WASHINGTON — He was, in many ways, a perfect spy — a man so important to Cuba’s intelligence apparatus that the information he gave to the Central Intelligence Agency paid dividends long after Cuban authorities arrested him and threw him in prison for nearly two decades.
Rolando Sarraff Trujillo has now been released from prison and flown out of Cuba as part of the swap for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States that President Obama announced Wednesday.
Mr. Obama did not give Mr. Sarraff’s name, but several current and former American officials identified him and discussed some of the information he gave to the C.I.A. while burrowed deep inside Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence.
Mr. Sarraff’s story is a chapter in a spy vs. spy drama between theUnited States andCuba that played on long after the end of the Cold War and years afterCuba ceased to be a serious threat to theUnited States. The story — at this point — remains just a sketchy outline, with Mr. Sarraff hidden from public view and his work for the C.I.A. still classified.
The spy games between the two countries lost their urgency after the fall of the Soviet Union, but the spies have stuck to their roles for more than two decades: pilfering documents, breaking codes and enticing government officials to betray their countries. “There were a number of people in the Cuban government who were valuable to the U.S., just as there were a number of people in the U.S. government who were helpful to the Cubans,” said Jerry Komisar, who ran C.I.A. clandestine operations in Cuba during the 1990s.
With Wednesday’s exchange of imprisoned spies and the leaders of the United States and Cuba talking in a substantive way for the first time in more than 50 years, some people who were part of the spy games between the two countries now wonder just how much it was worth it.
In retrospect, Mr. Komisar said, there was little need for American intelligence services to devote so much attention to Cuba — a country with a decrepit military that he said posed no strategic threat to the United States since the Soviet Union pulled its missiles off the island in 1962.