United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Blockade Must Be Weakening: Cuban Spies Again

La Alborada - October 20

When spy stories are retold in Miami you can be sure that hardliners in that city are concerned about possible threats to the blockade.
The latest such reminder came in Juan Tamayo's article in El Nuevo Herald on the 19th of this month.
Tamayo rehashed old stories about "the six months after" 9/11. According to his sources, some 20 Cubans --eventually presumed to be agents-- went to US embassies around the world offering to reveal information on terrorist threats, which typically was useless but took a lot of time to investigate, thus undermining US security. This complaint was made in 2002, as Tamayo himself notes, by "a White House official." But now el Nuevo Herald has been told by "two former officials of the US" that the offers of information were "just part of a program of Cuban intelligence that every year sends agents to US embassies to confuse, disinform, and identify US spies, and perhaps penetrate national intelligence."
Fortunately for US counter-spies, the Cubans for years have been sending around 20 agents per month, apparently figuring that the State Department will never notice the regularity of the alleged effort.
(In a strange contradiction, Tamayo writes that "'The Cubans used that kind of agent to test the capabilities and reactions of the US...but that did not keep happening with the same frequency after 9/11,' added a high official of the administration of president George W. Bush.") (Italics added.)
The two "former officials" who talked to Tamayo remained unidentified, because, they said, even as former officials they are not authorized to discuss the matter that they discussed with Tamayo. In the next-to-the-last paragraph, Tamayo does cite Dan Fisk, a former State Department official, but from a speech of 2002. Fisk had been talking about the aftermath of 9/11. Fisk, who worked at the Heritage Foundation before joining State, led a hard-line approach to Cuba during the first term of George Bush.
In 2002, the war against Afghanistan was under way, and the US was threatening to do whatever it chose to do to whatever country it picked. "All options are on the table," was the operative mantra. The White House was already assembling false information to justify attacking Iraq. Cuba was a potential target.
Under these circumstances, one can imagine any number of Cubans trying to obtain US visas in order to get out before the island was attacked. That the volunteer informants were Cuban agents was a conclusion declared by Fisk, who, for all we know, is one of the two former officials not indentified in the article, informants who, having been annointed experts, were asked for summary opinions instead of evidence.
In 2001 a Pentagon official was arrested and later convicted for spying for Cuba. That, too, is hardly news eight years later, although Tamayo reminded us of it. He threw in a reference to the Cuban Five, as well. They were arrested before 9/11.
A different report making the rounds is that "Cuba Needs Spies," referring to a recruiting announcement of the Cuban police force. This becomes international news (the version linked to here is from Spain), unlike the frequent recruiting announcements in the US for the CIA and the FBI under the banner of national security.
In addition, this weekend there surfaced --better yet, "resurfaced"-- accusations against a Miami Herald columnist of being a (really undercover) Cuban agent. That, too, has been background noise for some time, but the Herald's Ombudsman had to respond and explain carefully why management is not buying the story. Still, the charges made the news again, at least in Miami.

Why is all of this being revisited?

Just days ago, the judge who convicted the Cuban Five had to reduce, grudgingly, the sentence of one of them, the first permanent judicial reversal in the campaign against The Five.
The White House is in talks with the Cuban government, apparently with the goal of improving relations with the latter.
Congress is considering bills to permit general travel and facilitate US-Cuba trade.
Plum projects like TV Marti are in danger of losing their funding.
Vigilante Chris Simmons, a former counter-intelligence Pentagon official who makes a second-act living from warning of The Cuban Threat, last month had to settle out of court for accusing a Miami resident of being a Cuban agent. Apparently, he had no proof of his charges.
The moment is worrisome for the hardliners, and bringing up general and unsubtantiated allegations is always a good way to focus on The Cuban Threat, the perennial Dagger Aimed at the Heart of This Country. It's spy season in Miami again. There is nothing new to report, but one can always relive some old-time favorites.
It might be amusing in a film or short story, but it's real life, and real people are likely to be hurt in the renewed spy hunt. Expect new old releases if Congress approves general travel or the White House announces any kind of agreement with Cuba.