By Tim Padgett, WLRN-FM
When Cuba opened its Washington D.C. embassy yesterday, the moment wasn’t just historic. It also felt really ironic. Historic, of course, because Cuba was raising its flag over the U.S. capital for the first time in 54 years. When the U.S. inaugurates its embassy in Havana on August 14, it will be the crowning moment in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two Cold War enemies. But this might be a déja vu moment, too, because a big reason the U.S. and Cuba severed ties in 1961 was…embassies.
In 1960, Cuban leader Fidel Castro feared the U.S. mission in Havana was a nest of spies scheming to overthrow his communist revolution. “No [foreign] embassy rules our people!” he told the U.N. then. The U.S. was just as spooked about spies inside the Cuban embassy in Washington – especially their close ties to Russian spies. A half century later the U.S. and Cuba are finally mending fences. But what ultimately opened the door to normalizing relations? Trading spies.
As President Obama informed us on December 17 when he announced the normalization breakthrough, a U.S.-Cuban spy swap all but sealed the deal. It was a reminder that espionage is a central feature of U.S.-Cuba relations. “The United States has always been very concerned about Cuban intelligence and Cuban counterintelligence,” says Frank Mora, who heads the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University and is the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere. “And for the Cubans, the number one intelligence concern is the United States.” By the same token, Mora adds, “The principal goal of the new policy is to address all that mistrust that’s built up over 50 years.”
So the question is: Will the new rapprochement finally build bilateral trust – or will opening embassies, as many security analysts fear, simply give the U.S. and Cuba more opportunities to spy on each other? “It just allows the intelligence services to take their espionage to another level,” says Fred Burton, vice president of intelligence at the Stratfor intelligence consulting firm in Austin, Texas, and a former special agent with the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service. “There’s just a new playground now that has been opened.” Up to now, the U.S. and Cuba have only had “interests sections” in each other’s countries – small, tightly restricted diplomatic missions. Full-fledged embassies will probably mean a big increase in diplomatic personnel – and a much broader range of diplomatic activity and travel.
Feature continues here: Spy Game