Cold War Games? Russian Spy Ship Docks Unannounced in Havana on Eve of Historic US-Cuba Talks 1

Arriving unnanounced: The Viktor Leonov CCB-175, a Russian Navy intelligence warship, is seen docked to a pier in Old Havana after sailing into the harbour on the eve of historic talks between the U.S. and Cuba (Getty Images)

Arriving unnanounced: The Viktor Leonov CCB-175, a Russian Navy intelligence warship, is seen docked to a pier in Old Havana after sailing into the harbour on the eve of historic talks between the U.S. and Cuba (Getty Images)

– Viktor Leonov moors up in Old Havana pier during key diplomatic talks 

– U.S. officials play down arrival saying it was ‘not unusual, not alarming’

By Simon Tomlinson for MailOnline

In a throwback to the Cold War, a Russian spy ship caused a stir after unexpectedly docking in Havana on the eve of historic talks between the U.S. and Cuba. There was nothing stealthy about the arrival of the Viktor Leonov CCB-175, which was moored to a pier in Old Havana where cruise ships often dock. But the visit was not officially announced by Cuban authorities.

The timing also raised eyebrows as it came on Tuesday, the eve of historic U.S-Cuba talks aimed at normalising diplomatic relations. U.S. officials in Washington played down the presence of the Russian vessel, saying it was perfectly legal and not at all out of the ordinary. ‘It’s not unprecedented. It’s not unusual. It’s not alarming,’ a defense official told AFP news agency.

The Vishnya or Meridian-class intelligence ship, which has a crew of around 200, went into service in the Black Sea in 1988 before it was transferred seven years later to the northern fleet, according to Russian media. The vessel previously docked in Havana in February and March last year, staying there for a few days. Those visits were also unannounced.

The Russians said the visit was scheduled a long time ago and was yesterday opened up for the children of Russian diplomats. For Cubans, who became increasingly dependent on Russia after the 1959 revolution, the ship’s latest visit has taken them down memory lane. Raphael Hernandez told ABC News: ‘We have normal relations with Russia.

‘One day, when we have normal relations with U.S., we could have an American ship visiting.’

The highest-level U.S. delegation in 35 years will conclude two-day talks in Havana today with both sides cautioning an immediate breakthrough was unlikely.  Senior U.S. officials say they hope Cuba will agree to reopen embassies and appoint ambassadors in each other’s capitals in coming months. The United States also wants travel curbs on its diplomats lifted and unimpeded shipments to its mission in Havana.

During talks on Wednesday, the Americans vowed to continue granting safe haven to Cubans with special protections denied to other nationalities. Cuba complained the U.S. law promotes dangerous illegal immigration and protested against a separate U.S. program that encourages Cuban doctors to defect, calling it a ‘reprehensible brain drain practice.’

Read more: Cold War Spy Games?

EXCLUSIVE: Senior Cuban Spies Leading “Normalization” Talks With US 5

Josefina Vidal

Josefina Vidal

Gustavo Machin

Gustavo Machin

Josefina Vidal Expected Choice as Cuban Ambassador to US

By Chris Simmons

Two career Cuban spies, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro and Gustavo Machin Gomez, will lead this week’s migration and normalization discussions with the United States. The pair are members of Cuba’s primary foreign intelligence service – the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), and serve as Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the North American Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX).  This is Machin’s second time in the Division, having served as Deputy Chief in 2003 and Division Chief from 2004-2005.

As Havana’s lead “diplomats” on U.S.-Cuban relations, they handled the Alan Gross negations, the return of three of Havana’s jailed spies, and the artificial insemination of DI officer Adriana Perez O’Connor (wife of freed spy Gerardo Hernandez). Perez herself was a member of the Wasp Network – the largest Cuban spy ring ever known to operate in the US. Incidentally, when details are eventually released regarding the Obama administration’s secret talks to restore US-Cuba relations, Vidal and Machin will undoubtedly be at the center of events.

From the DI’s perspective, MINREX’s North America Division is now seen as a de facto wing of the spy service. This assignment is so important that three former members were appointed to ambassadorships. Now we are witnessing the unprecedented return of Ambassador Gustavo Machin to serve as Josefina Vidal’s deputy. Given this pattern of events, I think it’s fairly safe to say Vidal is Raul Castro’s choice to be the first Cuban Ambassador to the United States.

Espionage Backgrounds

Little is publicly known about Vidal’s espionage career.  In May 2003, the US expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage. Seven diplomats were based at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations and seven at the Interests Section. Among the seven Washington-based spies declared Persona Non Grata was First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez PereraHis wife, First Secretary Josefina Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, voluntarily accompanied her expelled spouse back to Cuba.

Previously, Vidal’s lone known success was her support to the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); in particular, Julia E. Sweig, a CFR Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Latin America Program. In her book, Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground, Sweig profusely thanked six Cuban spies for assisting her with her research. The six intelligence officers were Jose Antonio Arbesu, Ramon Sanchez Parodi, Fernando Garcia Bielsa, Hugo Yedra, Jose Gomez Abad and Josefina Vidal.

The son of a revolutionary hero, Gustavo Machin Gomez, was expelled in November 2002 in retaliation for the Ana Belen Montes case. In 2003, he was Deputy Director of MINREX’s North America Division and Chief the following year. In 2006, he was appointed Cuba’s first ambassador to Pakistan, where he is believed to have targeted US counterterrorism operations in the region. He then returned home to head the International Press Center before his current assignment.

DI officer Johanna Tablada preceded Machin in his second tour as Deputy Division Chief before her appointment as ambassador to Portugal.  She was suspected of being assigned to Department M-I, the elite element focused on targeting the US intelligence community, universities, and Congress.

Eduardo Martinez Borbonet previously assisted Vidal as a Counselor in the North America Division.  In November 2011, two weeks after a landslide victory propelled longtime Havana-ally Daniel Ortega into a controversial third term, he became Havana’s ambassador to Nicaragua.

In late December 1998, First Secretary Martinez Borbonet was expelled for his involvement in the South Florida based Wasp Network.  The diplomat-spy served at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN), the traditional hub for Havana’s US-based espionage operations. He had arrived approximately eight years earlier as a lowly Third Secretary.

 

 

 

Heroic Homecoming For Cuban Agents Brings Speculation About Future in Politics 6

The "Cuban Five," which includes Ramon Labanino (top left), Gerardo Hernandez (top right), Fernando Gonzalez (bottom left), Antonio Guerrero (bottom right) and Rene Gonzalez (center), have become part of the new political intrigue in Cuba. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

The “Cuban Five,” which includes Ramon Labanino (top left), Gerardo Hernandez (top right), Fernando Gonzalez (bottom left), Antonio Guerrero (bottom right) and Rene Gonzalez (center), have become part of the new political intrigue in Cuba. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

By Nick Miroff, Washington Post

MEXICO CITY — Since their return to Havana last month after 16 years in U.S. federal prison, the remaining three members of the spy ring known as “the Cuban Five” have been a frequent presence on state television. Wherever they go — visiting universities or attending outdoor concerts in their honor — they are celebrated as “Heroes of the Republic.”

They speak with a confidence and a candor unusual among Communist officials of their generation, who rarely veer off-script or show emotion. Despite their years behind bars, the men are relatively young, at least by Cuban leadership standards.

And with each public appearance, more Cubans and Cuba-watchers wonder what role the five, and especially ringleader Gerardo Hernández, might play in the country’s political future.

Although several of them had not set foot on the island in 20 years, Havana’s ceaseless international campaign to free the men has arguably made them the most recognizable faces in the Cuban government after the Castros. A generation of Cuban schoolchildren has grown up memorizing their names and biographies.

Hernández, 49, was serving two life sentences plus 15 years when he was freed as part of the prisoner swap for a long-jailed CIA mole in Cuba that also triggered the release of Alan Gross, an American government subcontractor.

Sent by Havana to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in Miami, Hernández was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, having passed along information that Cuba used in the 1996 downing of two civilian planes operated by the exile group Brothers to the Rescue, killing four.

“We dreamed about this moment for so long,” Hernández told Cuban television soon after his arrival, choking back tears. “The only thing that lifted our spirits was the thought of coming home, to be with the Cuban people again.”

“It was worth it,” he said.

The agents have said nothing specific about their plans. But when the Obama administration agreed to send them back, it possibly gave Cuba more than a group of intelligence operatives.

“We don’t know yet what they’ll do, but they return with tremendous prestige,” said Aurelio Alonso, a member of the small Havana civil society organization Cuba Posible, which advocates gradual reforms. “So far, they’ve demonstrated an extraordinary level of political maturity.”

Feature continues here:  Cuban Spies

Editor’s Note:  The Washington Post is incorrect in reporting the Wasp Network was created “to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in Miami.” It actually targeted US military bases, the FBI, the Miami Herald, local and national political figures, and other groups.

Havana Confirms Expelled Spy to Lead Immigration & “Normalization” Talks Reply

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal, thrown out of the US in May 2003 for espionage.

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal, thrown out of the US in May 2003 for espionage.

As predicted, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) statement released yesterday confirmed that Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, head of the Ministry`s US affairs section, will lead the Cuban delegation. The first day’s topic remains immigration, while on day two, the two nations will discuss the principles and process to reestablish diplomatic ties and open embassies.

 

 

 

Cuban National Released in White House Deal with Havana Now Back in the U.S. 3

Rolando Sarraff in 1996, the year he was imprisoned by the Cuban government (L)and more recently (R). Sarraff was sentenced to jail by the Cuban government for spying for the United States. He was freed in a prisoner exchange with the United States last month. (Family photo)

Rolando Sarraff in 1996, the year he was imprisoned by the Cuban government (L) and more recently (R). Sarraff was sentenced to jail by the Cuban government for spying for the United States. He was freed in a prisoner exchange with the United States last month. (Family photo)

By Missy Ryan, Washington Post

A Cuban national imprisoned for nearly two decades as an American spy is now in the United States, his family said Tuesday, the first confirmation of the former U.S. agent’s whereabouts since he was released in last month’s deal to overhaul ties with Cuba.

Rolando Sarraff, a cryptographer with Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence, was imprisoned in 1995 on suspicion that he was passing secrets to the United States. Information provided by Sarraff helped U.S. officials dismantle networks of Cuban spies in the United States, one illustration of the mutual hostility that characterized U.S. dealings with Communist Cuba for more than 50 years.

The White House secured Sarraff’s release last month as part of President Obama’s sweeping agreement to thaw U.S. ties with the island nation. The deal also included the return of an American aid contractor held by Havana and the release of three Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the United States.

But since the deal was announced Dec. 17, Obama administration officials have declined to confirm whether Sarraff was taken to the United States, or whether he was in U.S. government custody somewhere else. For weeks, family members in Cuba, Spain and the United States said they had not been informed by either the U.S. or the Cuban government about his whereabouts.

This week, his sister, who lives in Spain, said she finally heard from her brother. “He’s well, and he’s in the U.S.,” Vilma Sarraff told The Washington Post. She declined to give details.

The Sarraff family’s confirmation of the former agent’s whereabouts were first reported Tuesday by the Associated Press

Missy Ryan writes about the Pentagon, military issues, and national security for The Washington Post.

 

Expelled Spy Likely To Lead Migration, Normalization Talks With US 13

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal, thrown out of the US in May 2003 for espionage.

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal, thrown out of the US in May 2003 for espionage.

By Chris Simmons

The next round of US-Cuban discussions will be held on January 21 and 22 in Havana. Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee is expected to lead the U.S. delegation at the migration talks on the 21st, while Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will lead at the normalization talks on Jan. 22nd.

The Cuban delegation is expected to be led by Josefina Vidal, director of the North American Affairs Division within Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vidal led the previous round of migration talks last July in Washington, D.C. A member of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee, Vidal was thrown out of the US in May 2003 as part of a mass expulsion of Havana’s spy-diplomats. For five years, her office also played a central role in the negotiations regarding the return of USAID contractor Alan Gross.

In Cuba, Wife of Freed Spy Gives Birth to Girl 3

FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2014 file photo, Gerardo Hernandez, right, member of “The Cuban Five,” touches the belly of his pregnant wife Adriana Perez, during a concert, in Havana, Cuba. The wife of the Cuban intelligence agent freed by the United States in December, gave birth to a girl, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, after a pregnancy made possible by negotiations to improve ties between the two countries. U.S. officials helped facilitate a process of artificial insemination for Hernandez and his wife. (Ramon Espinosa, File/Associated Press)

FILE – In this Dec. 20, 2014 file photo, Gerardo Hernandez, right, member of “The Cuban Five,” touches the belly of his pregnant wife Adriana Perez, during a concert, in Havana, Cuba. The wife of the Cuban intelligence agent freed by the United States in December, gave birth to a girl, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, after a pregnancy made possible by negotiations to improve ties between the two countries. U.S. officials helped facilitate a process of artificial insemination for Hernandez and his wife. (Ramon Espinosa, File/Associated Press)

By Associated Press

HAVANA — The wife of a Cuban intelligence agent freed by the United States has given birth to a girl after a pregnancy made possible by negotiations to improve ties between the two countries.

The Communist Party daily Granma says the baby named Gema was born Tuesday and weighs 7 pounds and 1 ounce (3.2 kilograms).

U.S. officials helped facilitate a process of artificial insemination so that convicted spy Gerardo Hernandez and his wife Adriana Perez could have a child. It came during talks that led the U.S. to release Hernandez and two other agents last month and the announcement of plans to restore normal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Cuba, meanwhile, freed imprisoned U.S. aid worker Alan Gross.

Corrected Editor’s Note:  Both Gerardo Hernandez and Adriana Perez work for the Directorate of Intelligence (DI). As part of the Wasp Network, her mission was to courier messages and material between Havana and Miami. She was still in training when her husband and nine other Wasp Network members were arrested in September 1998.

Cuba’s Vested Interest in Discrediting CIA Spy Rolando Sarraf Trujillo 9

Raul Castro

Raul Castro

By Chris Simmons

In December, Rolando “Roly” Sarraf Trujillo was identified as the high-value American spy traded for three Cuba spies. In the weeks since, some Republicans, a self-serving former Cuban spy named Bill Gaede, and the Castro regime have joined forces to diminish the importance of Roly’s service to America.

The Republicans are motivated by their mistrust of President Obama. In contrast, Havana’s attacks are driven by the fear its global spy networks will realize they have been betrayed – not by Sarraf Trujillo — but rather by their Cuban masters. Over the last 20 years, a “perfect storm” of events came together to make Havana’s agent communications extremely vulnerable. This fact is well-known to the regime’s leadership, which has inexplicably done little to protect its spies in the field.

I – as well as anonymous intelligence sources in Washington – identified Roly as a Directorate of Intelligence officer assigned to an element known as Department M-XV (Agent Communications). With this placement and access, he would have been able to identify strengths and weaknesses in the High Frequency broadcasts (i.e., shortwave or “ham” radio) that Cuba has transmitted to its spies every day for decades. Sadly, the three-man CIA ring in which Roly served was compromised in 1994. Unable to escape the island like his colleagues, he was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in jail in 1995.

Thus, it’s no coincidence that in 1996, the FBI was able to start reading parts of the HF broadcasts from Havana to its largest spy ring in America. Known as the Wasp Network, this group of 43+ spies stretched from the Florida Keys to New York City and as far west as Louisiana. The Bureau’s code-breaking, while slow and imperfect, proved good enough to arrest 10 Wasp members in September 1998. During these arrests, the FBI acquired physical copies of the encryption and decryption software used by Cuba. It also seized nearly 1,000 encrypted computer disks with roughly 15,000 pages of material.

In August 2001, two more Wasps were arrested and their encryption seized. A month later, Cuban master-spy Ana Belen Montes was arrested at the Defense Intelligence Agency. A covert search of her apartment months earlier had discovered her encryption/decryption software program as well as numerous messages she failed to destroy. The Montes investigation originally began in 1998 as an “unidentified subject” (UNSUB) case. However, sufficient evidence didn’t come together to pinpoint a specific person until September 2000.

In May 2002, another Wasp was arrested and his cipher program recovered. Finally, in June 2009, Cuban spies Kendall and Gwen Myers were arrested. Technology dinosaurs, the couple were part of a handful of Cuban spies who stayed with Morse Code for roughly 30 years, long after almost everyone else had switched to encrypted voice messages.

Rolando Sarraf Trujillo allowed Washington to first gain insights into Havana’s spy networks two decades ago. This knowledge was then amplified by the practical experience the Bureau gained reading Wasp Network communications for over two years. This was followed, in turn, by another huge breakthrough — the subsequent arrests of more than 16 Cuban spies (most of whom took plea agreements and cooperated with the US). In these arrests, the US likely acquired over a dozen working copies of Cuba’s cipher software. Now, with Rolando Sarraf Trujillo presumably being debriefed somewhere in the United States, the US government is adding additional depth to its understanding of Havana’s spy communications.

These events, taken together, should strike terror in the heart of every Cuban spy. If we assume NSA recorded every HF broadcast Cuba sent over the last several decades, then the possibility exists that (at least theoretically), with enough time, people, and funding, Washington could eventually break every message Havana sent.

Even with its communications security in a 20-year freefall, Cuba continues transmitting daily HF broadcasts. So for all those disposable Cuban spies serving secretly throughout the US, I’d recommend you start sleeping with one eye open. Washington is closer to finding you than you ever imagined.

Spy Wars: A Wilderness of Mirrors in U.S.-Cuba Swap 2

Jose Cohen, pictured at Little Havana’s Versailles Restaurant in 2000 (Al Diaz, Miami Herald Staff)

Jose Cohen, pictured at Little Havana’s Versailles Restaurant in 2000 (Al Diaz, Miami Herald Staff)

By Glenn Garvin, Juan O. Tamayo and Patricia Mazzei

ggarvin@MiamiHerald.com

More than two weeks have passed since the White House announced that it had traded three imprisoned Cuban intelligence officers — including one convicted of conspiracy to murder — for a super spy held in a Havana prison whom President Barack Obama labeled “one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba.”

But since the president’s announcement, there’s been only silence. Nothing more has been said of the spy or his accomplishments. Of the people released from prison as part of the deal between Washington and Havana, the three Cuban spies and U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross have all appeared on television to talk exultantly about their release.

Yet Washington’s master spy has remained anonymous and incommunicado. The only man who seems to fit the handful of clues the White House provided about the spy’s identity — former Cuban Interior Ministry Lt. Rolando Sarraff, jailed since his arrest in 1995 — has disappeared from the Havana prison where he was being held, and his family members say they’ve neither heard from him nor been told his whereabouts.

The Obama administration won’t confirm Sarraff’s name, much less why he could be out of reach.

But a man who claims he is a former member of Sarraff’s spy ring speculates there’s a good reason for Sarraff’s disappearance: that Sarraff was a fake, feeding the CIA false or trivial information as part of a Cuban scheme to disrupt U.S. intelligence.

“They were acting on behalf of Fidel Castro,” insists Bill Gaede, an Argentine engineer who says he carried information to the CIA from Sarraff and other Cuban intelligence officers. “They weren’t genuine. They were full of caca.”

What’s more, Gaede contends, the CIA and FBI suspected that Sarraff was a fake — a “dangle,” in intelligence parlance — right from the start, and never believed anything the ring of putative spies passed along. U.S. officials, he says, are calling him a valuable agent now only to make the Gross-for-Cuban-spies swap more palatable to U.S. conservatives. “It’s just public relations,” sniffs Gaede.

AT CUBA’S SERVICE

But Gaede’s claim is hotly disputed by another member of the spy ring — Jose Cohen, also a former lieutenant in the Cuban Interior Ministry, who defected from Cuba in 1994. “Bill Gaede is not a [credible] source. He was an enemy of the United States. He’s at Cuba’s service,” says Cohen, now living in southwest Miami-Dade, where he’s a highly successful Amway salesman.

“I think what Bill is looking for is publicity. … He’s mocking the press, he’s mocking the government.”

Article continues here: Spy Wars

 

 

For World’s Democracy Campaigners, Obama’s Cuba Move Means Crackdowns 9

Cuban repressionBy The Investors Business Daily‘s Editorial Board

President Obama claimed his move to normalize relations with Cuba was a means of nudging the military dictatorship toward democracy. He was wrong. The regime is cracking down on dissent harder than ever.

In what ought to be called Crackdown Tuesday a large group of prominent Havana dissidents — activists, civil society advocates and independent journalists — were arrested as they headed for a pro-free speech soapbox “speaker’s corner” event put on by Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguero, whose group is #YoTambienExijo, or “I also demand.”

Among the arrested were prominent blogger writer Yoani Sanchez; her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who edits 14ymedio.com, an online dissident publication; Eliecer Avila, a prominent democracy activist; and members of the Ladies in White group, mostly wives of political prisoners. Bruguero herself was hauled off by the Cuban secret police and held incommunicado for more than a day until she was released. She said Wednesday they tried to force her to sign a confession, but she refused.

So much for “promoting positive change,” which is what the White House claimed would be the result of its move toward normalization. Fact is, the Castro regime sees normalization of U.S. ties as a green light to step up the barbarism.

It’s not just attacks against high-profile dissidents. The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that the regime rammed and sank a boat of more than 30 refugees fleeing the island, killing one and jailing the men in the group as they were dragged back to shore.

And that underlines the naivete of the Obama administration. “We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” the White House website reads.

Brought together through the desire to promote democracy? Not according to his new partner, dictator Raul Castro, who put on his military uniform and warned Cubans not to get any ideas from this move, defiantly warning that the communism that has so failed the country would remain in place.

There’s little doubt he knows what he’s doing.

Commentary continues here:  Obama Outreach Intensifies Repression