Author and intelligence scholar Ernest Volkman claimed that the CIA’s sole means to check the bona fides of its Cuban assets during the Cold War was the polygraph. Regardless of whether it was the Agency’s only means, the CIA clearly relied too heavily on polygraph examinations. To exploit this vulnerability, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the KGB, provided Havana with instructions on counter-polygraph techniques. The resulting solution was quite simple. Both services knew that pathological liars can pass polygraph exams because they believe so strongly in their lies that the machine cannot detect any physiological response indicative of deception. As such, both nations trained their agents to mimic the success of a pathological liar by accepting their lies as the truth.
As a result, dozens of Cuban double agents passed their CIA polygraph exams. Those who failed tended to be protected by their Case Officer (i.e., spy handler), who made excuses for their agent’s difficulties. Cuba also exploited another CIA vulnerability – bean-counting. Havana knew the CIA measured its personnel by their productivity rather than by their actual success. Castro’s spy services were also benefited from the CIA’s arrogance in handling agents from Third World nations, as well as its cavalier disregard for the Cuban Intelligence services.
Cuba’s counter-poly techniques were also taught to its other spies, including Ana Belen Montes, a high ranking penetration of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Montes passed one polygraph exam during her DIA service. A second examination, randomly scheduled while she was under investigation, was discreetly canceled by DIA Counterintelligence. Investigators were rightfully concerned she would again pass the exam, crippling the case being built against her.
The latest excerpt from Brian Latell’s new book “Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine” is a light and breezy read, but disappointingly devoid of facts. It captures the reminisces of a few Cuban defectors who claim that a handful of Russians trained a cadre of starry-eyed Cubans spies, who subsequently taught themselves and became one of the world’s premier services.
In contrast to the simplistic picture painted by Latell, Cuba received considerable and sustained help from other nations. For example, the Soviet Union and East Germany help Havana establish its counterintelligence force, focused on internal threats. General Marcus Wolf, head of East Germany’s Intelligence Service, originally assessed the performance of Havana’s services as amateurish. He equated their sophistication and professionalism to his own services 10-15 years earlier. Wolf subsequently advised Cuba on how to improve its effectiveness and efficiency. This, along with the Soviet support, helped seal the fate of the anti-Castro resistance in the early 1960s, further consolidating Castro’s power.
No-cost training and assistance in “foreign intelligence” came from the Soviets and several Warsaw Pact allies. The Soviets were the more generous in terms of quantity, but Cuba viewed the East German and Hungarian assistance as being of higher quality. Czechoslovakia also provided intelligence advisors, but details regarding their activities remain limited.
As Moscow-Havana ties deepened in the early 1960s, Cuban intelligence officers were sent to the Soviet Union for advanced training. For the remainder of the 1960s, sixty Cuban intelligence officers arrived annually for ten months of training. Half of the Cuban personnel studied foreign intelligence with the KGB. The other half was schooled in the dark art of Counterintelligence.
It was the culmination of this massive training and assistance program, followed by bilateral intelligence operations that led to Cuba’s rapid rise as an intelligence powerhouse. A scholar of Dr. Latell’s stature should know better than to blindly accept the recollections of defectors, no matter how well trusted or respected. Defectors are human, with inherently imperfect memories and perceptions built upon their unique experiences. They will also have biases – intended or not – based on these experiences and yes, sometimes personal agendas. Defectors can be rewarding sources of information, but their information is simply a starting point awaiting cross-checking and verification against other sources.
Vatican’s Dangerous Dance With Castro Regime
International News Analysis discusses how the Vatican, fielding the world’s oldest intelligence service, seeks to protect its interests and faithful against the Castro regime. Supporting the Castro brothers in this “dangerous dance” is Havana’s Directorate of Intelligence, one of the best spy services in the world, and the dreaded Directorate of Counterintelligence (DCI). The latter organization — considered the most repressive entity on the island — is responsible for domestic security.
Fourteen years ago today, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published an unclassified assessment titled “The Cuban Threat to U.S. National Security.” In it, Ana Belen Montes, the primary author of the assessment, minimized Havana’s strategic abilities. Less than three and a half years later, Montes was arrested for espionage – the highest ranking Cuban spy ever imprisoned by the US government.
The unclassified DIA document concluded “Cuba has a limited ability to engage in some military and intelligence activities which could pose a danger…” In reality, Montes added the passing reference to Castro’s intelligence service only at the insistence of this author, with whom she coordinated her assessment. Her original draft omitted Cuba’s intelligence services. Montes’ very soft-line position attracted a lot of negative attention within DIA and at the Pentagon. In fact, before forwarding the assessment to Congress, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen took the extraordinary step of adding a transmittal letter highlighting his concerns regarding Cuban intelligence, Havana’s dismal human rights record, and nuclear and biological issues.
Amazingly, almost a decade after the conviction of this spy, the Pentagon press release regarding her infamous claim remains on-line (http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid= 1667). Thankfully, someone in the Public Affairs office took down two documents attached to the press release. So why didn’t the Pentagon finish the job and remove the press announcement as well? Researchers can find all three documents elsewhere on the Internet, as well as at the National Archives. The fact that this material remains on line at the Pentagon – without context – is offensive and embarrassing.
Alan Gross Media Blitz Continues
Imprisoned Maryland resident Alan Gross garners local news coverage from the CBS station in Baltimore.
May 5, 2006: Rafael Dausa Cespedes, one of Havana’s highest-ranking Intelligence Officers, assumed his duties as Ambassador to Bolivia. Twelve years earlier, Dausa Cespedes was posted as Third Secretary at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. A meteoric rise followed and within five years he was appointed to New York City as Ambassador at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN). By early 2004, Dausa Cespedes served as Director of the North American Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was promoted to Deputy Foreign Minister in 2005.
Alan Gross Steps Up Media Outreach
In a change of strategy, Alan Gross continues the media outreach he began two weeks ago with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. Intended to keep his situation before the US public, it follows wife Judy Gross’ recent hiring of a public relations firm. Expect media coverage to intensify as friends and family promote any and all possibilities to secure his freedom.
Two spies thrown out of the US for espionage activities continue to enjoy their posting in Managua. The two officers belong to Havana’s foreign intelligence service, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), consistently ranked among the top six spy organizations in the world. A third individual, the Cuban Military Attaché, rounds out the pool of identified intelligence or intelligence-affiliated personnel now serving in Managua.
In late December 1998, First Secretary Eduardo Martinez Borbonet was expelled for his involvement in the South Florida based Wasp Network, the largest spy ring ever known to operate on US soil. The diplomat-spy served at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN), the traditional hub for Havana’s US-based espionage operations. Martinez Borbonet had arrived approximately eight years earlier as a lowly Third Secretary.
He subsequently went on to serve as a Counselor in the North America Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). Martinez Borbonet arrived in Nicaragua last November, two weeks after a landslide victory propelled longtime Havana-ally Daniel Ortega into a controversial third term. The appointment of Martinez Borbonet as ambassador reflects the increasingly close ties between the two nations. Previously, Rene Ceballo Prats had led the Embassy as chargé d’affaires since 2009.
In 1995, Armando Tomas Amieva Dalboys served as a Third Secretary at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. He was later transferred to New York City for CMUN service. In May 2003, the US expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage in retaliation for Havana’s efforts against US military forces involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom. CMUN First Secretary Amieva Dalboys was among those included in the mass expulsion, the third largest such action in US history. Now assigned as the Counselor in Managua, Amieva Dalboys most likely heads the “DI Center” hidden within the Embassy.
José González Padrón serves as one of a handful of Cuban Military Attachés around the world. Like the ambassador, he is a recent arrival, having served as Havana’s Military Attaché in Moscow through at least late November 2011. An Attaché posting is not necessarily synonymous with service in Cuba’s little known Directorate of Military Intelligence (DIM). That said, Military Attachés are universally known to include overt intelligence collection in their official duties.
According to Cuba’s MINREX, only ten diplomats are assigned to its Embassy in Nicaragua.
Babalu: A dose of reality regarding the ‘Cuban 5′
Very nice summary of the facts regarding the five imprisoned spies Havana refers to as the “Cuban 5”
Ramiro Valdes, the two-time former head of Cuban Intelligence, travels to Nicaragua for the funeral of former Sandinista leader, Tomas Borge.