Saturday, September 18, 2004


September 18, 2004
In Stricter Study, U.S. Scales Back Claim on Cuba Arms

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 - The Bush administration, using stringent standards adopted after the failure to find banned weapons in Iraq, has conducted a new assessment of Cuba's biological weapons capacity and concluded that it is no longer clear that Cuba has an active, offensive bio-weapons program, according to administration officials.

The latest assessment contradicts a 1999 National Intelligence Estimate and past statements by top administration officials, some of whom have warned that Cuba may be sharing its weapons capacity with "rogue states" or with terrorists.

It is the latest indication that in the wake of the Iraq intelligence failures, the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies are taking a closer look at earlier threat assessments and finding fault with some of the conclusions and the way the reports were prepared.

The new assessment says the intelligence community "continues to believe that Cuba has the technical capability to pursue some aspects of an offensive biological weapons program," according to an intelligence official.

He added, "There is still much about Cuba that is cause for concern, including the production and export of dual-use items and cooperating with countries on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism." The term "dual use" refers to items that could be used for both civilian and military programs.

Administration officials said that the new assessment had been prepared at the request of the State Department for a report it will be making to Congress and that it had adopted tougher standards because the past assessment on Iraq had been proved wrong.

"The new assessment is the product of a fresh, hard look at the reporting," said an intelligence official. He added that the new standards were "exceptionally stringent in how we treat our sources, evidence and analysis."

The Bush administration's past assessment accusing Cuba of producing germs for possible biological warfare has been a matter of dispute since it was first disclosed in the spring of 2002. Cuba angrily disputed the charges, and some experts suggested that Cuba's large pharmaceutical industry involved conventional activities and materials that were misinterpreted as a threat by opponents of Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader.

In March 2002, John R. Bolton, under secretary of state for nonproliferation, asserted that "the United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort'' and had also "provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states.''

A month later, he ratcheted up his comments that Cuba remained a "terrorist" threat to the United States and that its biological weapons program should be seen in that light. Mr. Bolton declined to comment on the revised assessment on Friday.

Around the same time, Carl Ford, the assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, reported the same formulation to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Cuba. He listed Cuba as a country over which the United States was "most concerned" in the category of possessing chemical and biological weapons.

Mr. Bolton's warnings were applauded by supporters of a tough line on Cuba, many of whom are supporters of President Bush's re-election and are based in Florida. But there were dissenters even within the administration who said privately that Mr. Bolton seemed to be exaggerating the nature of the threat.

The new intelligence assessment was described by an intelligence official and a second government official. Both said they had been briefed on it. They spoke on condition that their names and agencies not be identified.

Both officials said they believed that the new assessment was more accurate than the old one and reflected a welcome effort by American intelligence agencies in the wake of the Iraq experience to acknowledge uncertainties in their analysis.

A new National Intelligence Estimate on biological weapons is being prepared and is still several months from completion, administration officials said.

A State Department official, asked to comment on the new assessment, said, "We don't comment on reported intelligence matters."

The intelligence official who was familiar with the new assessment said the intelligence community continued to believe that Cuba "has the technical capability to pursue some aspects of an offensive biological weapons program" but that "as a result of the reassessment, it is unclear whether Cuba has an active, offensive biological weapons effort under way."

The officials also said that even the original report was accompanied by cautionary information suggesting that the conclusion had been based on partial information.

"The intelligence community knew and informed its customers at the time that the sourcing behind that conclusion was fragmentary, and that there were some problems with some of the reporting used in that argument," said an official, referring to the earlier assessment of the danger posed by Cuba.

The original National Intelligence Estimate in 1999 said Cuba had "at least a limited, developmental biological weapons research and development effort," according to the intelligence official.

Mr. Bolton employed that same language in addressing the issue, as has Roger F. Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

The intelligence official said it was not unusual for experts to review their findings on weapons of mass destruction.

"The intelligence community constantly reassesses its evidence, tradecraft and the judgments that flow from them," he said. "And in light of the lessons learned from the Iraq W.M.D. estimate, we are being exceptionally stringent in how we treat our sources, evidence and analysis. Others expect that of us, and we expect that from ourselves."

At the time of Mr. Bolton's assessment in 2002, his office declined to elaborate on what sort of weapons might have been the focus of Cuba's program. Other administration officials were quoted in The New York Times as saying that Cuba had been experimenting with anthrax and other deadly pathogens that they declined to identify.

Cuba, however, has a major drug and biotechnology program and has been involved in making vaccines for an extensive immunization program that has been widely praised by scientists and physicians. Many of these products are sold to other countries.

Some of these sales have been cited by some experts as evidence of a potential threat from Cuba, although the latest assessment is likely to be seen as supplying a cautionary note.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

map of passamaquoddy bay

some photos of our area

Fishermen worried about LNG plans

WebPosted Sep 3 2004 01:45 PM ADT

SAINT JOHN — Opposition to a planned liquified natural gas terminal in Pleasant Point, Maine, is growing on the Canadian side of the border.

New Brunswick Southwest MP Greg Thompson says the Canadian government has the power to stop the project from going ahead, and local fishermen fear the proposed terminal will be too dangerous.

Thompson met with angry fishermen on Deer Island a few weeks ago. They are worried that if the new liquified natural gas terminal is built in a nearby community in Maine, their fish stocks will be at risk.

Thompson says a similar project was killed more than 20 years ago. An oil company wanted to build a refinery at Eastport, Maine, and the Canadian government stepped in to stop the project. "The Canadian government at that time said no to the transport of those ships through Head Harbour passage. And that was one of the reasons the project did not go forward."

Thompson says he has a number of researchers digging up the federal documents that were submitted to parliament Dec. 6, 1977. He promises to present those documents to government in the hopes of barring U.S. ships from the narrow passage in the Bay of Fundy. "Canada has to stand up for its citizens, it has to stand up for its country. It has to stand up for the environment and lay the cards squarely on the table. You know the Americans do that when it's in their best interest to do so and we should do the same."

Thompson says Canada-U.S. relations won't be damaged by his actions. He says opposition to the project is almost as strong in Maine.

More on LNG

2 gas plants needed for N.E.
But facilities can be built in Canada instead of here, US official says
By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff | September 14, 2004

At least two of the roughly dozen liquefied natural gas plants proposed for New England and eastern Canada must get built by 2010 to ensure New England has adequate supplies of gas for heating and power generation, President Bush's top energy regulator said yesterday.

However, Patrick H. Wood III, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said it may be possible for LNG plants proposed in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec to meet much of the demand. That could reduce or obviate the need for proposed developments along the Massachusetts coast that have generated opposition because of fears tankers laden with super-chilled natural gas could become targets of terrorist attacks.

Referring to a slew of LNG plant proposals from Fall River to eastern Nova Scotia and the St. Lawrence River, Wood said, ''If two of those get built, you should be in good shape. If we don't get any of those built, we'll be in trouble. Where the two are built has some importance, but frankly, getting the volume in here is the important thing."

Gas pipelines from Canada into New England should have ample capacity to move LNG-derived gas from there into this region, Wood added. LNG technology chills gas to 260 degrees below zero, shrinking it to a liquid that is 1/600th of its volume as vapor, so that natural gas produced in the Middle East, Trinidad, and other locations can be economically transported to areas such as New England, then turned back into vapor gas and piped into homes, office buildings, factories, and power plants.

Wood, who spoke during an energy conference sponsored in Boston by Independent System Operator New England, the regional power-grid operator, said upgrades of existing pipelines or efforts to conserve gas will not be able to prevent the region from facing a gas-demand crunch.

''I just don't see that increase in demand being met any other way," said Wood, a former Texas utility regulator named to the federal post by Bush three years ago. ''I just wish we had about 10 more options, but there aren't." The FERC generally plays the key federal role in certifying the need for LNG facilities and approving their locations.

During a record cold snap Jan. 14, the region came close to exhausting gas pipeline capacity, and residents of dozens of homes at the extreme end of a KeySpan Energy Delivery pipe in Hull were evacuated when the utility determined it could not guarantee them adequate supplies.

New England is also straining its existing gas supplies because virtually all of the new power plants that have gone into service here in the last four years -- increasing electric generating capacity by 23 percent -- burn natural gas. Projections cited by Wood show annual gas demand for electric generation increasing from 246 billion cubic feet last year to 324 billion cubic feet by 2008, even as residential and commercial heating and industrial demand continue to gradually rise.

In addition to land-based LNG proposals in Fall River and Somerset, KeySpan is seeking approvals for a conversion of its existing Providence LNG plant to increase the amount of liquefied gas it can distribute.

A Texas energy company called Excelerate Energy LLC wants to build an offshore LNG off-loading facility about 10 miles southeast of Gloucester. And the Passamaquoddy Indian tribe is pursuing plans for an LNG facility on tribal property in Pleasant Point, Maine, hoping for an economic boost.

Besides those locally based proposals, however, at least five plans are in the works for LNG off-loading plants in eastern Canada. They include a proposed plant in St. John, New Brunswick, backed by Irving Oil that could ultimately handle 1 billion cubic feet of gas daily -- roughly one-quarter of average New England demand -- and which has received its key provincial and federal environmental approvals.

The other Canadian plans include 500-million-cubic-foot proposals in Quebec City and Riviere Du Loup, Quebec; and two projects each with 1 billion cubic foot capacity in Goldboro and Point Tupper, Nova Scotia.

Peter J. Howe can be reached at

More on LNG in Passamaquoddy Bay

SJ Telegraph-Journal | Janice Harvey
As published on page D6 on September 15, 2004

Terminal for Passamaquoddy Bay is a tri-national issue

In Gleason Cove, the southernmost corner of Passamaquoddy Bay, a few small boats bob on moorings just off from a boat launch on the beach. A herring weir stands sentinel at the cove's mouth, just a stone's throw away from another weir off Gleason Point. An open field backed by old apple trees and softwoods overlooks the cove, one of only a few public access points to the shore along US Route 1 between Calais and Eastport. St. Andrews lies due north; the St. Croix River veers off to the northwest.

One kilometre across the water from Gleason Cove is Calder's Head, a rugged stretch along the back of Deer Island. From these two points, Western Passage tracks southeast, Sipayik (Passamaquoddy reservation at Pleasant Point) on one side and Deer Island on the other. At its narrowest point between Deer Island Point and Eastport, Maine are the roiling waters of the Old Sow, the world's largest whirlpool. Here, Western Passage meets Head Harbour Passage which veers northwest through the West Isles Archipelago to Head Harbour, Campobello, where whales, porpoises, seabirds and fish congregate off Head Harbour Light.

This is the obstacle course through which liquefied natural gas supertankers would travel if a proposed LNG terminal in Gleason Cove goes forward. Entering at Head Harbour and manoeuvred by four tugs, the 300-m vessels would wind through some of the most biologically productive marine habitat in the northwest Atlantic. The upwellings caused by tides and currents rushing through the narrow channels bring nutrients from the seafloor to the surface, creating a smorgasbord for all manner of marine life and sustaining human communities here for thousands of years. This is the straw that broke the back of a 1970s' proposal to build an oil refinery at Eastport.

This proposal is different. A third nation is involved. The LNG terminal is proposed for 42 acres of Passamaquoddy tribal land adjacent to the Sipayik reservation. The Passamaquoddy Tribal Council are now negotiating terms with the Oklahoma-based consortium that would build and operate the terminal.

Four other LNG proposals have been rejected recently by Maine communities. This company played its cards differently. Federal law provides for a stream-lined approval process for energy projects on tribal land. Armed with promises of economic salvation for an impoverished tribe, the company has convinced many people in Sipayik that this is the key to their future. Without the benefit of hearings or even a formal application by the company to federal regulators, a non-binding referendum on the Sipayik reservation in August saw a majority of ballots cast in favour of the development - 192 for, 132 against. The Tribal Council took this as a mandate to negotiate terms with the company.

Fortunately, this is not the final word. A Passamaquoddy group called "We take care of our homeland" will file a petition with the Tribal Council for a new vote, claiming the four-day notice for the referendum in mid-summer not a mandate to negotiate. Leader Vera Francis points out that with 270 eligible voters not voting, closer to 68 per cent either reject the proposal outright or have not been given an opportunity to decide on its merits. Further, the other Passamaquoddy community at Indian Township was not included in the referendum. Then there are the Passamaquoddy people living in Canada, whose chief Hugh Akagi also opposes the project.

Meanwhile, Canadians and Americans, as well as Passamaquoddies, who object to the project have formed a group called Save Passamaquoddy Bay. Vera Francis encourages this. She warns non-natives not to be scared off by some natives who claim this is a sovereignty issue and everyone else should butt out.

A sail along the LNG tanker route makes this point in spades. There are no boundary lines on the water separating New Brunswick and Maine or tribal land from any other land. It's all a seamless mosaic of coves, headlands, passages and islands that support more marine life than any other area in the Bay of Fundy and thousands of people who draw their livelihoods from the same waters.

Even so, these three communities living cheek by jowl have a history of largely ignoring each other, content to live and let live. To come together around this issue will require many to step outside their comfort zone and acknowledge that, like everything else in this ecosystem, their communities are inextricably linked and they must work together to save what they have.

Janice Harvey is a freelance writer and a long-time director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. Her column appears on Wednesday. She can be reached by e-mail at

Kristof on Kerry


September 18, 2004
A War Hero or a Phony?

So is John Kerry a war hero or a medal-grabbing phony?

Each time that I've written about President Bush's dalliance with the National Guard, conservative readers have urged me to scrutinize the accusations against Mr. Kerry. After doing so over the last week, here's where I come out:

Did Mr. Kerry volunteer for dangerous duty? Not as much as his campaign would like you to believe. The Kerry Web site declares, "As he was graduating from Yale, John Kerry volunteered to serve in Vietnam - because, as he later said, 'It was the right thing to do.' "

In fact, as Mr. Kerry was about to graduate from Yale, he was inquiring about getting an educational deferment to study in Europe. When that got nowhere, he volunteered for the Navy, which was much less likely to involve danger in Vietnam than other services. After a year on a ship in the ocean, Mr. Kerry volunteered for Swift boats, but at that time they were used only in Vietnam's coastal waters. A short time later, the Swift boats were assigned exceptionally dangerous duties up Vietnamese rivers. "When I signed up for the Swift boats, they had very little to do with the war,'' Mr. Kerry wrote in 1986, adding, "I didn't really want to get involved in the war."

Did Mr. Kerry get his first Purple Heart for a self-inflicted wound? That's the accusation of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who say that the injury came (unintentionally) from a grenade that Mr. Kerry himself fired at Viet Cong. In fact, nobody knows where the shrapnel came from, and it's possible that the critics are right. It's not certain that the Viet Cong were returning fire. But the only other American on the boat in a position to see anything, Bill Zaldonis (who says he voted for Mr. Bush in 2000) told me, "He was hurt, and I don't think it was self-inflicted."

Did Mr. Kerry deserve his second and third Purple Hearts? There's not much dispute that the second was merited. As for the third one, the Swift Boat Veterans' claim that he received it for a minor injury he got while blowing up food supplies to keep them from the enemy. But documents and witness accounts show that he received a shrapnel wound when South Vietnamese troops blew up rice stores, and an injured arm in a mine explosion later that day.

Did Mr. Kerry deserve his Bronze Star? Yes. The Swift Boat Veterans claim that he was not facing enemy fire when he rescued a Green Beret, Jim Rassmann, but that is contradicted by those were there, like William Rood and Mr. Rassmann (a Republican). In fact, Mr. Rassmann recommended Mr. Kerry for a Silver Star.

Did Mr. Kerry deserve his Silver Star? Absolutely. He earned it for responding to two separate ambushes in a courageous and unorthodox way, by heading straight into the gunfire. Then he pursued one armed fighter into the jungle and shot him dead. According to Fred Short, a machine gunner who saw the event, the fighter was an adult (not the half-naked teenager cited by the Swift Boat Veterans) who was preparing to launch a grenade at the boat. "Kerry went into harm's way to save the lives of the guys on the boat," Mr. Short told me. "If he hadn't done that, I am absolutely positive I would not be here today." Mr. Kerry's commander said he had wanted to give him an even higher honor, the Navy Cross, but thought it would take too long to process.

Did Mr. Kerry exaggerate his exploits? Yes. For example, he has often said over the years that he spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia as part of the secret war there. Others who served with him confirm that on Christmas Eve 1968 (not Christmas Day) he got very close to the border, and possibly even strayed across it. But it doesn't seem to have been, as Mr. Kerry has suggested, a deliberate incursion into Cambodia.

What do those who served with him say? Some who served on other boats have called Mr. Kerry a hypochondriac self-promoter. But every enlisted man who was with Mr. Kerry on various boats when he won Purple Hearts and Silver and Bronze Stars says he deserved them. All praise his courage and back his candidacy. "I was there for two of the Purple Hearts and the Bronze and Silver Stars, and he earned every one of them," said Delbert Sandusky, in a typical comment. "He saved our lives."

The bottom line? Mr. Kerry has stretched the truth here and there, but earned his decorations. And the Swift Boat Veterans, contradicted by official records and virtually everyone who witnessed the incidents, are engaging in one of the ugliest smears in modern U.S. politics.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company |