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Castro's Spies Still a Threat

Tuesday, 26 June 2007 12:00 AM

Cuban spy cases uncovered in recent years have U.S. intelligence officers and policymakers increasingly worried about Castro's intelligence threat.

While the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union ended 15 years ago, the Cold War between America and Cuba is still going strong. As part of that ongoing hostility, experts say, Castro maintains an extensive espionage network in the U.S.

According to Ambassador Otto Reich, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Castro's intelligence penetration in the U.S. is a 46-year, relentless endeavor by the communist regime.

"Of course Castro has spies in the U.S.," says Reich. Cuban intelligence penetrations have spanned diverse institutions from the Pentagon and military bases such as Southern Command, to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and a Florida university, he adds.

The media have tended to downplay Cuban spy cases, treating them as minor, isolated incidents. Some in the U.S. government have treated them the same way. Reich says this partly is due to biased or compromised intelligence at the highest levels that regularly downplayed the Castro threat. He believes that the spies that have been uncovered are only the tip of the iceberg of an impressive Cuban spy network in the U.S.

American counter-intelligence officers believe Castro's East Bloc-trained intelligence service, the Direccion General de Inteligencia (DGI), remains one of the best in the world.

And intelligence officials note that Cuba's spying benefits other rogue regimes and sworn U.S. enemies such as North Korea's communist despot, Kim Jong Il, and Iran's radical Islamic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Closer to home, Castro has joined forces with Hugo Chavez, his authoritarian, oil-rich clone in Venezuela, who is inheriting Castro's Latin American subversion infrastructure. Castro's intelligence services reportedly run the Chavez security agencies.

The most recent example of Cuban spy work in the U.S. was the 2006 arrest and conviction in Miami of two Florida International University (FIU) employees for being unregistered foreign agents. In that case, federal prosecutors assert Carlos Alvarez, a psychology professor, and his wife Elsa, a social worker at FIU, used their positions to spy on the local community.

Their arrests are the first case of Cuban spies uncovered at a U.S. university and showcase how our educational institutions also are targets of enemy penetration.

More significant was the 2005 case of Alberto Coll, the Dean of the U.S. Naval War College and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, who was arrested for traveling to Cuba illegally and lying to investigators.

While he was convicted only of these minor crimes, several senior American officials told NewsMax that he was likely working with Cuban intelligence. If true, he could be one of the most senior spies ever co-opted by Castro in the U.S.

In his book "True Believer," published earlier this year, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) mole hunter Scott Carmichael describes the events leading to the 2001 capture of Ana Belen Montes, the senior Cuba analyst at DIA.

He wrote his book while still a counterintelligence officer with DIA because he says Cuban spies are a serious ongoing menace that has received scant attention. Carmichael has said Montes may have done more damage to U.S. national security than even higher-profile spies Robert Hansen in the FBI and Aldrich Ames at the CIA.

The FBI arrested Montes shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, because it feared she would pass on vital military intelligence to Castro, who would funnel it to the Taliban – as he had previously done with Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War.

Other counter-intelligence officers believe Montes' greatest damage was in minimizing Cuba's threat within the higher echelons of the Pentagon and in the broader intelligence community. She had tremendous interagency access as well as relationships with the military and senior policymakers.

Professor Antonio Delacova, Director of Latin American Studies at Indiana University, emphasizes that the cases of Alberto Coll, Carlos Alvarez and of Ana Belen Montes highlight the role of Castro's ‘agents of influence.' These are expected to influence both elite and grass roots opinion. "Ana Belen Montes, Carlos Alvarez -- and others I am sure -- have been doing so for years," says Delacova.

Evidence in prior cases has suggested Cuban spies have been sent to penetrate and manipulate local media outlets as well. Delacova points to FIU professor and Miami Herald contributor Marifeli Perez-Stable as having been "outed" in 1983 by a Cuban intelligence defector. According to Delacova, Cuban Captain Jesús Pérez Méndez, in an FBI debriefing, identified Perez-Stable as "controlled" by Cuba's DGI.

Then there's Janet Comellas, currently a copy editor at the Nuevo Herald, who until November 2005 was a senior propaganda writer for Castro's official state-run newspaper, Granma.

Other U.S. agencies are not immune to Cuban penetration. In 2000, Mariano Faget, a senior official at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, was convicted for being a Cuban spy. According to federal prosecutors, Faget regularly passed information to Castro on confidential asylum cases of Cuban refugees, including high-ranking defectors, escaping Cuba.

While these American citizens were recruited as spies in the U.S., other Cuban intelligence officers entered the country illegally. Cuba's so-called "Wasp Network," cracked by the FBI in 1998, was one the largest foreign spy rings ever uncovered in the U.S.

In that case, 10 Cuban military intelligence officers were arrested after being illegally infiltrated into the U.S. to spy on Cuban-American political groups as well as American military installations.

Five of these "illegals" confessed and were convicted. Significantly, federal investigators tied this cell to the deliberate downing by Cuban fighter jets of two unarmed U.S. civilian aircraft flying in international waters in 1996.

Three American citizens and one legal resident were murdered in that premeditated ambush. They were members of Brothers to the Rescue, a humanitarian group that monitored and reported on Cuban refugee rafters in the Florida Straits.

One member of the Wasp spy ring, Juan Pablo Roque, penetrated the Cuban-American group and even married an unwitting Cuban-American woman to aid his cover. He was instrumental in preparing the ambush prior to the planes leaving on their regular patrol. Roque surfaced in Havana the day of the attack.

The number of "illegal" agents in the U.S. not under diplomatic cover has probably mushroomed with the waves of recent arrivals.

Intelligence officials, including Scott Carmichael, believe that despite the recent blows it has suffered, Cuba's intelligence service may still have as many as a few hundred spies operating in this country, including some at very high levels.

"They are one of the most aggressive intelligence services there is," said Hector Pesquera, the former head of the FBI's Miami office. "They made some mistakes and we were able to capitalize on them, but they are still very good. They are very determined and they work the numbers. They know we can't cover everything."

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Cuban spy cases uncovered in recent years have U.S. intelligence officers and policymakers increasingly worried about Castro's intelligence threat. While the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union ended 15 years ago, the Cold War between America and Cuba is still...
Tuesday, 26 June 2007 12:00 AM
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