Prensa Latina, a Cuban news agency long known for its collaboration with the regime’s intelligence services, provides a unintentionally funny interview with spy Josefina Vidal, director of the North America Department at the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Vidal left the US in 2003 when her husband and 13 other spy-diplomats were thrown out of the United States. Vidal and Maria Cristina Delgado Suarez (wife of expelled spy Raul Rodriguez Averhoff) both left the country voluntarily. That said, both women were known to US authorities as Cuban intelligence officers and this fact played into the selection of their husbands for expulsion.
STASI records show Cuba deal included IKEA furniture, antiques, rum and guns
Documents of East Germany’s STASI security agency provide more details of the deal between Cuba and IKEA
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald’s senior Cuba water, provides more details on the long-running commercial relationship between the East German and Cuban intelligence services.
Cuba continues to exploit Alan Gross’ interview with Wolf Blitzer by pressing its argument linking Gross’ future to the fate of its imprisoned Wasp Network spies, lauded by the Castro regime as “The Cuban 5.”
After Blitzer’s interview, CNN received a letter from retired spy Jorge Bolanos, the top Cuban diplomat in Washington. The letter outlined the Castro government’s views on Gross’ case, writing “The undercover activities of Mr. Gross in Cuba constitute crimes in many countries, including the United States.” Bolanos began the letter saying, “The Cuban government has conveyed to the U.S. its willingness to have a dialogue to find a humanitarian solution to the case of Mr. Gross on a reciprocal basis.”
Secretary Clinton refuted allegations that Gross was an intelligence agent, but did not directly reject a prisoner swap.
The chess game between U.S. and Cuban officials continues today at 4pm when Blitzer interviews spy-diplomat Josefina Vidal, the Head of the North American Division of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
From across the pond, the UK Independent provides an extremely biased and inaccurate assessment of US-Cuban relations. Not surprisingly, the author focused on Castro apologist Arturo López-Levy and his role as a founding member of Cuban-Americans for Engagement (CAFE). Blogger Manuel Barcia called CAFE “a bold move from the progressive sections of the Cuban-American community to bring both countries closer than they have been for half a century.” He also stressed the extensive news coverage in the Cuban media of CAFE’s engagements and meetings in Washington DC. I am curious, however, why he failed to address whether CAFE met with retired spy, Jorge Alberto Bolaños Suarez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section and visiting diplomat-spy, Josefina Vidal, director of the North American Department of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Classified government documents released by Wikileaks reveal that in 2009, three Cuban spies – two of whom were expelled from the US — met with officials from the US Interests Section in Havana for discussions on imprisoned US citizen, Alan Gross. After some initial stonewalling, the diplomat-spies eventually agreed to allow U.S. officials to visit Gross, who was arrested in early December and was being held at the infamous Villa Marista state security prison.
The three Cuban spies, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Johana Tablada de la Torre, and Eduardo Martinez Borbonet, served in the North America Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). Their assignments, respectively, were Division Director, Division Deputy Director, and Counselor. Given the diplomatic posting, all three may have continued involvement in the handling of Alan Gross for an extended period. One — Josefina Vidal – remains Havana’s lead official regarding U.S.-Cuban relations and is highly visible on this issue.
Background on the three spies
Little is publicly known about Josefina Vidal. 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 Perera. His wife, First Secretary Josefina de la C. Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, voluntarily accompanied her expelled spouse back to Cuba. Her affiliation among Havana’s five intelligence services remains unclear.
Vidal’s single identified success is 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 Antonmio Arbesu, Ramon Sanchez Parodi, Fernando Garcia Bielsa, Hugo Yedra, Jose Gomez Abad and Josefina Vidal.
In contrast, reporting on Johanna Tablada is so extensive it is attached here as a separate file: Activities of Cuban Spy Johanna Tablada.
Martinez Borbonet’s history is covered in detail below in the Cuba Confidential story, Expelled Spies Lead Cuban Embassy in Nicaragua, published on May 4, 2012.
In an interview with CNN’s Jill Dougherty, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed the Cuban government to release American Alan Gross, who has been held by the Cuban government for over two years.
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.
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.