By Jim Popkin, Thursday, April 25, 8:30 PM
The Justice Department on Thursday announced the indictment of a former State Department employee for allegedly spying on behalf of Cuba, but it is unable to arrest her because she lives in Sweden, a country that does not extradite citizens accused of espionage. Marta Rita Velazquez, 55, a graduate of Princeton University and Georgetown University Law School, was indicted nearly a decade ago for conspiracy to commit espionage. Velazquez lives in Stockholm and is aware of the charges against her, the Justice Department said. But the extradition treaty between the United States and Sweden does not allow extradition for spying. “Espionage is considered a ‘political offense’ that, therefore, falls outside the scope of Sweden’s extradition treaty,” said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd. Swedish officials declined to comment on the announcement of the indictment.
A grand jury in Washington originally indicted Velazquez in 2004, but the charges remained sealed until Thursday. “Velazquez has continually remained outside the United States since 2002,” the Justice Department said, frustrating U.S. attempts to arrest her. The United States notified Velazquez that she was under suspicion in December 2011. Attempts to reach Velazquez on Thursday evening for her response to the indictment were unsuccessful.
Law enforcement sources said that the FBI first learned about Velazquez in late 2002, after the debriefings of Ana Belen Montes, a former Defense Department analyst who pleaded guilty to spying for Cuba for 17 years. Montes told investigators that she met Velazquez while they were graduate students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and that Velazquez helped recruit her as a spy. “Velazquez would and did foster and maintain a close personal friendship with Ana Belen Montes in order to facilitate the recruitment of Montes to serve as an agent of the Cuban Intelligence Service,” the indictment states. Velazquez once mailed Montes a letter saying, “It has been a great satisfaction for me to have had you as a friend and comrade. . . . I hope our relationship continues outside the academic sphere.”
According to the indictment, Velazquez, who was born in Puerto Rico, introduced Montes to a Cuban intelligence officer in New York, escorted her on a clandestine trip to Cuba for “operational training” and helped her obtain employment with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Montes would go on to lead a distinguished career at DIA as a top Cuban analyst, winning awards, briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff and helping to soften U.S. policy toward Cuba, all while reporting reams of classified information back to Havana. Montes, the subject of a cover story in Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine, was described by her lead debriefer as “one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history.”
Velazquez went on to work for the U.S. government, too, first at the Transportation Department and then for 13 years as a legal officer with the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development. During her tenure with USAID, Velazquez held a top secret security clearance and was posted to U.S. embassies in Nicaragua and Guatemala. She exchanged encrypted messages with Cuban operatives while at USAID, the indictment states, and traveled to Panama for an operational meeting. She resigned from USAID in June 2002, after Montes’s arrest but months before Montes pleaded guilty to espionage and began cooperating with law enforcement officials. Like Montes, Velazquez received training in Cuba on how to receive coded instructions from Havana on shortwave radio, how to fake her way through government-administered polygraph examinations, and how to travel incognito to Cuba using fake passports and disguises, the indictment states.
Popkin is a writer living in Washington.