Austrian actress Lotte Lenya, playing Soviet Colonel Rosa Klebb in the film “From Russia with Love” (1963), one of the most remembered villains of the Bond saga. (Screen capture
14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 15 January 2023 –The spy is defined by an ability to keep a secret. The secret configures everything else — temperament, friendships, love, fear, sex and loyalty. The accumulation of confidential information makes the spy a danger to both sides. The expiration date depends on how quickly the secret changes hands. The vertigo of such a life has to be addictive.
For several weeks I was obsessed with the way in which the spy Ana Belén Montes had been shaped by the secret. It was, above all, a communication problem. Montes started from resentment against her country and a bulletproof loyalty for Castro. We know that she had been transmitting data to Havana since the eighties and that she met every day with her contact, like a disciplined reporting machine.
Her appearance couldn’t be more mediocre: short hair, office worker’s dark circles and cheap suits. It’s revealing that Havana has celebrated her release with such reluctance after twenty years in prison. Only the back benches of the regime showed some enthusiasm in their propaganda.
The release of Ana Belén Montes reminds the world of things that Havana would prefer not to reveal. For example, the fact that Cuba’s espionage network is still in action, although its scope is modest and its methods are outdated. One sees Montes and knows that at the end of the line Castro is waiting, in suspense, holding the phone. Both figures — Mata Hari and the Kaiser — are dinosaurs, parodies, relics of the Cold War.
If Montes were a villain in a James Bond movie, she would not be the blonde Tatiana Romanova but the repulsive Rosa Klebb. Unappetizing, Sean Connery would have avoided seducing her. I find it easier to see her behind an old Macintosh, downloading the Pentagon files on a floppy disk, while nervously drinking coffee.
Ana Belén Montes, presa en Estados Unidos por espiar para el régimen cubano.
Durante casi una década, Ana Belén Montes, analista de la Agencia de Inteligencia de Defensa de Estados Unidos (DIA) y reclutada en 1984 por los servicios cubanos de espionaje, suministró a La Habana información clave sobre un intercambio de larga data entre la DIA y su par española, entonces conocida como el Centro Superior de Información de la Defensa (CESID).
Es solo una de las revelaciones que contiene el libro, “Castro’s Nemesis: True Stories of a Master Spy-Catcher,” de Chris Simmons, el interrogador principal de Montes, quien se refiere al particular en un comunicado de prensa.
Recuerda el oficial del Ejército jubilado haber propuesto a la contrainteligencia española la oportunidad sin precedentes de interrogar a Montes sobre el tema, pero los europeos la rechazaron después de que Simmons sugirió que el intercambio sería una pérdida total.
“Prácticamente toda la información que Madrid compartió con Estados Unidos respecto a Cuba llegó a La Habana”, escribió Simmons, un experto en espiar a espías que inició su carrera militar como paracaidista.
Montes, arrestada en 2001 y condenada a 25 años de privación de libertad en 2002, podría atribuir a su excepcional memoria haber destruido la relación entre la CESID y la DIA.
“Al verse a sí misma como una heroína de la Revolución Cubana, dedicaba una o dos horas diarias a confeccionar un resumen de los secretos más importantes de las entonces 16 agencias de espionaje de Estados Unidos. Como verdadera creyente, Montes repitió esta práctica todos los días a lo largo de dieciséis años de trabajo como espía”, escribió Simmons.
Dada “su arrogancia” y “el desdén” de Cuba hacia los servicios de inteligencia de EEUU, Simmons no descarta que Montes probablemente se reuniera con los oficiales de la inteligencia cubana que la atendían en Madrid mientras asistía a estos intercambios.
Al repasar la historia del exilio cubano, Simmons destaca el hecho de que tras la llegada al poder de Fidel Castro en 1959, más de 120.000 cubanos huyeron a España, lo que ubica a ese país como el segundo después de Estados Unidos con el mayor número de exiliados de la isla.
“La presencia de esta importante comunidad de exiliados, junto con los estrechos lazos económicos, políticos y culturales que unen a las dos naciones, llevó a España a convertirse en sede de uno de los tres centros de operaciones más grandes e importantes de la inteligencia cubana en el mundo, junto a con EEUU y México”, escribió
Simmons es de la opinión de que la Dirección de Inteligencia de Cuba está entre las diez mejores del mundo y sus bases de operaciones conocidas como “Centros” generalmente se ocultan en las sedes diplomáticas.
Desde 1959, argumenta Simmons, los servicios de inteligencia de Cuba se han centrado en dos objetivos. El pueblo cubano, a nivel nacional y extraterritorial, sigue siendo su principal diana ya que La Habana ve a su población como la mayor amenaza para la supervivencia del régimen.
“El otro gran objetivo sigue siendo Estados Unidos. Sin embargo, su enfoque es puramente económico, ya que ahora se cree que la venta o el trueque de secretos estadounidenses constituye una de las mayores fuentes de ingresos que sustentan al gobierno cubano,” dijo.
En cuanto a Montes, recuerda el exmilitar que saldrá en libertad próximo 8 de enero.
A demonstrator at FIU denouncing the upcoming release of Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes. LUISA YANEZ
Cuba’s top spy in the United States will be freed from prison on Jan. 8 after serving just 20 years in a federal prison in Texas. She is said to be coming to Miami, briefly. If she comes, she should keep on moving for the repressive regime for which she betrayed us. She rightly will be persona non grata.
Ana Belen Montes, now 65, was required to serve most of the 25 years to which a Washington judge sentenced her for passing U.S. government secrets to Cuba.
Throughout the 1990s, Montes was a top intelligence analyst and Cuba expert for the Defense Intelligence Agency and then the State Department. At the same time, she spied for the Cuban government, passing secrets to them, which she memorized during the day in her cubicle and transcribed at home at night for her Cuban handlers, with whom she communicated through coded messages over shortwave radio.
Finally, double-crossed by another captured Cuban spy after 17 years of betraying her government, Montes was arrested and charged with espionage. She agreed to collaborate with the U.S. government to avoid treason charges and a possible death penalty. It’s unclear if she ever turned on her Cuban handlers.
It was a relatively lenient sentence for this Mata Hari, whose family had roots in Puerto Rico. Other traitors like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen are serving life sentences and may never be released. In 1953, in one of America’s most famous spy cases, the Rosenbergs, Julius and Ethel, were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage.
Even on the eve of her release, the Miami Herald on Thursday revealed new allegations about Montes’ spycraft, which had not been released until now. It turns out, she was willing to divulge U.S. war plans in Afghanistan. Some believe that innocents lost their lives because of Montes’ deceit. Prosecutors at her trial said she passed on the names of four Cuban spies; she also played a role in the deaths of four Brothers to the Rescue fliers in the 1996 shootdown of two Cessna aircraft by Cuban MiGs. The fliers from Miami allegedly crossed into Cuban airspace.
Editor’s note: This OPED is filled with typos and factual errors, such as:
“…Montes’ (sic) was the State Department’s point person in determining the U.S. response to the fliers’ deaths.” FALSE – Montes was employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency, not the State Department.
“Finally, double-crossed by another captured Cuban spy…”
“It’s unclear if she ever turned on her Cuban handlers.” FALSE – My book, CASTRO’S NEMESIS notes “She “outed” her handlers…” (p. 258). Furthermore, a recent Miami Herald article on retired FBI Agent Pete Lapp’s forthcoming book also reported she had identified her handlers.
“…the Miami Herald on Thursday revealed new allegations about Montes’ spycraft, which had not been released until now. It turns out, she was willing to divulge U.S. war plans in Afghanistan.” FALSE – This news was widely reported 20 years ago immediately following her arrest.
Nonetheless, we appreciate the paper’s suggestion she should go to Cuba, but I suspect they wouldn’t even want her. For if history has taught us anything, it is that heroes of the Cuban Revolution are quite disposable.
MIAMI – After 20 years, Cuba’s top spy will walk out of a Texas federal lockup.
Author and former spy catcher for the Defense Intelligence Agency Chris Simmons does not mince words, “I wish we could have kept her in there longer.”
In the 1990s Ana Belen Montes was the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top Cuban analyst.
At the same time, she was undermining U.S. Operations in Central America, distorting the U.S. Government’s views on Cuba, burning about 450 U.S. operatives, and leaking U.S. military information, which accusers say led to the death in El Salvador of Green Beret Sergeant Gregory A. Fronius.
On February 24, 1996, over the straits of Florida in international air space, Cuba shot down two U.S. registered humanitarian aircraft operated by Cuban exile organization Brothers to the Rescue.
Four pilots and volunteers died.
Eventually, in 1998, the FBI rolls up and the feds try members of a huge Cuba spy ring based in South Florida.
Members of the group were accused of aiding Cuba in the shootdown.
According to Simmons, “The Wasp Network was the largest foreign spy network to operate in the United States and Montes was one of Havana’s top ten assets.”
In his book, “Castro’s Nemesis,” Chris Simmons knits together the Ana Belen Montes story with the Cuban Wasp Spy network.
Simmons was on the team that rooted out Montes and is quick to say, “I have never seen someone so heartless in all my life.”
In the aftermath of the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown, Montes was on the team that was evaluating a U.S. response and at the same time was reporting that information to her Cuban handlers.
The Cubans knew every move the U.S. was contemplating.
“Just the idea she was leaving the Pentagon and immediately going to a surveillance detection route and meeting with her handlers and presenting what at the time was the Pentagon’s preferred response was a cruise missile attack on Cuba,” Simmons told CBS4 News.
Montes was arrested and escorted out of DIA headquarters just ahead of the Iraq War because she was involved with Cuba’s stealing of American Secrets and selling them to unfriendly foreign actors.
In the process of the Montes’ investigation, Simmons says the team realized there was a second spy operating within the agency.
A screenshot of the dark web page for the Cuba Ransomware group, which is [allegedly] not known to be affiliated with the country or government of Cuba. (Image source: Cuba Ransomware site accessed through Tor browser) [Editor’s addition]
The Cuba ransomware group has doubled its number of American victims over the past year, infecting at least 65 U.S. entities across a broad range of critical infrastructure sectors and stealing more than $60 million in ransom payment through August 2022, according to a new joint advisory by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
That’s an increase from the 49 U.S. victims and $43 million in ransom payments detailed in a December 2021 FBI flash alert. Many of the organizations targeted by the group are designated as critical infrastructure, with the agencies flagging the financial services, government, healthcare, manufacturing and information technology sectors as top targets.
Cuba ransomware has also compromised at least an additional 36 entities outside of the U.S. over that same period.
Ransomware group using new TTPs to deploy malware
To do this, the group has mostly been “living off the land” to carry out attacks, relying on a mix of known vulnerabilities, phishing campaigns, commercial remote desktop tools and stolen credentials to gain access to victim systems and deploy malware.
However, citing research from Palo Alto Networks, the agencies said that since May 2022, the group has been observed deploying a number of new tactics, techniques and procedures. According to Palo Alto Networks’ Unit 42 security research team, those changes include the use of the ROMCOM RAT malware family, the ZeroLogon vulnerability, local privilege escalation exploits and a kernel driver that specifically targets security products.
“This year, Cuba ransomware actors have added to their TTPs, and third-party and open-source reports have identified a possible link between Cuba ransomware actors, RomCom Remote Access Trojan actors, and Industrial Spy ransomware actors,” the advisory reads.
Despite the name, there is no evidence linking the Cuba ransomware group to the country of Cuba or the Cuban government. The document includes fresh indicators of compromise gleaned from FBI threat response engagements related to the group through August, as well as a sample ransom note sent to victims in broken English.
“Greetings! Unfortunately we have to report that your company were compromised. All your files were encrypted and you can’t restore them without our private key,” one sample note reads. “Trying to restore it without our help may cause complete loss of your data. Also we researched whole your corporate network and downloaded all your sensitive data to our servers. If we will not get any contact from you in the next 3 days we will public it in our news site.”
Editor’s Note: I respectfully disagree with the claim there is “no evidence linking the Cuba ransomware to the country of Cuba or the Cuban government.” The Havana regime has a sixty-year history of involvement in a wide range of criminal operations against the United States, to include terrorism, economic espionage, intelligence trafficking, drug trafficking, Medicare fraud, etc. In a surveillance state like Cuba, a ransomware group cannot operate without government complicity. I encourage Mr. Johnson and other journalists to dig deeper – you will find the proof you seek.
DIA analyst Ana Belen Montes, 44, was arrested on Sept. 21, 2001 and charged with conspiracy to deliver U.S. national defense information to Cuba. (Courtesy FBI)
In late 2000, the FBI was closing in on a suspected spy for Cuba working inside the Defense Intelligence Agency. Undercover operatives would soon begin trailing Ana Montes, the agency’s top military and political analyst on Cuba, by car and on foot. They filmed her making calls on pay phones, even though she carried a cellphone in her purse. They intercepted Montes’s mail and inspected the trash outside her apartment in Washington.
Montes had been spying nearly 17 years for Cuba, passing along so much classified information about DIA personnel, as well as on eavesdropping technology covertly installed on the island, that she essentially compromised every method the United States used to surveil the Castro regime, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials. That makes Montes one of the most damaging spies of her time, they said.
Opening an investigation against a decorated intelligence officer, who colleagues heralded as the “Queen of Cuba,” was painstaking and high-stakes. And almost as soon it began, the FBI nearly shot itself in the foot.
The slip-up was inadvertent. Whenever the bureau began an intelligence investigation that might ruffle feathers in a foreign government or upset U.S. foreign policy, officials typically informed the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions (OFM). It was a sleepy outfit, responsible for keeping tabs on travel by foreign diplomats and overseeing such things as plans to build new embassies or consulates in the United States. Hardly the setting for an espionage thriller.
So Terry Holstad, then the chief of the Cuba unit at FBI headquarters, never thought twice when he described the secretive Montes investigation to the bureau’s liaison to the OFM, a veteran agent and longtime colleague named Robert Hanssen.
Unbeknown to Holstad and the rest of the FBI, Hanssen had started spying for Russia more than 20 years earlier. He gave thousands of pages of classified documents to the KGB, divulging secrets about U.S. nuclear war planning and weapons technology. He compromised the identities of dozens of human sources, at least three of whom were executed, according to a review by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which called Hanssen “the most damaging spy in FBI history.”
In the course of the investigation that led to the shocking 2001 arrest of Ana Belén Montes, the Pentagon’s top Cuban military analyst who was caught spying for Havana, the Defense Intelligence Agency opened a second inquiry on the suspicion that another Cuban mole was embedded in the U.S. intelligence community.
More than 20 years later, the previously unknown investigation, code-named Wrong Spirit, is revealed in a new book written by Chris Simmons, a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army and former career counterintelligence officer. Simmons was a central figure in identifying Montes as the Havana spy that the FBI had been trying to find for three years.
According to Simmons’ book, “Castro’s Nemesis: True Stories of a Master Spy-Catcher,” the second suspected spy was another senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA. Charges were never brought against the man, who was allowed to retire. The book, published this week, does not name the official, whose identity remains classified.
While Montes and the alleged mole worked together at times, he “had a more rounded career because [Montes] was doing analysis the whole time, whereas he was doing human intelligence operations, and then he switched over to another field,” Simmons told the Miami Herald.
The search for the second mole started as a theory: if Havana thought the DIA was an agency worth penetrating, that “demanded the redundancy of several agents,” Simmons discussed with his counterintelligence colleagues at the time, according to the book.
While trying to pin Montes as the possible spy working for Cuba, other names caught Simmons’ team’s attention.
“Anytime you’re doing an investigation, you always do what we call a link analysis, connecting them with all their associates, friends, family, looking for a pattern,” Simmons said. “Who else could know, who might be aware of certain things? And in her case, a couple of names did come up a lot.”
One former official was cleared of any wrongdoing, Simmons said, but “the other gentleman, he fit the pattern, and there was a lot of circumstantial evidence.”
Like Montes, who was hired in 1985, Simmons said the official under investigation had a similarly long career at the agency and was active in the mid-1980s. “The WRONG SPIRIT agent, who had a large regional portfolio, was likely able to provide Cuba with transnational information of interest to numerous U.S. adversaries,” Simmons said in a press release promoting the book.
While it was previously reported that Montes passed the identities of four U.S. undercover intelligence agents and details of U.S. military exercises and plans to Cuba, she also probably caused extensive damage to U.S. efforts to gather intelligence on the Cuban government.
It is believed she compromised the CIA’s entire human intelligence collection program in Cuba because she participated in a three-day conference attended by most Cuba case officers, according to a conversation reproduced in the book between Simmons and a CIA official on a team targeting Cuban intelligence.
“She probably learned what sites they operated out of, got good descriptions of them, phone numbers and great insights into who, what, and where we’re running or targeting assets,” the official told Simmons, according to the book.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE SUSPECTED SPY
While “Castro’s Nemesis” is short on details of the danger posed by the possible second mole, it suggests he might have leaked to his spymasters in Havana the names of Cuban officials included in a secret DIA assessment of Cuba’s involvement in narcotrafficking in the late 1980s. That, in turn, the book speculates, might have led to high-profile arrests on the island and trials that ended with the execution of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, Col. Antonio de la Guardia and another two military officials, and the imprisonment of several others under Fidel Castro’s order in 1989.
Not much else is known about the Wrong Spirit suspect, who was never arrested. The mysterious case appears to be mentioned only twice in the book. At least one sentence with information about the case appears redacted because the U.S. government would not allow Simmons to print it. The book manuscript was cleared for publication by the Pentagon after an 18-month review.
“Although a massive investigative file of circumstantial evidence was assembled against Wrong Spirit, the case never went to trial,” Simmons wrote in the book. “Instead, the senior DIA official — himself a former case officer — was allowed to quietly retire.”
Montes, on the contrary, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and is set to be released next January.
If Wrong Spirit was such a damaging spy, as Simmons suspected, why would the agency let him off the hook?
The counterintelligence expert provided several explanations for what essentially was the same issue: lack of resources.
“The problem at the time was that we wrapped up Montes [investigation], her debriefing was going on, so my team is closely tied up doing the debriefing, and I had to provide people to the damage-assessment team, so we had essentially no one left to support the Wrong Spirit investigation,” he said.
The agency also shifted its focus to counterterrorism after the 9/11 attacks, he added, “to the extent that it really, in my opinion, jeopardized our national security by leaving the back door open to our enemies.”
But if Wrong Spirit was indeed a Cuban asset and was at some point aware that he was under an espionage investigation, Simmons believes that that would have put an end to his activities, and Cuban intelligence would have dropped him, meaning that there was little chance he continued spying even if he remained free.
“Even though I gotta choose my words carefully because the Pentagon so far is okay with this, I’m confident that the case was spot on,” Simmons said. “But unfortunately, a lot of cases don’t go to trial, they just end their careers, and they quietly go away, and he falls into the latter category.
“The reality is that spy-catching is all about limited resources,” he said.
Reports of Cuban regime funding of tech companies that serviced America’s elections may indicate that foreign intelligence services have manipulated our presidential vote. A possible Chinese connection makes things even worse.
The technologies were created to “manipulate” votes favorable to socialists, according to Sidney Powell, a prominent Washington attorney and member of President Trump’s legal team who has been investigating the problem.
Reports include insider accounts, affidavits, a user manual, news reports, and other information unearthed in a legal investigation into the origin and function of voting technologies by Dominion and Smartmatic in Georgia and other states.
Voting systems used to keep Cuban-backed regime in power
The technologies are of foreign origin, used under Cuban direction in Venezuela as early as 2004. They were “created to produce altered voting results in Venezuela for Hugo Chavez and then shipped internationally to manipulate votes for purchase in other countries, including this one,” Powell told Fox Business News on Friday.
Those systems were used in the entire state of Georgia and across the United States this year.
“It was funded by money from Venezuela and Cuba, and China has a role in it also,” Powell said. “So if you want to talk about foreign election interference, we certainly have it now.”
The former chairwoman of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, Ana Mercedes Diaz, exposed these operations back in 2013 and produced a copy of Smartmatic’s 2004 contract with the Cuban-backed regime
Scrappy Cuba hits way above its weight
In the world of political warfare and covert operations, Cuba’s Communist regime punches way above its weight. Its survival depends on it. Built as a surrogate for the Soviet KGB, Cuba’s DGI intelligence service was more effective than its creator in doubling our own agents against us, matched only by the exceptionally capable Stasi of East Germany.
But the Stasi is structurally gone and the KGB has been reorganized with its components re-named, while the DGI remains the nervous system, eyes, ears, and hands of the Cuban regime, at home and abroad. And US counterintelligence capabilities and resources range from inadequate and obsolete to disastrous.
Intelligence and subversion are Cuba’s only significant manufactured exports. Regimes like China, Russia, and Venezuela pay Cuba for the services.
Yesterday’s feature by Amy Sherman in the Tampa Bay Times contained the following major lie: “There have been allegations that Cuban Intelligence was connected to the [Venceremos] Brigade and that the Cuban military gave weapons training to the group.” [emphasis added].
Let us quickly examine several key facts Ms. Sherman overlooked due to sloppy and irresponsible research, simple political bias or a lack of ethics.
The main goal of Cuban Intelligence in supporting the Venceremos Brigade (VB) is to find politically motivated individuals who might someday work for the U.S. government. Such employment provides Havana with access to much-needed classified information. Americans with political contacts or relatives in the U.S. government are prized by Cuba’s primary spy service, known as the DGI (Horrock, p. 1).
The VB was created in 1969. The DGI quickly began tasking VB members to collect publicly available information. This was done to conserve Cuban resources, maximize Havana’s collection of open-source material and to test a VB member’s degree of support. The DGI found telephone books to be an especially useful item, as the books could identify and verify the identity of high-interest personnel. VB members also provided considerable details on U.S. Congressional members, staff and their relatives (US Senate, 26 Feb 82).
Militant members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) split off to form the Weather Underground [terrorist group] in 1969. It was the mission of spy-diplomats at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN) to cultivate this revolutionary fervor and carefully screen those selected for weapons training under the guise of VB service. According to the FBI, “A very limited number of VB members have been trained in guerrilla warfare techniques, including the use of arms and explosives” (Horrock, p. 1). Additional corroboration was provided by Julie Nichamin, a principal organizer for Americans headed to Cuba for VB service. She helped identify CMUN Counselor Jesus Jimenez Escobar’s role in targeting U.S. interests using VB members (US Senate, 30 Jul 75; Castro Hidalgo, p. 109).
Horrock, Nicholas M. “F.B.I. Asserts Cuba Aided Weathermen,” New York Times, 9 October 1977, p. 1.
United States Senate – Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee of the Judiciary. “Terroristic Activity: The Cuban Connection and Puerto Rico,” 30 July 1975.
_________. Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism — Committee on the Judiciary, “The Role of Cuba in International Terrorism and Subversion: Intelligence Activities of the DGI,” 26 February 1982.
The failed landing on a rugged stretch of Venezuelan coastline last week by a band of mercenaries hoping to unseat Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro is another tragedy for the beleaguered nation.
The predawn mission was meant to capitalize on the element of surprise. But the irregular soldiers were immediately confronted by Venezuelan troops because their operation had been thoroughly penetrated by Cuban-backed Venezuelan intelligence. Some were killed in the fighting and more may have been executed. Among the captured are two Americans.
The debacle is demoralizing for an enslaved nation suffering dire privation and brutal repression. It is also an opportunity to reflect on Cuba’s asymmetric-warfare capabilities and the sophistication of its intelligence apparatus, which over more than a half-century has run circles around the U.S. Beyond the killing, the fiasco will deepen suspicion and distrust among the members of the opposition—particularly of “friends” who claim to have broken with the dictatorship.
The U.S. government has said it had no “direct involvement” in the seaborne operation. Jordan Goudreau, a former Green Beret who was the ring leader of the plot, did receive some interest in his services from advisers to U.S.-backed interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó. But Mr. Guaidó’s communications team has put out a statement insisting that the interim president never agreed to launching the operation.
Mr. Goudreau, who heads the U.S.-based security firm Silvercorp, apparently planned to provoke a military uprising, detain Mr. Maduro, and put him on a plane to the U.S.
There is near universal agreement that it was a reckless endeavor. Yet it is only the latest in a string of desperate attempts to try to bring down the dictatorship. And while the methods have varied, the common denominator in all the quashed uprisings has been how effectively Cuban-led intelligence has disrupted the plans. In some cases the plots may even have originated with state-security agents, who recruited eager patriots and mercenaries and set them up to be killed. This also reinforces a sense of futility among would-be rebels.
Whether it’s inside the military or among the ranks of the opposition, many Venezuelans now conclude that Cuban moles are everywhere and it’s too risky to put confidence in anyone. This is key to Havana’s control strategy in Venezuela. It is also standard practice on the island.
The struggle to liberate Venezuela is a proxy war between the U.S. and Cuba, which is backed by its allies Russia, Iran and China. The conflict drags on because Cuba has the edge where it matters.
When it comes to traditional military capabilities, the U.S. soars above its adversaries. But Havana dominates in deception, human intelligence and propaganda. It’s been that way from the early days of the Cuban dictatorship. “The Cubans were underestimated for more than a quarter of a century,” former CIA Cuba analyst Brian Latell wrote in his 2012 book, “Castro’s Secrets.” The U.S. thought it was dealing with “bush-league amateurs” until Florentino Aspillaga Lombard, a highly decorated Cuban agent, defected in 1987. That’s when the U.S. began to understand that Castro’s Cuba had “developed a foreign intelligence service that quickly rose into the ranks of the half dozen best in the world.” Moreover, “in some covert specialties, particularly in running double agents and counterintelligence,” over decades, Mr. Latell wrote, “Cuba’s achievements have been unparalleled.”
It’s a mistake to think this is only about people like high-ranking Pentagon intelligence analyst Ana Belén Montes, who was exposed as a Cuban spy in 2001 after some 16 years working for the enemy. Cuba has myriad ways of spreading disinformation, combating critics, and widening its influence. Return access to the island for journalists and academics, for example, is denied when there is unfavorable coverage, which is presumably why yours truly cannot get a visa.
Blackmail is another method of manipulation. I have twice interviewed a Cuban defector who told me it was his job in Cuba to retrieve videocassettes from hidden cameras in hotel rooms and official residences where visiting dignitaries were staying. The goal was to capture on film compromising behavior that could be used to extort political favors or, for example, force a resignation. With heavy political and diplomatic traffic to the island from Europe and Washington, it’s a safe bet that at least a few have been compromised in this way.
The Guaidó team now says it balked at the Goudreau plan in part because it did not trust former Venezuelan General Cliver Alcalá, whose brother is Mr. Maduro’s ambassador to Tehran but who claimed to have switched sides. Mr. Alcalá was taken into custody in the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges in March. But that he got close to the Guaidó team in the first place is another credit to Cuba’s intel network—most likely in this case with a lot of help from Iran.