Skip to comments.In Castro s Service: The undertold story of Cuba s spying, and terror
Posted on 03/20/2002 9:29:47 AM PST by xsysmgr
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Tuesday, March 19, a high-level Defense Intelligence Agency analyst pleaded guilty to espionage on behalf of Fidel Castro's Cuba. Ana Belen Montes was arrested last September, and now has told officials that she spied for 16 years, starting in 1985. She did not receive compensation for her services, but volunteered them because of her strong opposition to U.S. policy toward Cuba. In the November 5, 2001 issue of NR, John J. Miller described the Montes case in detail, as well as the underappreciated problem of Cuban espionage in the United States and its links to international terrorism.
ttención! Attención!" snaps the female voice in Spanish at the start of each broadcast. To all but a few listeners, the message that follows is perfectly unintelligible: a long series of seemingly random numbers that drone on for 50 minutes. Just about anybody with a shortwave radio can hear them several times a day at various frequencies, though their intended audience is small. To these few recipients, however, they make exquisite and terrible sense because they are spies in the service of Fidel Castro's Cuba.
It's not clear how often Ana Belen Montes tuned in to these so-called numbers stations, but there's little doubt that she did or that some of the signals were sent specifically for her. FBI agents on a search warrant last May sneaked into her apartment and checked the hard drive of a laptop computer she kept there. They found sequences matching those that had been broadcast previously, instructions on how to run them through a decryption program that turns the numbers into words, and messages she traded with Cuban spymasters.
On September 21, agents arrested Montes at the Defense Intelligence Agency's headquarters at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., where she worked as the DIA's top Cuba expert. Assuming the charges against her are true she won't enter a plea before November 5 Montes's actions probably will go down as the Cuban intelligence service's most spectacular penetration of the U.S. national-security apparatus. Montes had access to highly classified information and regularly briefed policymakers on matters involving Cuba. If Havana had been given a choice about where it would most like to place a spy, the sensitive DIA post held by Montes certainly would have made the short list.
How badly Montes damaged U.S. interests remains an open question. She surely doesn't rank with the Soviet Union's two deadliest American spies, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, even though their lawyers, Plato Cacheris and Preston Burton, now represent her. An FBI affidavit says she blew the cover of at least one agent (who survived the betrayal) and delivered "information relating to the national defense of the United States, with the intent and reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of Cuba." Yet Montes is only part of a bigger problem a broad espionage effort waged by Cuba against the United States that has brought death to Americans. There's even a startling connection between Cuba and the September 11 terrorist strikes.
The Montes Penetration
As the Cold War recedes into history, there's been a growing suspicion that the United States takes the Cuban threat too seriously and specifically that Cuba policy is "held hostage" to an outspoken minority of Florida swing voters. New evidence from the Montes case and elsewhere, however, strongly suggests that we haven't been treating the Cuban threat seriously enough.
If September 11 had been just another day, Montes probably would still be at large and under the close watch of FBI agents. They only began to investigate her in May, acting on information whose source and nature remain undisclosed. They followed Montes around Washington all summer as she embarked on numerous roundabout journeys to pay phones, where it is believed she communicated with her handlers. Agents rummaged around her apartment twice and found additional proof linking her to Cuban intelligence. Normally the FBI does not pounce after only a few months of surveillance sometimes it waits for years as it quietly builds a case against a spy and patiently tries to discover the identities of her contacts. Yet the FBI moved against Montes with unusual speed, taking her into custody less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks. The possibility that she would pass along vital information to the Cubans, who then might share it with America's other enemies, was a risk not worth taking.
Montes started working at DIA in 1985, and was assigned to Cuba seven years later. The FBI believes she's been a spy since at least the fall of 1996. She's tall and slender, looking a bit younger than her 44 years. Plenty of Cuba experts know Montes from attending her briefings or sitting with her at other meetings, such as those sponsored by Georgetown University's Caribbean Project. In public she was reserved, as intelligence officers are prone to be, but behind closed doors she left distinct impressions. "She was a severe person, a hard-edged person," recalls Richard Nuccio, a Cuba adviser in the Clinton White House. She was also well known for advocating a softened Cuba policy to the point where at least two people with links to intelligence had expressed concern over her views long before anybody questioned her loyalty. Her motivation for spying remains a mystery: The FBI affidavit says nothing about payments. By all appearances she lived modestly, fighting her landlord over tenant dues and driving a Toyota Echo. She is of Puerto Rican heritage. And there don't seem to be any obvious expressions of Communist sympathy in her past.
After her arrest, an important 1998 DIA report suggesting that Cuba no longer poses much of a strategic threat to the United States was immediately called into question. As the DIA's senior Cuba specialist, Montes would have exercised a major influence over the final product. When the report was completed, in fact, defense secretary William Cohen considered it too weak. He toughened the language, though not to the extent Castro's strongest critics would have liked. The broader problem with the report, however, is that it reflects the views of the foreign-policy establishment, which continues to downplay Cuba. Castro has "done good things for his people," said secretary of state Colin Powell at an April 26 House hearing. "He's no longer the threat he was."
It's true that ever since the Soviet Union quit its role as patron, Cuba has suffered from chronic cash shortages, and it desperately relies on the tourist dollars of Canadian and European vacationers. Yet it does continue to pose a significant threat. Castro maintains the ability to spark a migration crisis whenever he wants, and Cuba is a money-laundering magnet. Even more worrisome is Cuba's biological-weapons capability. Castro may not be willing to provide his people with aspirin, but he has invested heavily in a biotechnology infrastructure with frightful capabilities. José de la Fuente, a top Cuban scientist who escaped the island by boat in 1999, said recently that Castro's minions know how to manufacture anthrax bacteria and the smallpox virus.
Then there's the espionage. By using an agent such as Montes to influence threat assessments, Havana may hope to build support for ending the U.S. economic embargo. A less menacing Cuba, after all, is a more attractive trading partner. A House vote on lifting the embargo drew 201 votes earlier this year a failure, but tantalizingly close to success.
A more direct benefit from Montes involved specific knowledge of U.S. contingency planning in other words, secret information on how the American government intends to respond to potential crisis situations. Shortly before Montes observed a war-games exercise put on by the U.S. Atlantic Command in Norfolk, Va., for instance, she received this message from Cuba: "Everything that takes place there will be of intelligence value. Let's see if it deals with contingency plans and specific targets in Cuba, which are prioritized interests for us." This type of knowledge helps Cuba understand how much it can provoke the U.S. without suffering consequences. What would happen, for instance, if it encouraged a throng of women and children to climb the fences at the Guantánamo Bay naval base? Or if it tried to spark a new Mariél boatlift incident?
Blasted From the Skies
If Montes represents one major prong of Cuban espionage, another recently has come to light in Miami. Over the last three years, the government has indicted 16 members of a spy ring called La Red Avispa, or the Wasp Network. Five admitted involvement following their arrests, another five were convicted in June, two more pled guilty in September, and four have fled the country. Just like Montes, they communicated with Havana by unlocking coded messages received over shortwave radios. The Wasp Network did just about everything, from counting takeoffs at a Key West airbase to attempting the penetration of military facilities. Their most successful operation, however, involved the infiltration of anti-Castro exile groups. "The Miami community is heavily penetrated," says Mark Falcoff, a Latin Americanist at the American Enterprise Institute. "It's full of provocateurs who try to embarrass and discredit Cuban-Americans. We saw them out in full force during the Elián González controversy."
Some of the Wasp Network's deeds were relatively modest, such as making hostile phone calls to Miami Herald editors in the name of anti-Castro groups; the point was to create tension between the press and certain Cuban-American leaders. Other actions, however, were monstrous. Two members, René González (code name: Castor) and Juan Pablo Roque (code name: German), succeeded in joining Brothers to the Rescue, an organization that flies private planes over the Florida Straits in search of people fleeing Cuba in rickety rafts. Once inside the group, they obtained closely held flight schedules, which they passed along to Wasp Network leader Gerardo Hernandez. He transmitted these to Havana in early 1996. Cuba then sent back an order: "Under no circumstances should agents German or Castor fly with BTTR or another organization on days 24, 25, 26, and 27." They didn't and on February 24, 1996, three planes piloted by the Brothers departed on one of their humanitarian missions. There's been some dispute over whether they actually entered Cuban airspace, but none over the fundamental fact of what happened that day: A Cuban MiG jet destroyed two of the planes, killing four people. A week after the shootdown, Cuban intelligence sent its Miami agents a congratulatory message through a numbers station: "We have dealt the Miami Right a hard blow, in which your role has been decisive." They called their murderous effort "Operation Scorpion."
Some have speculated that one of the captured Wasp Network spies provided federal agents with the information that led them to Montes. This seems unlikely. "The Cuban intelligence service is one of the best in the world," says a former CIA official. They almost certainly would have built firewalls between Montes and the Wasp Network. Yet it's difficult to keep all their efforts completely compartmentalized.
What makes Cuban espionage especially troubling now is the Castro regime's longstanding support of terrorism. Cuba is one of the seven countries on the State Department's terrorism list. It may not compare to Iraq or the Taliban, but its indulgence of terrorists is beyond dispute. Last year, Cuba was the only country attending the Ibero-American Summit in Panama that refused to join a condemnation of terrorism. This spring, Castro toured Libya, Syria, and Iran. At Tehran University on May 10, the dictator declared, "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."
Some 20 fugitives from American justice currently call Cuba home, including Victor Gerena, who pulled off a $7 million bank robbery in Connecticut in 1983 as a member of the terrorist group Los Macheteros. He's currently on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, and much of what he stole is believed to have made its way to Cuba in diplomatic pouches. Los Macheteros is also responsible for the ambush of a Navy bus in Puerto Rico that left two sailors dead in 1979 and an attack on a Puerto Rico Air National Guard base in 1981 that wrecked eleven planes. Other terrorist links to Cuba involve more recent activities: On August 11, Colombian officials arrested three members of the Irish Republican Army as they returned from a part of the country controlled by the narcoterrorist group FARC. Two were explosives experts and the third, Niall Connolly, has been identified as Sinn Fein's Havana representative.
Then there's the bizarre case of Mohammed Raza Hassani, Nez Nezar Nezary, and Ali Sha Yusufi three Afghan men recently detained in the Cayman Islands. They carried fake Pakistani passports and claimed to have gotten off a boat bound for Canada from Turkey. The police commissioner, however, determined that they actually had arrived by plane from Cuba. They were still in the Caymans on August 29 when a local radio station received an anonymous note saying that they share an association with Osama bin Laden. three agents are here organizing a major terrorist act against the U.S. via an airline or airlines," said the letter. The station gave it to the authorities. Soon after September 11, they tracked down its author, Byron Barnett, a local building contractor, who says his note was "pure speculation" and based on "a premonition." This incident has received scant attention from the media.
It's a startling story, perhaps even revelatory; then again, maybe there's nothing to it apart from amazing coincidence. But what is beyond doubt is that even though the Wasp Network has been busted and Ana Belen Montes is under arrest, those Cuban numbers stations continue to broadcast their coded messages several times each day.
Who is listening to them?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, seventy-four US. citizns convicted of felonious crimes in the United States are currently living in Cuba under the protection of the Castro regime. Several have murdered U.S. law enforcement officials, all are wanted by the FBI for unlawful flight or air piracy.
Below is the FBI list printed in its entirety.
VIOLENT CRIMES AND MAJOR OFFENDERS PROGRAM
VIOLENT CRIMES/FUGITIVE UNIT FUGITIVE TERRITORIAL ALLOCATION
CAA: Crime Aboard an Aircraft
UPAC: Unlawful Flight to Avoid Confmement
UPAP: Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution [*AS APPEARS ON FBI LIST.)
NAME PLACE OF BIRTH CRIME
I. MICHAEL FINNEY. Additional information on Finney CALIFORNIA AIR PIRACY [Republic of New Africa, murdered New Mexico state trooper]
2. CHARLIE HILL. Additional information on Hill MARYLAND CAA-KIDNAPPING [Republic of New Africa, murdered New Mexico state trooper]
3. JAMES PATTERSON MICHIGAN CAA-AIR PIRACY
4. WILLIAM PALM MISSOURI ESCAPE; AIDING & ABETTING
5. THERESA GROSSO CALIFORNIA UF AC-ESCAPE
6. CLINTON SMITH CAA-AIR PIRACY
7. RICHARD LINARES CALIFORNIA ESCAPE RISK
8. JOHN MARQUES LOUISIANA CAA-AIR PIRACY
9. WILLIAM BRENT AIRCRAFT PIRACY
I0. ORESTE BELLO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
11. COSME IGLESIA CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
12. BARBARA ALVAREZ CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
13. OFELIA BERNARDO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
14. JOSE BERNARDO- TUNON CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
15. ERNEST FERRERO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
16. FIDEL REGO OTANO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
17. VINCENTE REGO OTANO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING; KIDNAPPING
18. NACASIO DELGADO ~ CU'BA CAA-HIJACKING
19. MIGUEL SANCHEZ CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
20. RlCARDO CORO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
21. ROSALINO RODRIGUEZ-CABRIA CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
22. GEORGE WRIGHT VIRGINIA CAA-HIJACKING; KIDNAPPING
23. JOSE MONTERO CUBA CRIME ABOARD AN AIRCRAFT
24. HECTOR OCHOA CUBA CRIME ABOARD AN AIRCRAFT
25. WILLIAM POlTS UNKNOWN CAA-HIJACKING
26. MARIO FONSECA CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
27. DIVALDO ROJAS-REYES CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
28. WILFREDO OQUENDO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
29. EDUARDO SALGADO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
30. ROBERTO SALGADO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
31. CARLOS ARIAS-V ALDEZ CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
32. MARINO SAMON CUBA AIRCRAFT PIRACY
33. ROLANDO CADENAS CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
34. SILVIO CABRERA CUBA CAA-KIDNAPPING
35. CRECENCIO ZAMORA CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
36. SERGIO ROJAS CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
37. JUAN GARCIA CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
38. ROBERT GRACIAL CUBA CAA-KIDNAPPING
39. CIRO GRANDA CUBA CAA-KIDNAPPING
40. RAMON SALGADO CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
41. HECTOR GONZALEZ CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
42. VICTOR MANUEL GERENA NEW YORK FBI TOP TEN MOST WANTED; UF AP-BANK ROBBERY
43. DANIEL ABAD CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
44. BRIAN WILSON UFAP-MURDER; WF#532
45. JOAQUlN BABIN-ESTRADA CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
46. JOANNE CHESIMARD [*) CAA-AIR PIRACY [Black Liberation Army, murdered a New Jersey state trooper]
47. MIGUEL AGUIAR CUBA CAA-AIRCRAFT PIRACY
48. ROGELIO LEVY A CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
49. ROBERTO AGUIAR CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
50. JOSE CABALLERO CUBA CAA-AIRCRAFT PIRACY
51. EDUARDO JIMINEZ COLOMBIA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
52. GILBERTO CALERO CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
53. AMBROSE MONTFORT ., GEORGIA CAA-AIRCRAFT PIRACY
54. ROBERT VESCO MICHIGAN UFAP-WIREFRAUD/SECURITIES
55. LUIS SOLTREN PUERTO RICO CAA-AIRCRAFT HIJACKER
56 CATHERINE KERKOW - OREGON CAA-AIR PIRACY
57. ANTAJARES PAYANO DOMINICAN REPUBLIC CAA-AIRCRAFT PIRACY
58. ISHMAEL ALI VIRGIN ISLANDS CAA-AIR PIRACY [convicted of multiple murders in the Virgin Islands]
59. CHERI DALTON NEW YORK WF#512, UFAC-ESCAPE
60. MIGUEL TOLEDO CUBA CAA-AIRCRAFT PIRACY
61. NELSON MOLINA CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
62. RAFAELE MINICHIELLO ITALY CAA-AIR PIRACY
63. FELIX COPLIN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
64. MANUEL V ARGAS-AGUEROS CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
65. ARMANDO DIAZ-LA ROSA CUBA CAA-HIJACKING
66. ESMERALDO RAMIREZ-CASTANEDA CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
67. JOSE GARCIA-SANCHEZ CUBA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
68. PEDRO DEQUESADA CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
69. RIGOBERTO GONZALEZ-SANCHEZ CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
70. RAMON MARTIN CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
71. JESUS ARMENTEROS CUBA CAA-AIR PIRACY
72. GILBERTO CARRAZANA Y GONZALEZ UNKNOWN CONSPIRACY TO COMMITT KIDNAPPING
73. DONALD RIDER NORTH DAKOTA CAA-HIJACKING AN AIRCRAFT
74. FRANK TERPIL NEW YORK SOLICITATION TO COMMIT MURDER
CUBAN "DIPLOMAT" LINKED TO TERRORISTS GOT U.S. VISA
News/Current Events News Keywords: ELIAN, CASTRO, RENO, HILLARY, PUERTO RICAN TERRORISTS
Source: The Miami Herald
Published: November 2, 1999 Author: Juan O. Tamayo
Posted on 04/19/2000 10:47:32 PDT by Prodigal Daughter
Published Tuesday, November 2, 1999, in the Miami Herald
Cuban linked to terrorists may get diplomatic visa
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON -- A Cuban diplomat linked to Puerto Rican terrorists will receive a U.S. visa to work in Washington once Cuba agrees to let in two State Department officials assigned to Havana, U.S. officials say. The FBI initially filed a formal veto to Fernando Garcia Bielsa's assignment to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, but later reviewed its decision and withdrew the objection, the officials added. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called Garcia Bielsa ''a notorious Cuban intelligence operative'' and hinted at Clinton administration pressures on the FBI to reverse itself.
The State Department ''now has no legitimate reason to deny [Garcia Bielsa] a visa, but they're waiting for reciprocity for the people waiting to go to Havana,'' said one congressional source knowledgeable about the controversy.
The State Department and the Cuban Foreign Ministry maintain there's no official link between the Garcia Bielsa case and the delays on Cuban visas requested by two State Department officials assigned to Havana.
U.S. officials said the FBI has intelligence reports showing Garcia Bielsa met often in Cuba in the 1970s with two radical Puerto Rican pro-independence groups, the Macheteros and Armed Forces of National Liberation, known as FALN. A wave of FALN and Machetero terror bombings around the United States in the early 1970s killed six people and wounded more than 60. Police suspect the Macheteros of four bombings that injured one person in Puerto Rico last year.
Garcia Bielsa was a top official of the Americas Department of the Cuban Communist Party in the 1970s, then tasked by President Fidel Castro with training and arming leftist guerrilla groups around Latin America. The FBI based its objection of Garcia Bielsa on his 1970s meetings with the Puerto Rican radicals. Under U.S. procedures the veto would have forced the State Department to deny him a visa.
Queried by the State Department, the FBI later reviewed its evidence and procedures and decided that meetings alone were not enough to deny the Cuban a visa, congressional officials said.
FBI spokesmen declined to explain either decision. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington said only that Garcia Bielsa is still awaiting a State Department reply to his visa request.
LETTER TO ALBRIGHT
Helms, in an angry letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Sept. 21, hinted that Garcia Bielsa had done far more than meet with the Puerto Rican radicals but offered no details. A conservative Washington magazine, Insight, three days later quoted a U.S. intelligence official as saying that Garcia Bielsa ''personally oversaw the funding and direction of the Macheteros.
Cuba has long been on the State Department's list of nations linked to international terrorism, along with others such as Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria and North Korea.
The 1998 list notes that while there was ''no evidence'' Cuba sponsored any attacks in the previous year, ''it continues to provide sanctuary to terrorists from several different . . . organizations.''
Among the some 90 U.S. fugitives alleged to be living in Cuba are several Machetero and FALN members and former Black Panther member Joanne Chesimard. Washington and Havana have no extradition agreement.
Note: The Puerto Rican terrorists involved in those crimes were pardoned by Clinto/Hillary to pander to the Puerto Rican vote in New York at the prodding of Castros long time apologist, Congressman Jose Serrano.
BIELSA GOT THE VISA AND MASTERMINDED THE KIDNAPPING OF ELIAN.
For more information please open www.cubanet.org/Cnews/y99/sep99/27e9.htm A Visa for Castros Terrorism Chief in Washington? By J. Michael Waller, Insight on the News Online, Sep 24/99 Cuban "diplomats" and Puerto Rican Terrorists
Showdown over U.S. Cuba policy nears --President Bush, Otto Reich and Sally Grooms Cowal.
U.S. Intelligence Agent Admits to Spying for Cuba--[Excerpt] Ana Belen Montes, who began work as a senior intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency in September 1985 and later specialized in Cuba, pleaded guilty to one count of espionage before a Washington court.
Montes, 45, an American citizen of Puerto Rican descent, who appeared in court in a striped black-and-white prisoner's jumpsuit, faces 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Among other secrets, Montes identified to Cuban intelligence four undercover American agents on the island and gave Havana classified information relating to U.S. national defense. Montes also provided Cuban agents with details of a secret military training exercise in which she took part in 1996. [End Excerpt]
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