Critics Question Sources for AP Report on Cuba Democracy Program 1

AP

 

 

 

Say sources had political agenda to undermine U.S. policy

By Daniel Wiser, Washington Free Beacon

Critics are raising questions about the Associated Press’s recent report on a U.S. program to foster civil society in Cuba and have accused the news organization of cooperating with sources who have a political agenda against U.S. policy toward the island.

The AP recently reported on the program that sent Spanish-speaking youth to Cuba to help build health and civil society associations, which the news organization described as a “clandestine operation” with the goal of “ginning up rebellion.” Human rights groups involved in the program criticized the report and said it mischaracterized the nature of the civil society projects.

Defenders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program say the AP has been less than forthright about the sources for its reporting. They also allege that the AP obtained information and documents from longstanding critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba’s communist government.

The anti-Castro website Capitol Hill Cubans alleged that the key source for the AP’s reporting on both the civil society program and a separate project, an attempt to develop a Twitter-like social media service for Cubans, was Fulton Armstrong. Armstrong is a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) staffer and senior intelligence analyst for Latin America.

Armstrong told the Washington Free Beacon in an email that although the AP contacted him, he was not the main source of information and documents. “The AP’s reports are pretty obviously based on documentary evidence provided by insiders concerned about the regime-change programs,” he said, adding that he was never fully briefed on what he called USAID’s “clandestine, covert operations.”

“Because the SFRC had investigated these scandalously run secret programs during my tenure on the Committee staff, and because my boss (Chairman [John] Kerry) was concerned enough to put a hold on the programs for a while, I was logically among the dozens of people to be called by the AP reporters,” he said.

Armstrong has long raised the ire of U.S. officials and activists advocating a tough line against the Castro regime. Foreign policy officials in the George W. Bush administration attempted to reassign Armstrong from Latin American intelligence after arguing that he was “soft” on threats from Cuba, according to a 2003 report by the New York Times.

Feature continues here:  Critics Question Credibility of AP Sources

 

Latell’s Latest Assessment Reveals Why Analysts Should Not Perform Counterintelligence 5

Ana Belen Montes

Ana Belen Montes

By Chris Simmons

Writing first in the Cuba Transition Project and then the Miami Herald, Dr Brian Latell recently energized readers with his feature, New revelations about Cuban spy Ana Montes

I, however, was greatly disappointed with the article. To start, he sensationalized several trivial issues and recycled old news stories (yes, she was a “true believer”  volunteer and yes, she was brought to the Cubans by talent-spotting agent Marta Rita Velazquez). None of this information is new.

However, he then misinterprets several key facts due to a lack of understanding regarding the field of counterintelligence, in layman’s terms – spy-catching.

For example, Latell claims that Montes met with her handlers “initially in New York, and later at her request in the Washington area…” Any Counterintelligence officer knows Havana would never consider running a penetration of the US government from 225 miles away. Having an agent or officer travel that distance once or twice a month for an extended period would be a huge risk to the security of the operation. Montes may have “asked” the Cubans for a DC-based spy handler, but the reality is she was going to be transferred to a local operative regardless of her wants and wishes.

More dangerous (and out of context) is his claim that during her interrogations, she was told that investigators “had information from a senior official in the Cuban intelligence service concerning a Cuban penetration agent that implicated Montes.” While that may be – in part – what the Pentagon document said, rare are the instances wherein an interrogator would truthfully tell a suspect they were betrayed by a colleague. That said, it is a common ploy to lie to a suspect and tell him/her their own people gave them up. This is what occurred with Montes.

Another major error is his wildly speculative and erroneous statement: “Did she work with other American spies? The report is ambiguous; it states that after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 pressure intensified to arrest Montes. The FBI preferred to wait, however, in order “to monitor Montes’s activities with the prospect that she may have eventually led the FBI to others in the Cuban spy network.”

The FBI wasn’t the only organization that preferred to wait – those of us in the Defense Intelligence Agency wanted to continue building the case as well. The “others in the Cuban spy network” weren’t part of some mysterious massive spy ring, but rather the compañeros she’d served during her espionage career.

Dr Latell is an exceptional analyst in his field. That said, Counterintelligence is a discipline unto itself, rendering any analytic generalist a poor job fit for analyzing spy services. Counterintelligence analysis is – and will always be — best performed by badge-carrying Special Agents skilled in investigations, operations, and collections.

Expelled Spy Feigns Outrage at Claims of Alleged US Operations Against Havana 1

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

By Chris Simmons

Josefina de la C. Vidal, director for North America within the Cuban Foreign Ministry, yesterday denounced allegations of low-level intelligence operations by Washington.

Vidal’s criticism followed recent Associated Press claims that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent Latin American youth to assist on-island dissidents. “These facts confirm that the U.S. government has not ceased its hostile and meddling plans against Cuba,” stated Vidal.

The AP assertions have already been discredited by USAID as “sensational” and “wrong,” as well as by Cuban dissidents cited in the AP story. Nonetheless, Vidal continued her laughable outrage, claiming “The U.S. government should end once and for all its subversive, illegal and undercover actions against Cuba, which violate our sovereignty and the will expressed by the Cuban people to perfect our economic and social model and to consolidate our democracy.”

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Vidal departed Washington in May 2003 after the US declared her husband — First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera — and 13 other Cuban spy-diplomats Persona Non Grata. First Secretary Vidal, also known to the US as a intelligence officer, “voluntarily” returned to Cuba. The husband-wife spy team was chosen for expulsion, in part, because Washington knew Havana historically withdraws the spouse of any expelled spy.

Pro-Castro Group From New York Awards “Nelson Mandela Prize” to Convicted Cuban Spies 1

Sandra Levinson, Executive Director of the Center for Cuban Studies

Sandra Levinson, Executive Director of the Center for Cuban Studies

By Chris Simmons

Philadelphia’s Geller Foundation granted its newly established Nelson Mandela prize to the Cuban Five – the former leaders of Cuba’s failed Wasp spy network.

In reality, the Geller Foundation is actually led by members of the New York City entity – the Center for Cuban Studies. Sandra Levinson, the Center’s Executive Director, presented the prize to released spies Rene and Fernando Gonzalez and the relatives of the still-incarcerated members of the Cuban Five. The ceremony was held last week at the headquarters of the Cuban Institute of Friendship With The Peoples (ICAP).

Former Directorate of Intelligence Officer Juan Reyes Alonso said ICAP is not a DI entity per se, but that it is overwhelmingly influenced by the intelligence service. Reyes Alonso claimed ICAP is penetrated by a small cadre of bona fide DI officers who are aided by a large staff of agents (i.e., collaborators). As a result, roughly 90% of ICAP is thought to be DI-affiliated. Similarly, the New York Times has reported on ICAP’s intelligence ties as far back as 1983.

As background, the 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 15 participants, to include intelligence officers Alfredo García Almeida and Ramón Sánchez-Parodi Montoto.

Two years earlier, columnist Jack Anderson had identified Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN) “diplomat” Julian Enrique Torres Rizo as the chief of Havana’s US-based intelligence operations. The Center for Cuban Studies allowed Torres Rizo, a senior America Department (DA) officer, to have an office in its facility.

The America Department was the name used by the intelligence wing of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party from 1974 to the late 1980s or early 1990s. The DA was heavily involved in supporting revolutionaries and terrorists, but has since become more focused on political intelligence operations. This service is now called the America Area of the International Department of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC/ID/AA).

US Sent Latin Youth Undercover in Anti-Cuba Ploy Reply

In this July 9, 2014, photo, Fernando Murillo, a founder of the human rights group Fundacion Operacion Gaya Internacional, talks with The Associated Press in San Jose, Costa Rica. Murillo had been contracted by Creative Associates to turn Cuba’s politically apathetic young people into "change agents." Six days after Cuban police arrested American contractor Alan Gross, the U.S. government agency that had paid for his trip signed up Murillo for another secret U.S. mission to the island. When he first arrived in Cuba, however, Murillo advocated a seemingly non-political agenda, which included collaborating with Cuban organizations on youth volunteerism and the cultivation of coconut paper, bananas and Cuba’s national flower, the mariposa blanca. Esteban Felix / AP Photo

In this July 9, 2014, photo, Fernando Murillo, a founder of the human rights group Fundacion Operacion Gaya Internacional, talks with The Associated Press in San Jose, Costa Rica. Murillo had been contracted by Creative Associates to turn Cuba’s politically apathetic young people into “change agents.” Six days after Cuban police arrested American contractor Alan Gross, the U.S. government agency that had paid for his trip signed up Murillo for another secret U.S. mission to the island. When he first arrived in Cuba, however, Murillo advocated a seemingly non-political agenda, which included collaborating with Cuban organizations on youth volunteerism and the cultivation of coconut paper, bananas and Cuba’s national flower, the mariposa blanca. Esteban Felix / AP Photo

By Desmond Butler, Jack Gillum, Alberto Arce, and Andrea Rodriquez (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — An Obama administration program secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using the cover of health and civic programs to provoke political change, a clandestine operation that put those foreigners in danger even after a U.S. contractor was hauled away to a Cuban jail.

Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion. The travelers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and traveled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.

In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memos called “the perfect excuse” for the program’s political goals — a gambit that could undermine America’s efforts to improve health globally.

But their efforts were fraught with incompetence and risk, an Associated Press investigation found: Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travelers. The young workers nearly blew their mission to “identify potential social-change actors.” One said he got a paltry, 30-minute seminar on how to evade Cuban intelligence, and there appeared to be no safety net for the inexperienced workers if they were caught.

“Although there is never total certainty, trust that the authorities will not try to harm you physically, only frighten you,” read a memo obtained by the AP. “Remember that the Cuban government prefers to avoid negative media reports abroad, so a beaten foreigner is not convenient for them.”

In all, nearly a dozen Latin Americans served in the program in Cuba, for pay as low as $5.41 an hour.

The AP found USAID and its contractor, Creative Associates International, continued the program even as U.S. officials privately told their government contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology.

“We value your safety,” one senior USAID official said in an email. “The guidance applies to ALL travelers to the island, not just American citizens,” another official said.

The revelations of the USAID program come as the White House faces questions about the once-secret “Cuban Twitter” project, known as ZunZuneo. That program, launched by USAID in 2009 and uncovered by the AP in April, established a primitive social media network under the noses of Cuban officials. USAID’s inspector general is investigating that program, which ended in September, 2012.

Officials said USAID launched “discreet” programs like ZunZuneo to increase the flow of information in a country that heavily restricts it. But the AP’s earlier investigation found ZunZuneo was political in nature and drew in subscribers unaware that the service was paid for by the U.S. government.

“USAID and the Obama administration are committed to supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future,” the agency said in response to written questions from the AP. “USAID works with independent youth groups in Cuba on community service projects, public health, the arts and other opportunities to engage publicly, consistent with democracy programs worldwide.”

In a statement late Sunday, USAID said the HIV workshop had a dual purpose: It “enabled support for Cuban civil society while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desire Cubans expressed for information and training about HIV prevention.”

Creative Associates declined to comment, referring questions to USAID.

In response to the AP’s report, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said USAID’s programs were important for human rights in Cuba. “We must continue to pressure the Castro regime and support the Cuban people, who are oppressed on a daily basis,” said Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban native and vocal supporter of pro-democracy programs there.

Both ZunZuneo and the travelers program were part of a larger, multimillion-dollar effort by USAID to effect change in politically volatile countries, government data show. But the programs reviewed by the AP didn’t appear to achieve their goals and operated under an agency known more for its international-aid work than stealthy operations. The CIA recently pledged to stop using vaccine programs to gather intelligence, such as one in Pakistan that targeted Osama bin Laden.

Read more here: Undercover Youth

 

The Latell Report – More About Cuban Spy Ana Montes 9

Ana Belen Montes

Ana Belen Montes

By Brian Latell, Cuba Transition Project

For sixteen years Ana Belen Montes spied for Cuba from increasingly responsible positions at the Defense Intelligence Agency. If Havana has ever run a higher level or more valuable agent inside the American defense establishment that has never been revealed.

When she was arrested in late September 2001, Montes was about the equivalent in rank to a colonel. She had access to sensitive compartmented intelligence. Strangely, for one so openly enamored of Fidel Castro, her superiors considered her one of the best Cuba analysts anywhere in government.

Despite the importance of her case, some of the most tantalizing questions about her spying have never been publicly answered. Could the calamity of her treason have been avoided? What was learned about Cuban intelligence tradecraft? How was she discovered? And, of enduring concern, did she work with other American spies thus far undetected or not prosecuted?

Thanks to researcher Jeffrey Richelson and the National Security Archive new light has finally been shed on the Montes case. Because of their efforts, a 180 page study completed by the Department of Defense Inspector General in 2005 has recently been declassified. It is heavily redacted; many pages–including the CIA’s extensive comments—blacked out. Yet, a quantity of surprising new details are now on the public record.

Montes’s decision to spy for Cuba was “coolly deliberate.” Enticed by a Cuban access agent in Washington, they traveled together to New York in December 1984. Montes met with intelligence officers posted under cover at the Cuban mission to the United Nations.

She “unhesitatingly agreed” to work with them and to travel to Cuba clandestinely as soon as possible. The following March she went there via Spain and Czechoslovakia. The Pentagon report does not state the obvious: while there she must have received specialized training in intelligence tradecraft.

Then, with Cuban encouragement, she applied for a job at DIA. A standard background investigation was conducted, but we now know that serious concerns about her suitability were raised. Without elaboration, the Pentagon report indicates that they included “falsification of her Master of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins (University) and her trustworthiness.” DIA did not require applicants to submit to a pre-employment polygraph exam. So, a trained Cuban espionage agent with a problematic past was cleared and hired. She began work in September 1985.

After her arrest Montes insisted that she did not work for Cuba, but with Cuban officials she enormously respected. They felt “mutual respect and understanding;” they “were comrades in the struggle.” She believed that the Castro government “does not hurt people” and that she had the “moral right” to provide information to Cuba.

Her handlers apparently were skilled in manipulating and controlling her. She said they were “thoughtful, sensitive to her needs, very good to me.” They went to “special lengths to assure her they had complete confidence in her.” They allowed her a long, loose leash, easier because they were not paying for her extraordinary services.

Initially in New York, and later at her request in the Washington area, she met with her handlers as often as once every two or three weeks, usually on weekends. Everything about her second covert trip to Cuba is redacted in the Pentagon report. Perhaps it was for training in polygraph countermeasures, because, according to the report, she later “encounters and beats the polygraph.”

In 1991 Montes underwent a seemingly routine security reinvestigation. She was asked about foreign travel, and lied. Questioned about inaccuracies in her original application for employment, she confessed that she had misrepresented an incident in her past. Feigning innocence, Montes claimed that she “did not understand the seriousness of being truthful and honest at the time.”

Her questionable case was then reviewed at a higher level. The adjudicator reported that “while Montes seemed to have a tendency ‘to twist the truth’ to her own needs and her honesty was still a cause of concern, adverse security action was unlikely.” Again, she had slipped through. Her high level clearances were recertified.

Brazenly, she submitted a freedom of information request for her own government records. She must have been concerned that something adverse had been discovered. Investigative material was released, going back to her previous employment at the Department of Justice. She gave the surprised Cubans copies of the released documents.

None of this seems to have contributed to her eventual unmasking. But how was she discovered? Surprisingly revealing information seeps through the Pentagon’s report. “We got lucky,” a counterintelligence official observed. An entirely blacked-out section entitled “Serendipity” suggests the same.

By April 1998 a coordinated search for a Cuban spy was underway, according to the report. At first it was thought most likely the quarry was a CIA employee. But soon investigators were following a crucial clue: the unknown spy had apparently traveled to the Guantanamo naval base.

The breakthrough had seemingly come earlier, however. According to the Pentagon report, Montes was informed shortly after her arrest that investigators “had information from a senior official in the Cuban intelligence service concerning a Cuban penetration agent that implicated Montes.” It seems that this information propelled the investigation that resulted in Montes’s arrest and incarceration.

Did she work with other American spies? The report is ambiguous; it states that after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 pressure rose to arrest Montes. The FBI preferred to wait, however, in order “to monitor Montes’s activities with the prospect that she may have eventually led the FBI to others in the Cuban spy network.”

Was this judgment the result of careless drafting and editing? Or did government censors let a critical bit of information slip through? If there was evidence of a larger Cuban spy apparatus operating at that time it may be a long time before more is known.

It is clear now, however, that Montes’s apprehension was not just the result of excellent intelligence work. American prosecutors were lucky. She told investigators after her arrest that a week earlier she had learned that she was under surveillance. She could have decided then to flee to Cuba, but said delphically that “she couldn’t give up on the people (she) was helping.” She is serving a 25 year prison sentence.

Cuba-Russia Propaganda Returns to Cold War Roots 2

Cuban agent José Manuel Collera

Cuban agent José Manuel Collera

By Chris Simmons

Last week, the blog “Cuba Inside the World” posted a feature titled “Ex CIA double agent to RT: US AID is a front for U.S. intelligence.”  However, upon reading the story, one learns that the “ex CIA agent” is none other than admitted Cuban state security agent, José Manuel Collera. So, what we actually have is a Cuban spy making false accusations against the US and using Moscow’s propagandists to spread the story. How very ……unimaginative.

It reminds me of a Cold War joke a good friend once told me.  It goes something like this:

A race was scheduled in Moscow between a U.S.-built Ford and a Russian-built Lada. Predictably, the Ford won. The next day, “Pravda” – the official newspaper of the (then) Soviet Communist Party – proudly reported that the Lada came in second place and the Ford finished next-to-last.

 

 

Dutch Release Former Venezuelan Spy Chief Arrested For Drug Trafficking Reply

Hugo Carvajal

Hugo Carvajal

Aruba Says Venezuela Raised Military Pressure on It

By Kejal Vyas and José de Córdoba  July 28, 2014   WALL STREET JOURNAL

CARACAS—The Netherlands’ release of a former top Venezuelan official wanted by the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking came after Venezuela raised economic and military pressure on two Dutch islands in the Caribbean, a top Aruban official said Monday.

Aruba’s chief prosecutor Peter Blanken said that Venezuelan navy ships neared Aruba and Curaçao over the weekend as Dutch officials were debating what to do with Hugo Carvajal —Venezuela’s former chief of military intelligence who was jailed in Aruba last week on a U.S. warrant.

“The threat was there,” Mr. Blanken said. “We don’t know what their intentions were, but I think a lot of people in Aruba were scared that something would happen.”

Mr. Blanken said Venezuela’s government also had threatened to sever Venezuela’s vital commercial air links to Aruba and Curaçao. Venezuela’s state oil company also threatened to withdraw from a contract to manage Curaçao’s refinery, Mr. Blanken said, which would have put at risk some 8,000 jobs.

Aruban officials on Wednesday detained Mr. Carvajal, known as “el Pollo,” or “the Chicken,” but then released him on Sunday night after the Dutch government ruled that he was protected by diplomatic immunity. The decision overruled Aruban officials who had decided that the Venezuelan had no immunity because he hadn’t been confirmed as consul by the Dutch government.

Much to the dismay of U.S. officials, Mr. Carvajal flew to Caracas on Sunday night to a hero’s welcome from President Nicolás Maduro.

Annemijn van den Broek, a spokeswoman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry, said the decision to release Mr. Carvajal was made solely on legal grounds. She confirmed Venezuelan ships had come close to the islands, but said the Dutch Ministry of Defense had been told by the Venezuelans that the ships were returning from a naval exercise.

“I understand that the people on the island had a sense of urgency, but we have confirmation that this had nothing to do with the case,” she said.

Ms. Van den Broek declined to comment on any threats of economic sanctions by Venezuela, but said the Venezuelan government made it clear they “were not amused by the situation.”

A Venezuelan Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment. Mr. Maduro on Sunday night said that his government was “ready to do whatever it took” to get Mr. Carvajal freed.

Feature continues here:  Dutch Release VE Spy Chief   

Everything We Know About The Huge Spy Base In Cuba That Russia Is Reopening 4

New LourdesBy Corey Adwar & Michael B. Kelley, Business Insider

Moscow and Havana have agreed to reopen a Cold War-era signals intelligence (SIGINT) base in Lourdes, Cuba.

An agreement was reached during Putin’s visit to Cuba last week to reopen the base, Russia business daily Kommersant reported last week. That was confirmed by a Russian security source who told Reuters: ”A framework agreement has been agreed.”

The base was set up in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis had brought the U.S. and Soviet Union close to confrontation over Moscow’s proposal to place nuclear weapons on Cuban soil.

Havana shut it down in 2001 because of financial issues and American pressure. (Editor’s Note: This statement is incorrect. Russia’s shut down of Lourdes infuriated Fidel Castro).

Located south of Cuba’s capital Havana and just 150 miles from the U.S. coast, the base left many parts of the U.S. vulnerable to Soviet communication intercepts, including exchanges between Florida space centers and U.S. spacecraft. (Editor’s Note: The first statement is partially incorrect — Lourdes is roughly 100 miles from the U.S. coast).

Here’s what a Congressional report from 2000 said about the facility:

• The Secretary of Defense formally expressed concerns to Congress regarding the espionage complex at Lourdes, Cuba, and its use as a base for intelligence directed against the United States.

• The Secretary of Defense, referring to a 1998 Defense Intelligence Agency assessment, reported that the Russian Federation leased the Lourdes facility for an estimated $100 million to $300 million a year.

• It has been reported that the Lourdes facility was the largest such complex operated by the Russian Federation and its intelligence service outside the region of the former Soviet Union.

• The Lourdes facility was reported to cover a 28 square-mile area with over 1,500 Russian engineers, technicians, and military personnel working at the base.

• Experts familiar with the Lourdes facility have reportedly confirmed that the base had multiple groups of tracking dishes and its own satellite system, with some groups used to intercept telephone calls, faxes, and computer communications, in general, and with other groups used to cover targeted telephones and devices.

• News sources have reported that the Lourdes facility obtained sensitive information about United States military operations during Operation Desert Storm.

• Academic studies cite official U.S. sources affirming that the Lourdes facility was used to collect personal information about United States citizens in the private and government sectors, and offered the means to engage in cyberwarfare against the U.S.

• The operational significance of the Lourdes facility reportedly grew dramatically after Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued a 1996 order demanding the Russian intelligence community increase its gathering of U.S. and other Western economic and trade secrets.

Read more here:  The Lourdes SIGINT Base  

Editor’s Note:  The caption under the lead photo in the Business Insider posting of this article is highly misleading. During the Cold War, Moscow provided Havana with subsidies exceeding three billion dollars annually. Given this massive foreign aid influx, it is grossly disingenuous to claim that Cuba allowed the Russians to stay there “rent-free” through 1992.