How the Cuban regime recruits spies to infiltrate the inner circles of the US government

Manuel Rocha in his office at Steele Hector & Davis in Miami in January 2003. The former US diplomat was arrested in 2023 on charges of being a secret agent of Cuba for decades. There were many warning signs before his arrest. (Photo, Raul Rubera/Miami Herald via AP)

In a scene worthy of a detective novel, manuel rochaA retired US Ambassadorproceeded cautiously through the district of Brickell in Miami, trying to go unnoticed while going to a secret meeting in a church. promise of a message from you “Friends in Havana” Had taken him there, without suspecting the watchful eyes of FBI counter-intelligence agents who were following him closely, This episode will not only reveal Rocha’s arrest last December on charges of promoting the agenda Cuba within the United States government for over 40 years, but will also highlight a lesser-known aspect of the Caribbean island: its effectiveness in the world of espionage.

hoyt jr And latelFormer FBI and CIA officials respectively highlighted this in the conversation wall street journal capacity of Cuban Intelligence Directorate Recruiting spies. In an era where technology seems to dominate the field of espionage, Cuba’s strategy is reminiscent of the Cold War era, with the use of high-frequency radio transmissions and encrypted messages. However, Cuba’s true strength lies in its human capital, fueled by foresight Fidel CastroWho knew how to infiltrate people in the highest positions of the US government.

Dictator Fidel Castro (Reuters)

Story of Ana Belen Montesa senior analyst at defense intelligence agency Who was recruited by Cuban intelligence as a student, he also symbolizes Cuba’s ability to find people sympathetic to its interests. Montes, who was arrested in 2001, is just one name in a series of cases in which Americans have been seen spying on behalf of Havana, Sometimes providing information that proves more useful to foreign powers like Russia and China.

But how does Cuba, a country beset by economic crisis and technological limitations, manage to infiltrate a superpower like the United States with such success? Part of this answer lies in Its careful selection and recruitment methodologyWhere idealistic youth are seduced, often in an academic setting, with the promise of fighting against the perceived injustice of US policies towards the island.

Far from being of little strength, Havana It thus emerges on the global intelligence board, where every move by its agents could put the United States in danger. The point is that Cuba has turned its attention north, making the United States the center of its espionage interest, while Washington, The Caribbean islands seemed to be only a secondary concern. This disparity in approach has given Cuba an advantage in recruiting agents capable of infiltrating US territory.

Ana Belen Montes, a senior Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who was recruited by Cuban intelligence as a student

In the middle of New York, warn WSJ, The US focused its efforts on countering Russia’s influence, leaving Cuba practically in the shadows.: Chris Simmons, who works on Cuban counterintelligence matters, reported that the FBI’s New York field office until recently had 12 counterintelligence squads dedicated to Russia, but only one to Cuba. “There was a revolving door in the Cuban counterintelligence; Everybody wanted out,” said former FBI agent Peter Lapp, who investigated Montes and wrote a book about the case.

If the FBI had difficulty identifying agents spying on the United States over the years, the CIA had its own problems entering Cuba: In 1987, a Cuban military officer—in what the CIA called a “touchdown” Used to go – left while serving in Europe. East. Cuban Major Florentino Espílaga Lombard told his stunned American superiors that all but one of the four dozen CIA spies in Cuba were “double agents” in the service of the Castro regime. According to officials, this revelation cooled years of CIA recruitment efforts in Cuba.

Meanwhile, Cuba was busy instructing agents to get jobs at US military bases with false identities under a codename program. “Operation Texaco”, As consulted by a former prosecutor and federal judge WSJ, Havana also entered exile groups in South Florida and participated in the downing of a private flight operated by an anti-Castro group, killing four people.

According to Lapp, in the early 2000s, US counterintelligence services were aware of the existence of over 100 actual or potential Cuban agents in the United States, but did not assign the necessary personnel to investigate them.

the story of manuel rochaThe Colombian-American reads like a movie script. His life, marked by invisible ties Cuban intelligenceDraws a revealing line over how spy networks cross borders and oaths of loyalty.

But how is someone obviously loyal to You. S. department of state Becomes a valuable asset to a foreign government? It all started in 1973 when Rocha, who was still a student in Chile, was allegedly recruited by Cuba. This was the time when Fidel Castro cast his hopeful gaze on those Latinos who, imbued with the American dream, had not lost the warmth of their land or the sympathy for their roots. According to the stories of a former Cuban intelligence officer who was granted asylum in the United StatesCastro had a special interest in American officials of Hispanic origin, Possibly related to the ideals of Havana.

Former US Ambassador Victor Manuel Rocha, in an archived photo. EFE/Orlando Barria

Rocha crossed the doors of Department of State In 1981 and alternated his work between embassies Bolivia, Dominican Republic, honduras And Mexico, According to experts like, class evan ellis of US Army War CollegeThey will provide him with a vast sea of ​​confidential information, which will be a treasure trove unheard of for any foreign intelligence service. “You shudder to think about the level of information he has access to,” Ellis confesses.

The end of his career in 2002 did not mark the end of his influence. Rocha, already a member of the board of directors and a business consultant, continued to weave himself into the fabric of national security by advising the U.S. Southern Command, with his focus still on sensitive information and contacts with Cuba. Was moving towards the lines.

The relationship with Cuban intelligence, described in the complaint as a “great friendship,” adds a tense chapter in 2022. An undercover FBI agent, introducing himself as a Cuban intelligence officer, initiates a series of contacts with Rocha. At meetings held in the Miami area, Rocha would boast of his success in infiltrating the State Department. Describing his cooperation with Cuba as “more than a Grand Slam,” he reportedly declared, “They underestimated what we could do with them.”

Rocha’s arrest not only underscores the long-standing intelligence persistence of the Castro dictatorship, but also the continuing challenge for the United States in countering this underappreciated threat.

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