Cuban Intelligence Operations in the US

Since Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959, one of the government’s top priorities has been to spy on the United States. Since Cuba is a small country with serious economic problems, most Americans would not assume that Cuba has a wide ranging spy network in place that in effect presents a threat to U.S. national security. Two recent cases of Americans spying for Cuba demonstrate the depth and effectiveness of their efforts. 

In the first place, Cuban spies are quite numerous in the United States. Christopher Simmons, a former counterintelligence analyst with expertise in Cuban intelligence operations, believes that Cuba has approximately 250 agents operating in the United States. [1] This includes six to nine senior agents in the U.S. government, a dozen in academia, 30-36 under diplomatic cover at Cuban missions, and approximately 135 observing Cuban-Americans in Florida. [2] There have been several high-profile cases of Cuban infiltration at top levels of the United States government. 

Most recently was the case of Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, a former State Department official and his wife who were discovered to have spied for Cuba for over thirty years. [3]According to the Justice Department Press Release,

Kendall Myers traveled to Cuba in December 1978 after receiving an invitation from an official who served at the Cuban Mission to the United States in New York City. His guide while in Cuba was an official with Cuba’s Foreign Service Institute. This trip provided the Cuban Intelligence Service (CuIS) with the opportunity to assess or develop Myers as a Cuban agent, according to the affidavit.

Approximately six months after the trip, the Myers were visited in South Dakota by the official from the Cuban Mission in New York and, according to the affidavit; Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers agreed to serve as clandestine agents of the Cuban government. Afterwards, the CuIS directed Kendall Myers to pursue a job at either the State Department or the CIA. Kendall Myers, accompanied by his wife, then returned to Washington, D.C., where he resumed contract work at the State Department and later obtained a State Department position that required a Top Secret security clearance."

According to the affidavit, during this time frame, the CuIS often communicated with its clandestine agents in the United States by broadcasting encrypted radio messages from Cuba on shortwave radio frequencies. Clandestine agents in the United States monitoring the frequency on shortwave radio could decode the messages using a decryption program provided by the CuIS. Such methods were employed by defendants previously convicted of espionage on behalf of Cuba. According to the affidavit, the Myers had an operable shortwave radio in their apartment and they told an FBI source that they used it to receive messages from the CuIS." [4]

Furthermore,

The Myers also discussed how they had passed information to CuIS agents, with both agreeing that the most secure way was "hand-to-hand." According to the affidavit, Gwendolyn Myers said her favorite way of passing information to CuIS agents involved the changing of shopping carts in a grocery store because it was "easy enough to do." According to the affidavit, Kendall Myers told the source that he typically removed information from the State Department by memory or by taking notes, although he did occasionally take some documents home. "I was always pretty careful. I didn’t usually take documents out," he said. According to the affidavit, he also acknowledged delivering information to the CuIS that was classified beyond the "Secret" level. He further stated that he had received "lots of medals" from the Cuban government and that he and his wife had met and spent an evening with Fidel Castro in 1995.

According to the affidavit, the FBI collects high frequency messages broadcast by the CuIS to its agents and has identified messages that it determined were broadcast to a handler of Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers. Furthermore, the FBI has confirmed trips by the couple to Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Jamaica that correspond to statements made by the defendants. In addition, the FBI has identified emails to the couple in 2008 and 2009 from a suspected representative of the CuIS in Mexico who was allegedly requesting that the couple travel to Mexico.

The affidavit states that an analysis of Kendall Myers’ classified State Department computer hard drive revealed that, from August 22, 2006, until his retirement on Oct. 31, 2007, he viewed more than 200 sensitive or classified intelligence reports concerning the subject of Cuba, while employed as an INR senior analyst for Europe. Of these reports concerning Cuba, the majority were classified and marked Secret or Top Secret.  An FBI review of Kendall Myers’ State Department security files further revealed numerous false statements by him to conceal the couple’s clandestine activities on behalf of the CuIS.

According to the affidavit, neither Kendall Myers nor Gwendolyn Myers ever provided notification to the Attorney General that either of them was acting as an agent of a foreign government, as required by law.

Finally, the affidavit alleges that Kendall Myers engaged in a scheme to defraud the State Department and the United States by means of false pretenses and caused the U.S. government to lose property, specifically money in the form of salary payments. By not disclosing his clandestine activity on behalf of the CuIS and by making false statements to the State Department about his status, Kendall Myers allegedly defrauded the State Department whenever he received his government salary. Gwendolyn Myers is also criminally liable for this alleged wire fraud scheme." [5]

Hence, the Myers not only caused a loss of property to the United States government, but also passed to the Cubans documents that were clearly considered top secret, and were well beyond the "secret" level, which dealt with Cuba as pertaining to American national security. Their motives appear to have been somewhat political, as Kendall Myers in 1978 wrote an article criticizing American imperialism and called Castro a great "leader of our time." [6] Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers are now standing trial.

Another famous case was that of Ana Montes, a Defense Intelligence Agency official who was discovered to have spied for Cuba for over sixteen years. [7] Although many details of her recruitment remain ambiguous, it was stated by her lawyer that she received no compensation for her efforts, and it is known that she had had one of the highest security clearances at the Defense Intelligence Agency. [8] She is believed to have handed the Cuban secret police numerous documents, including the identity of American secret agents operating in Cuba, information considered "Top Secret". Then in 1996, Montes was given a special computer program that would aid her in the encryption and decryption of messages. [9] Even more frightening is the fact that she was a frequent observer of American military exercises in Virginia, and likely would have been able to pass American military secrets to Cuba as well. [10] Also disconcerting is the fact that, as previously mentioned, she was doing these things for no pay, and even refused promotions in order to continue doing so. [11] Her motives were not financial, but instead appear to have been mainly political, as she stated that she believed Castro was being unfairly demonized by the United States, and she believed working for Cuba to be a noble cause. She is currently serving a 25-year sentence. If the Cubans were capable of making an ideologue out of a high-ranking intelligence officer such as Montes, it is likely that they are capable of doing so with others. There have been several such cases since the 1960s, in which Cuban intelligence managed infiltration of the United States government. 

Cuban intelligence is also active in trying to recruit individuals from American universities. They especially make an effort to recruit agents at schools in close proximity to Washington and New York and typically would try to infiltrate campuses such as New York University, Hunter College, American University, Georgetown, Florida International (significant Cuban-American presence), Barry University, Miami University, Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania. [12] Moreover, Cuba has a very specific and efficient system of recruiting, or talent spotting, as it has been called.

The process has been detailed by Jose Cohen, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected to the United States. A Cuban agent would begin contact with someone they believe could be an asset to Cuba, whom they would call a studied person. [13] If they deem this person to have sufficient vulnerability, they will further investigate the person, who then becomes a person of interest. [14] If they sense that the person of interest has a true ideological commitment to Cuban interests, they become known as a candidate, and they will then move on to put them to work at one of three levels. [15] The first level is that of a useful link, in which the person is unaware of ties to Cuban intelligence, and they supply only minimal information. [16] The second is known as a relation of confidence, wherein the person is aware, but their contact is sporadic, and they only know some secrets. [17] The third level is that of agent, which requires special training, and allows for access to high-level secrets. [18]

It is quite evident that Cuban intelligence is extremely organized and sophisticated, and does not function like that of a typical isolated third-world rogue state. Cuba not only gathers top-secret information for its own use but sells the intelligence collected in the United States to potential American adversaries, most notably Russia, China, and Iran, according to Christopher Simmons. [19] For example, in 1999, Cuba and China signed an agreement allowing Communist China to establish signal intelligence stations in Cuba, which serve the purpose of monitoring American satellites, telecommunications, and computer data. [20] Similarly, Russia, between 1994 and 1997, constructed and used an electronic spy station at Bejucal, Cuba, and even though it no longer operates, Russia continues to consider Cuba a "key" partner in Latin America.

Cuba is more than a regional menace. It is a despotic Marxist state which seeks to create a like-minded network in Latin America and provide intelligence and logistical support to America’s adversaries. It has formed a convenient alliance with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and with radical Islam due to a shared hatred of the United States. Cuba is also a co-founder and promoter of the Forum of Sao Paulo, an organization originally intended to counter the OAS (Organization of American States) and the United States and includes amongst its members a number of terrorist organizations. Thus, in considering changes in U.S. – Cuban relations such as lifting the embargo, it is important for policy makers in the United States to understand the many ways Cuba works against our national security interests.

 

Jordan Everett has been an intern at the Center for Security Policy.

 


 NOTES

[1] Juan Tamayo, Revistas de Asignaturas Cubanas, June 6, 2009

[2] Ibid

[3] Toby Westerman, International Affairs, June 20, 2009

[4] Justice Department Press Release, June 5, 2009

[5] Ibid

[6] http://cicentre.com/spycase/MYERS_Walter_Kendall_and_Gwendolyn_Steingraber.html

[7] Andrew Richards, Washington Times, October 26, 2007

[8] Ronald Radosh, Front Page Magazine, "Castro’s Top Spy," March 29, 2002

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Jose Cohen, ICCAS Serie de Mongrafias, January 2002

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Andrew Richards, Washington Times, October 26, 2007

[20] Manuel Cereijo, La Nueva Cuba, October 9, 2006

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