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14 May 2003

Expelled Cuban Diplomats Suspected of Espionage, Says State Dept.

(Reeker describes diplomats' activities as "unacceptable") (910)
By Lauren Monsen
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The decision to expel 14 Cuban diplomats from U.S. soil
was in response to "certain inappropriate and unacceptable activities"
that the diplomats engaged in, says State Department deputy spokesman
Philip Reeker.

At a May 13 State Department briefing, Reeker told reporters that the
U.S. government "decided to take strong action" after determining that
seven diplomats from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and
seven diplomats assigned to Cuba's Mission to the United Nations in
New York were involved "in activities deemed to be harmful to the
United States." All 14 diplomats were declared "persona non grata,
requiring their departure" from the country, Reeker explained.

"I think you are all familiar with the record of espionage by the
Cuban regime against the United States," he added. "It's a long
record." He cited recent examples such as the case of Ana Montes, a
former senior analyst on Cuba at the Defense Intelligence Agency, as
well as "the case of a former INS [Immigration and Naturalization
Service] official, and the so-called 'Wasp Ring' case in Miami, all of
which have resulted in convictions for espionage or espionage-related
crimes."

Montes, arrested in September 2001 and currently serving a 25-year
prison term, is the highest-level Cuban spy ever caught in the United
States. Investigators demonstrated that she provided the Communist
government of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro with classified documents,
photographs and the names of at least four covert U.S. operatives
working in Cuba.

Mariano Faget, a 34-year INS employee based in south Florida, was
arrested in February 2000 on charges of spying against the United
States after a sting operation revealed that he was passing
information to Havana about Cuban asylum petitioners and defectors.

The espionage ring known as the Wasp Network, consisting of more than
a dozen Cuban secret agents who tried to infiltrate U.S. exile groups
and military bases in Florida, operated for several years until
law-enforcement authorities broke up the ring in 1998.

Reeker reiterated that the 14 Cuban diplomats who have now been
ordered to leave the United States are being expelled "because of
activities which are not in keeping with their official duties --
inappropriate and unacceptable activities." Although he declined to
identify any of the diplomats, a May 14 report published in The
Washington Post offered the names of two. The Post said that Cosme
Torres, the deputy chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington,
is the most senior of the expelled diplomats, while also naming Juan
Hernandez, spokesman of the Cuban Interests Section, as another.

Asked when the Cuban Interests Section was notified about the
impending departures, Reeker said that the Cubans in question were
summoned to the State Department at nine o'clock on the morning of May
13. The notice of expulsion was "delivered verbally and with a
diplomatic note," he confirmed.

The State Department official noted that the Cuban diplomats committed
"an abuse of residence," which he defined as "undertaking activities
that were inconsistent" with their official duties. In reference to
those diplomats representing Cuba at the U.N. in New York, he said:
"Under the host-country agreement we have with the United Nations,
diplomats assigned to the United Nations are given the privilege of
residence in the United States, and we determined that these seven
members of the Cuban Mission ... were engaging in activities harmful
to the United States outside of their official capacities as members
of the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations -- and those
[activities] constitute an abuse of residence."

The cumulative effects of the diplomats' expulsion, prior incidents of
Cuban espionage, and the Castro regime's recent crackdown on
dissidents are casting a shadow over already-strained U.S.-Cuba
relations, Reeker indicated. These latest developments have prompted
the Bush Administration to review "all of our policies in our approach
to Cuba, in light of the significant deterioration" in Cuba's human
rights situation, he said.

"We have all discussed here several times the absolutely appalling
situation -- the worst in over a decade -- in terms of what the
[Castro] regime has done to silence people who are simply trying to
speak," Reeker pointed out. He cited Castro's efforts "to restrict
journalists from practicing their trade," the jailing of dissidents,
and the death sentences imposed on would-be defectors as examples of
the Cuban government's most recent abuses.

"So, to ensure that we are doing all we can to support those
[dissidents] seeking democratic change" in Cuba, "we are reviewing our
policies, looking at all aspects of the bilateral relationship," he
said. "We have long been frustrated by the lack of parity between how
U.S. diplomats are treated by their Cuban hosts -- that is, through
our diplomats at our Interests Section in Havana -- and the privileges
extended to Cuban diplomats in the United States."

The State Department has repeatedly protested the fact that James
Cason, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, is encountering
heavy-handed interference from the Castro regime because of his
contact with Cuba's pro-democracy activists. As a result, "the issue
of [diplomatic] reciprocity ... is under review," Reeker said.
However, "no specific measures have been taken yet," he emphasized.
"When we actually complete deliberations and make some decisions, we
will provide details."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)