miércoles, 30 de mayo de 2012

An Overview of Espionage Operations Based Out of the Cuban Interests Section. By Chris Simmons

May 29, 2012

Directorate of Intelligence (DI):  The foreign intelligence wing of the Ministry of the interior.  Previously known as the Directorate General of Intelligence (DGI) [also referred to as the General Intelligence Directorate].

America Department (DA): The intelligence wing of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.  The DA was heavily involved in supporting revolutionaries and terrorists, but has since become more focused on political intelligence operations.

On 1 September 1977, the US and Cuba re-established diplomatic missions in Havana and Washington, DC.  

The first chief of the Cuban Interests Section was Ramon Sanchez-Parodi.  This career intelligence officer subsequently served in Washington for 12 consecutive years. Experts remain undecided as to whether he was DGI or DA.  In testimony before the US Senate, Dr Daniel James charged Sanchez-Parodi with targeting the Congressional Black Caucus to foment opposition to existing US policies towards Cuba.  According to the New York Times, Sanchez-Parodi was extremely well connected to the US academic, civic, cultural, and business communities.  He was promoted to Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs immediately following his US tour.  His portfolio was the Western Hemisphere.  Also serving at the new Interest Section was Teofilo Acosta, whom the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) immediately and rightfullyidentified as a senior Cuban Intelligence Officer. 

In 1977, columnist Jack Anderson noted that DGI officer Alina Alayo Amaro was scheduled for assignment to the Cuban Interests Section.  An expert on the US Senate, Alayo’s target was the US government.  Alayo had previously served as Senator George McGovern’s translator during his April 1976 visit to Cuba.  

In an extraordinary bold display, in 1979, Teofilo Acosta, the DGI Chief at the Cuban Interests Section, spoke at the memorial service for Laurence Stern, the former national news editor at the Washington Post.  With the exception of Accuracy in Media, no major US media reported on, or questioned, why Acosta praised an important Washington Post editor as a "good friend."  

The New York City-based Center for Cuban Studies hosted the first National Conference on Cuba from November 2-4, 1979.  US participants included Congressman Ron Dellums, the Puerto Rican socialist party, union representatives, legal scholars, and innumerable academics.  Havana sent Interests Section-based intelligence officers, Alfredo García Almeida and Sánchez-Parodi.

On February 11, 1981, the US expelled First Secretary Ricardo Escartin Fernandez.  The second-ranking Cuban official in the US, Escartin was accused of espionage and conspiring with US businessmen to violate the trade embargo.  

In Fall 1981, DGI colonel Jesus Arboleya Cervera was reportedly attached to the Interests Section.  At the time, he had served the DGI in the US perhaps longer than any other known Cuban Intelligence officer.  He had previously served as a Second Secretary at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN).  

According to intelligence scholar Jeffrey T. Richelson, by 1986, 20 Cuban Intelligence Officers worked out of the Cuban Interests Section and roughly twice that many at the UN. 

On July 15, 1987, the US ordered two Interests Section diplomats to leave the US within 10 days.  The two officials were Bienvenido Abierno, the Acting Chief of the Interests Section and Third Secretary Virgilio Lora. The two were not publicly identified as Intelligence Officers. Instead, their expulsion was portrayed as retaliation for Cuban harassment of US diplomats in Havana.

o In September 1987, Cuban defector Florentino Azpillaga Lombard identified Lora as a spy during a Radio Marti broadcast.  Congressional Representative Dante Fascell queried the State Department regarding Azpillaga’s claims, after which the State Department acknowledged that both diplomats were spies expelled for their recruitment efforts against Cuban-Americans.  At the time of the expulsion, 17 Cubans worked at the Interests Section.

o Azpillaga also claimed all diplomats at the Interests Section were Intelligence Officers, as were about half of the 65-70 UN diplomats.

In 1995, Intelligence Officers Armando Tomas Amieva Dalboys and Rafael Dausa Cespedes served as Third Secretaries.  Dausa arrived as early as February 1994.  By 1999, Havana had transferred Dausa to New York City to serve as Cuba’s Ambassador at the CMUN.  

On July 26, 1995, DI officer Hugo Ernesto Yedra Diaz was the featured speaker at a party commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the “start” of the Cuban Revolution.  Sponsored by the district’s “Hands Off Cuba Coalition,” the event was held at Washington Peace Center.  Yedra discussed the attack on the Moncada Barracks before transitioning to a call for Americans to oppose Helms-Burton.  

On July 27, 1996, Third Secretary and suspected Intelligence Officer Johanna Tablada spoke at a bookstore in Chicago.  The next day she spoke at a Chicago picnic honoring the Cuban Revolution hosted by the Venceramos Brigade.

From January 30-31, 1997, the National Network on Cuba hosted a tour of Houston, Texas, for Cuban diplomats Felix Wilson and Johana Tablada.  Wilson was a First Secretary and Tablada a Third Secretary.  During the tour, the Cubans addressed several public meetings, including one comprised of roughly 200 students from Jones High School.  The newspaper “The Militant,” noted that most of the students in attendance were African Americans.  Wilson and Tablada also gave several media interviews during their stay in Houston.  On the 31st, Tablada lectured on the state of women in Cuba during her appearance at the University of Houston (UH).  Her lecture was sponsored by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the UH Women’s Studies Program.  Wilson and Tablada also visited Texas Southern University and met with officials from the Houston Port Authority.  The Port Authority said the Cubans received a standard protocol brief, which described port tonnage and capabilities. 

From February 10-11, 1997, the Center for International Policy hosted a conference on the Helms-Burton law.  Held in the Brookings Institution and the House of Representatives’ Rayburn building, the conference drew an audience of over 250 academics, researchers, government officials, and pro- and anti-Castro groups.  Although the conference allowed very little audience interaction, Tablada addressed attendees briefly from the floor.  She was at the conference as an observer.

On March 22, 1997, Tablada was the featured speaker at the daylong “Cuba Today” conference at Roxbury Community College in Boston, Massachusetts.  

In late Mar 1997, three officials from the Cuban Interests Section met with roughly 30 Congressional staffers and guests.  The meeting, which lasted over an hour, was sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus.  US officials present at the meeting could not recall any previous encounter between the US Congress and Cuban officials.  Wilson, now the Deputy Chief, led the Cuban delegation.  He was assisted by Tablada and Third Secretary Sergio Martinez.  

In late Oct 1997, Tablada participation in a conference held in conjunction with the University of Maryland’s photo exhibit on Che Guevara.  

In 1997, a coalition of four pro-Cuba groups held a public meeting in Miami that featured Wilson as its keynote speaker.  This historic meeting, the first time that a Cuban official spoke at a public function in Miami, reportedly drew a crowd of roughly 200, mostly Cuban-Americans.   

On February 12, 1998, Tablada was one of the two speakers at a “Women in Cuba” program at the University of Pennsylvania.  Almost two weeks later (on February 24), members of The Militant and others met with Tablada on unspecified topics.

In late Feb 1998, Tablada spoke at the Barclay School in Baltimore, a neighborhood public school that taught pre-K through eighth grade.  Tablada falsely but convincingly continued the myth of the Cuban Revolution’s successful literacy campaign.  She spoke of the Museo de la Alfabetizacion, which claims to have letters from over 700,000 Cubans who learned to read during Castro’s self-proclaimed successful literacy campaign.  According to the Havana, Cuba’s literacy rate tripled in less than five years, a claim which the Baltimore Sun mistakenly touted as “one of the most remarkable literacy campaigns in history.”  So enduring and pervasive is the literacy myth that the Sun used Tablada’s message to launch the next phase of its own local literacy project. 

From March 28-April 3, 1998, Wilson attended the Board of Directors meeting for the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE).  Wilson was accompanied by Intelligence Officer (under cover as the Press Officer) Luis Fernandez.  The two Cubans were the only governmental personnel to attend the conference, as well as the only individuals not working for US media outlets.  The Cubans told ANSE members they were there to promote the idea of an ASNE group traveling to Cuban. 

On June 22, 1998, Tablada was a featured speaker at Connecticut’s first statewide conference on US-Cuban relations.  Titled “Bridging the 90 Mile Gap,” the New Haven-based Connecticut Coalition on Cuba and the Greater Hartford Coalition on Cuba sponsored the event.  The two coalitions had hoped to create a plan to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba and help end the embargo. 

Wilson, again assisted by Tablada, spoke at the “Latinos United in Labor” conference in downtown Detroit from November 6-8, 1998.  

In Jan 1999, Tablada attended one of the Washington-area’s numerous inaugural parties, this one at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Springfield, Virginia. 

On March 11, 1999, Wilson spoke in Palm Coast, Florida at a meeting hosted by the Caribbean American Children’s Foundation.  Wilson’s topic was “The Afro-Cuban Perspective.”  About 60 people, predominantly Afro-Americans, attended the 40 minute lecture.  Wilson also served on a three man Cuban delegation at the national formation meeting of the US-Cuba Sister City Association in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from March 19-21, 1999.

On May 1, 1999, Wilson was a keynote speaker at a conference on Cuba held in San Francisco.  The day-long conference was sponsored by several religious and a municipal group.  

In August 1999, Tablada attended the second annual conference of Youth for Socialist Action in San Francisco.  

In December 1999, Tablada participated on the “Youth Panel” at the National Network on Cuba conference in Seattle.

In 1999-2000, Wilson, Acting Head of the Interests Section and Jose Imperatori, a Second Secretary, were among the many DI officers involved in Cuba’s handling of the Elian Gonzalez scenario.  

In March 2000, DI Officer and Third Secretary Alejandro Pila Alfonso participated in a five city tour inviting US students to attend the Continental Latin America and Caribbean Students Organization (OCLAE) conference in Havana Apr 00.  The 27-year old Pila was accompanied by a representative of the Federation of University Students (FEU).  He and a colleague made presentations to students at UCLA, California State University at Los Angeles, Loyola University Law School, Occidental College, Scripps College and Glendale Community College.  His sponsor, the Los Angeles Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba, also helped arranged for interviews with La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles, and two radio stations. 

o On December 18, 1999, Pila participated in the third meeting of the Havana-DC Sister City Committee.  Also among the 10 committee members participating were a representative of the Venceremos Brigade and two members of Pastors for Peace.  The DI has successfully recruited agents from the membership of both groups.  Given his absence from the US State Department’s quarterly Diplomatic Roster, it is clear that Pila was temporarily assigned to the Interests Section.

On March 6, 2000, less than two weeks after Imperatori’s expulsion, senior DA officer and First Secretary Fernando Garcia Bielsa arrived as Imperatori’s replacement.  The FBI and Senator Jesse Helms had originally opposed Garcia’s posting to the US, but were overruled by the Clinton administration.  According to the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), Garcia’s long-standing ties with Puerto Rican terrorists continued through at least 1998 when he met with Macheteros leaders in the island Commonwealth. 

o In the 1970s, Garcia worked closely with both major Puerto Rican terrorist groups.  

On March 11, 2000, Tablada was the keynote speaker at the “Struggles of Women of the World” event in San Francisco.  Tablada’s lecture, held on International Women’s Day, was hosted by the local chapter of the International Action Center. 

On March 2, 2001, Garcia guest lectured at Loyola University Law School.  Invited by the Los Angeles Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba, he spoke on the Cuban economy and the domestic situation on the island.   

In April 2002, Garcia gave a speech title “What Cuba Stands For” at the University of Minnesota.  Sponsored in part by the Minnesota Cuba Committee and the Students for Cuba, his presentation was one of several given during a brief visit to the mid-West.

In early November 2002, the US declared Cuban diplomats Gustavo Machin Gomez and Oscar Redondo Toledo Persona Non Grata.  Both Intelligence Officers were Interests Section First Secretaries.  According to the Washington Post, the PNG action retaliated for the 16-year career of Cuban spy Ana Montes, who was sentenced in October 2002.

o Redondo handled the “Sister City” program between Havana and Mobile, Alabama.  The Mobile-Havana partnership was established in 1993.   On June 13, 2002, Redondo had been the featured speaker at a meeting in Philadelphia.  Other speakers that night were Pamela Martin of the Philadelphia-Cardenas Sister Cities Project and Stephen Paulmier of the “Free the Five” Committee.

o Machin attended Wake Forest University’s Symposium on Cuba from March 20-21, 2002.  He was featured on one of the symposium’s panels, where he discussed the Cuban economy and international investment.

o Machin lectured on trade and policy issues at the conference; “Free Trade of the Americas, the WTO, and New Farm Legislation: Responding to Opportunities and Challenges.”  Hosted by the Farm Foundation, the event was held in San Antonio, Texas, from May 23-24, 2002.  Earlier, Machin visited Dallas where he presented the lecture “The Future of Cuba/US Relations” to the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations.

o Machin visited sites in Missouri from September 26-28, 2000 at the invitation of the Missouri Farm Bureau. Machin, farmers, and local business leaders discussed future trade opportunities for rice and other products.  

In 2002, Julia E. Sweig published her book, Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground.  Among those she thanks in her acknowledgements are six Intelligence Officers; Jose Antonio Arbesu, Ramon Sanchez Parodi, Fernando Garcia Bielsa, Hugo Yedra, Jose Gomez Abad and Josefina Vidal.

In mid-March 2003, the South Carolina Department of Commerce held a program on trade opportunities with Cuba.  Cuban Intelligence Officer Cosme Torres Espinosa was one of the two Interests Section officers who participated in the conference.  Torres and his colleague participated by video-teleconference after the State Department denied their travel request to Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina.  

In May 2003, the US expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage.  Seven diplomats were based at the CMUN and the other seven at the Interests Section.  At the time, a total of 37 Cuban diplomats were assigned at CMUN and 26 at the Interests Section. 

o See “State Department Belatedly Burns Seven Cuban Spies” for the identities of the Interest Section officers.

o The expulsions crippled Cuba’s US-based intelligence operations.  Havana is allowed a permanent staff of 26 officials at the Interests Section and 51 at the CMUN.  Officials on temporary tours often augment the permanent staff.  

The Evolving Role of the Cuban Interests Section 

For over two decades following its 1977 re-establishment, the Cuban Interests Section appeared to play a noticeably smaller role in Havana’s tradition espionage operations, especially when contrasted against CMUN operations.  During this period, the US only expelled three Interests Section officers (i.e., Escartin, Abierno, and Lora) for intelligence activities.  Defectors, who consistently characterized the CMUN as the major US espionage base, supported this lower level of apparent activity.  The conventional wisdom was that intelligence operations based out of the Interests Section focused more on political influence, disinformation, and spotting and assessing US sympathizers for potential recruitment.  

On a related note, Havana’s massive Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) effort at Bejucal, Cuba is complemented by covert SIGINT sites in selected Cuban diplomatic facilities. Given Havana’s collection priorities, it is almost a certainty that covert SIGINT sites are based within the CMUN and the Interests Section.

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