It is common knowledge that the Castro regime has one of the most sophisticated and efficient intelligence apparatuses in the world. The Cuban dictatorship has put to good and profitable use the training the former USSR provided them, and while the cold war may be over, the Castro regime continues pouring huge chunks of cash and resources into its intelligence agencies and their spy network in the U.S.
Cuban Espionage Targets the U.S. Government
For the past decades, Castro agents have systematically infiltrated the U.S. government. Other U.S. institutions such as the press, universities, and think tanks have also been espionage targets of the Cuban government. But for Cuba, the most fruitful results have been obtained from infiltrating the U.S. Departments of Defense and State, and partnering with a former official of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Cuban espionage against the United States is driven by many factors, primarily: 1) for Cuba to know the intentions of the U.S. government and the exile community regarding Cuba; 2) for Cuba to influence U.S. government policies towards Cuba; 3) for Cuba to give or sell intelligence to other governments; 4) for Cuba to further its ideological advocacy, swaying global public opinion in its favor; and 5) for Cuba to obtain scientific, technical, and business intelligence.
While some in this country are quick to dismiss Cuba as just another Caribbean tourist destination trying to make ends meet, posing no real threat to the United States, Cuba’s collection and transfer of intelligence to enemy countries should give us pause. Hostility between the U.S. and Cuba is not just a relic of the Cold War. The Cuban government’s provocative infiltration of sensitive U.S. agencies and the continuous threat it poses to national security merit analysis and serious concern.
The Cuban government’s history of providing intelligence to countries hostile to the United States is extensive. Cuba’s historic espionage activities are perhaps best described in a now-public document, signed in 1983, entitled “Protocol for the Mutual Cooperation between the Intelligence Services of the Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia and the Republic of Cuba” (1) This document – signed by then Cuban Minister of the Interior, Ramiro Valdes (now Cuba’s 3rd in command), and Dr. Jaromir Obzina, Czechoslovakian Minister of Internal Relations – describes the expansiveness of Cuba’s espionage activities. The espionage accord states its purpose as “the acquisition of secret information regarding the political and military plans of the principal enemy [the United States] and the People’s Republic of China…”
The Espionage Accord outlines information gathering on:
- U.S. preparations against the USSR and other socialist countries, from a political and military perspective;
- Plans and measures adopted by the U.S. and NATO to achieve military superiority over the community of socialist countries;
- The foreign relations of the U.S., NATO, and China, the disagreements between them, their internal situations, and their commercial and economic policies;
- The development of relations between the U.S. and China, Japan, and other Eastern European countries;
- The plans and objectives of the United States, NATO, and China regarding the Non-Aligned Movement;
- The plans of the U.S. and its allies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America;
- Recent scientific developments in the U.S., NATO, and China, regarding new types of biological, genetic, radiological, and laser arms; the development of strategic arms and anti-submarine defenses;
- Scientific developments of agricultural production, as it may help accelerate socialist economies.
The Cuban and Czechoslovak governments, as well as their communist allies, hoped to, among other things:
- Stop the cooperation between the U.S. and China, as well as with other Eastern European countries;
- Discredit the policies of the U.S., Israel, and China;
- Maintain the anti-imperialist tendencies of the Non-Aligned Movement;
- Compromise the CIA and other special services of the U.S. and its centers of “ideological diversion,” including the media.
The Espionage Accord further states that both countries will select agents to penetrate the political and economic institutions of the United States, NATO, and China, as well as their political, military, and economic blocs, with a special focus on:
- Their leadership;
- Their consulates and foreign diplomatic representatives;
- The leadership of the dominant political parties;
- The centers of scientific investigation that participate in the formation and direction of their foreign relations;
- The centers of scientific investigation that investigate and develop new armaments and military resources.
The document continues describing coordination in counterintelligence, scientific espionage, and other areas, but the extent of Cuba’s historic espionage should by now be clear. The infrastructure for this sophisticated intelligence collection was developed decades ago, and its discoveries shared with the most dangerous enemy of the United States at the time – the USSR. Today, the Cuban government maintains its own espionage infrastructure, with 11,500 agents, over 3,500 of which are known to operate abroad. (2) The primary targets of the DI, Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence, are the U.S. government and Cuban exile groups. Of most concern to U.S. security is the likelihood that Cuba is providing sensitive information to countries such as Venezuela, China, and Iran – just as it had previously done for the Soviet Union.
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Chris Simmons, a former counterintelligence analyst for the U.S. Army and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), has stated that half of the employees of Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington D.C. are spies. (3) It is clear from the Espionage Accord discussed above that Cuba leaves few, if any, stones unturned searching for important intelligence about and against the United States. Arguably, the Cuban espionage that has most endangered the U.S. has been the successful infiltrations of government agencies; most notorious is the case of Ana Belen Montes, formerly the highest ranking Cuba analyst in the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.
“The Queen of Cuba,” as Montes was known in U.S. intelligence circles, was arrested a mere 10 days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She was arrested at this time because the U.S. government was concerned that information about U.S. operations in the Middle East would be passed from Cuba to enemy countries in the region, most notably Iran. Ana Belen Montes was recruited by Cuban agents in 1984, after being heard criticizing U.S. foreign policy towards Central America. The Cuban DI believed she would spy for Cuba out of ideological sympathy, and they were correct. Montes, already possessing a top-secret clearance from her previous position in the Justice Department, obtained a job in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and began to pass on highly sensitive information to Cuba’s intelligence services. (4) In 1992, she became one of the top Cuba experts in the U.S. and was able to directly influence U.S. thinking towards the island. In 1998, Montes was a key writer of an inter-agency report for the Department of Defense that stated Cuba was not a threat to the United States. (5) Clearly, the Cuban government sees great advantages in swaying the opinions of U.S. policymakers and Congressmen, working from within the U.S. government. Montes’ position gave her the opportunity to participate in various interagency meetings within CIA headquarters. In her tenure as a Cuban agent, Ana Belen Montes also succeeded in providing Cuba with sensitive strategic information. While the U.S. might never know the extent of the information she provided Cuba, she confessed to, among other things, revealing to Cuban authorities the names of four undercover U.S. intelligence officers that had been working in Cuba. (6) The most infamous Cuban spy to date pled guilty to the charges against her in 2002, and was sentenced to 25 years in jail.
Similar to Montes, Walter Kendall Myers spent years working as a Cuban spy within the U.S. government, in the Department of State. Walter Myers – code named Agent 202 – was recruited, along with his wife Gwendolyn – code names Agent 123 and Agent E-634 – as a Cuban spy during a trip to Cuba in 1978. (7) Walter Myers became a senior analyst at the State Department, obtaining a top-secret security clearance. He specialized in European affairs, but that didn’t stop him from procuring classified information on Cuba and Cuban interests. In the course of his time at the State Department, Myers and his wife traveled to Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, and New York to meet with Cuban handlers, even meeting Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1995. (8) (9) In 2007 alone, the year Myers retired from the State Department, he had viewed over 200 Cuba-related intelligence reports, most of which were classified. Worried of a leak within the State Department, U.S. counterintelligence officials focused on the Myers couple and set up a successful FBI sting. Walter and Gwendolyn Myers were arrested in 2009. Showing little remorse for their treasonous behavior, they made a plea deal in 2010 in which he was sentenced to life in prison and she was sentenced to 81 months in prison. (10)
Mariano Faget was also caught using his position within the U.S. government to provide Cuba with sensitive classified information. Faget was a high-ranking U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service official, working with political asylum cases. His position gave him access to information regarding potential defectors within the Cuban government. The FBI began its investigation into Faget the year before his arrest in February 2000, when he was spotted meeting with an official of the Cuban Interests Section. (11) The FBI constructed a sting operation, providing Faget with the name of a Cuban official that was going to defect (in reality, this person was a Cuban official, but he had no intentions of defecting). As they had suspected, Faget passed on the information to an associate, who would be meeting with Jose Imperatori, former Vice Consul of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. (12) (13) Unlike Montes and the Myers couple, Faget’s intentions seem to have been driven less by ideology and more by business interests. Prosecutors accused him of providing classified information to curry favor with the Cuban government, hoping that would help his business interests – Faget “was a partner in a trading company established to do business in Cuba” when the embargo is lifted. (14) Ultimately, Faget could have faced 10 – 12 years’ incarceration, but the judge leniently sentenced him to 5 years.
Unlike Faget, Myers, and Montes, Philip Agee broke with his government employer, the CIA, before providing U.S. government secrets to its enemies. After 12 years of working in the CIA primarily on Latin American matters, he left the Agency in 1969. (15) Several former high-ranking Soviet and Cuban intelligence officials have stated that Agee approached the KGB in 1973 with classified information. The Soviets were skeptical, thinking he could be a double agent, so Agee approached the Cubans who welcomed his information. Agee has denied accusations from former Cuban intelligence officials that he received any payment from the Cuban government for this information. Over time, Agee revealed the names of hundreds of clandestine CIA officers stationed abroad, endangering the lives of countless individuals. He never saw the inside of a jail cell and spent the better part of the rest of his life between Germany and Cuba, dying in Havana in 2008.
There are others within the U.S. government that have been investigated for possible ties with the Cuban government. One of the most notable of these individuals is Alberto Coll, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, who was investigated by the FBI for failing to register as a foreign agent. Ultimately, Coll made a plea deal in which he pled guilty to lying about a trip to Cuba; the “Justice Department also required that Coll no longer hold a security clearance or seek access to classified information.” (16)
The above mentioned individuals (with the exception of Coll) have been the highest-level Cuban infiltrations of the U.S. government – that we know of. However, Cuban intelligence has orchestrated countless efforts to penetrate U.S. government and military installations at lower levels.
Some of these attempts became public knowledge with the dismantling of the Wasp Network in Florida, the trial of the five Cuban spies known as “the Cuban Five,” and the testimony of the other five Cuban agents captured in conjunction with “the Cuban Five” that made plea deals in 1998. It was revealed that Cuban agent Nilo Hernandez monitored movements at the Homestead Air Force Base and reported findings to Cuba. As instructed, Antonio Guerrero obtained a job at the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West, FL as a maintenance man and collected visual military intelligence for Cuba. Other military installations that the Wasp Network was ordered to infiltrate include U.S. Southern Command and MacDill Air Force Base. (17) In 2001, “The Cuban Five” were tried and received varying sentences. Hernandez received two life terms, Labanino and Guerrero received life in prison, Fernando Gonzales received 19 years, and Rene Gonzales received 15 years. However, after numerous motions of appeal, Labanino’s sentence was reduced to 30 years, Guerrero’s to 22 years, and Fernando Gonzalez’s to 18 years. The sentences of the other five spies whom pled guilty ranged between three and seven years. (18)
The above cases of espionage are only the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other known cases of espionage which target non-U.S. government and military institutions, and countless cases that have yet to be uncovered. The espionage cases that have been discovered demonstrate that the Cuban government is still actively infiltrating the U.S. government. Its objective still remains to influence U.S. policy and to obtain classified intelligence. Perhaps the greatest threat currently posed by Cuba is that it can continue to provide this information to the enemies of the United States, as it did during the Cold War.
(1) This document, which became public after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was provided to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) by The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, in the Czech Republic in 2009.
(2) Gentile, Carmen. “Cuba is Expanding its Overseas Spy Network, Top Intelligence Expert Says.” Fox News. 2008. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,327462,00.html.
(3) Simmons, Chris. “Simmons: Cuban spies exploit ‘Sister City’ program.” The Washington Times. 9 Aug 2009.
(4) Kline, Malcolm A. “Queen of Cuba Dethroned.” Accuracy in Academia. 4 January 2008. http://www.academia.org/queen-of-cuba-dethroned.
(5) O’Grady, Mary A. “How a Cuban Spy Sowed Confusion in the Pentagon.” Wall Street Journal. 1 November 2002. http://www.jonathanpollard.org/2002/110102.htm.
(6) “FBI 100 – The Case of the Cuban Spy.” FBI. 12 September 2008. http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2008/september/montes_091209.
(7) Clark, Lesley. “D.C. couple spied for Cuba for decades, feds say.” The Miami Herald. 5 June 2009. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/espionage/myers.htm.
(8) Op cit.
(9) Lichtblau, Eric. “U.S. Charges Couple with Spying for Cuba.” New York Times. 6 June 2009.
(10) Clark, Lesley. “Cuba spy gets life sentence, wife 81 months.” The Miami Herald. 16 July 2010.
(11) “Mariano Faget” Spy of the Month, August 2008. Office of Counterintelligence, Department of Energy. Spy and Terrorist Briefing Center. http://www.hanford.gov/oci/ci_syp.cfm?dossier=85
(12) Op Cit.
(13) Tamayo, Juan. “Canada orders Cuban envoy back home.” The Miami Herald. 20 February 2009. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/espionage/home.htm.
(14) Brinkley-Rogers, Paul. “INS official gets 5 years in spy sting.” The Miami Herald. 30 June 2001.
(15) Campbell, Duncan. “Philip Agee – CIA agent turned whistleblower branded a traitor by Bush.” 9 January 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jan/09/usa.obituaries.
(16) Scarborough, Rowan. “Navy College Scholar Lied about Cuba Trip.” The Washington Times. 26 May 2005. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/espionage/coll.htm.
(17) “Espionage Cases, 1975 – 2004.” Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. http://www.eyespymag.com/spylistmain1.htm.
(18) “Red Avispa Cuban Espionage Case.” Latin American Studies.org. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/avispa.htm.
*Vanessa Lopez is a Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.
The CTP can be contacted at P.O. Box 248174, Coral Gables, Florida 33124-3010, Tel: 305-284-CUBA (2822), Fax: 305-284-4875, and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The CTP Website is accessible at http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu.