures in the biowarfare area.
The National Bio-Prepations center, created in 1992 at a cost of $5million dollars. located in Bejucal ( near the electronic Bejucal base), at Carretera de Beltran km 1 ½. Culture media plant has an annual 40 tons. Capacity. It is equipped to carry out homogenization, hydrolysis, dehydration, milling, sifting, filtration, a new department that manufactures recombinant products went into operation in 1993. The complex includes a plant producing immunological reagents and two vivaria labs. They have developed 14 alternative protein sources. Innovative techniques have been developed at Biocen for obtaining culture media, substituting the traditional expensive nutritive bases, like meat, casein..
Among Biocen's special products are allergenic extracts, dust mites, insects, atmospheric fungi. They have done extensive research on fish-transgenesis. Lethal toxins can be developed from fish.
The Center for Molecular Immunology is a 15,000 square meter, two floor facility. Two hundred scientists work at the Center. The facilities include equipment for development of pharmacology and toxicology activities. Hollow fiber, fermenters, and "cleaning in place" units are on the second floor.
The main research activities are on antibodies-hybridoma, molecular biology, cellular immunology. CIM has laboratories equipped for cell culture, immunochemistry, and radiochemistry. Their work on the immune system is related to the development of stronger strains of virus and bacteria.
A country with this bio capacity, can or cannot produce bioweapons? I leave the answer to the readers
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