Will Spy Wars Between Cuba and the U.S. End with Restored Relations? 3

spy_vs_spyHIGHLIGHTS

Since Fidel Castro seized power in January 1959, and over the next five decades, Havana built one of the world’s most active intelligence services

Some of the biggest crises in U.S.-Cuba relations can be traced to the involvement of Cuban spies and agents

Cuban espionage against the United States intensified in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan stepped up rhetoric against Cuba at the height of the Cold War

By Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald    achardy@elnuevoherald.com

Though the United States has restored relations with Cuba, and President Barack Obama is planning to visit the island later this month, it’s unclear if the two countries have declared a truce in the spy wars they have waged for more than 50 years.

Lawmakers in Congress have warned the Obama administration that allowing Cuba to operate an embassy in Washington and consulates throughout the country will only make it easier for Havana to deploy spies and agents in the United States.

“We are all too familiar with the Castro regime’s efforts to utilize their diplomats as intelligence agents tasked with the goal of committing espionage against the host countries,’’ according to a letter sent in 2015 to the U.S. Department of State by five Cuban-American lawmakers including Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, as well as presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J.

Since Fidel Castro seized power in January 1959, and over the next five decades, Havana built one of the world’s most active intelligence services — one that dispatched spies and agents to penetrate the highest levels of the American government and some of the leading Cuban exile organizations.

In fact, some of the biggest crises in U.S.-Cuba relations can be traced to the involvement of Cuban spies and agents — from the downing of two Brothers to the Rescue planes to the theft of U.S. military secrets at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the spying of U.S. military facilities in South Florida and infiltration of leading Cuban exile organizations in Miami by members of the now-defunct Wasp Network.

Story continues here: Miami Herald

Editors Note: It seems the Miami Herald didn’t pay attention during last month’s testimony by Director of National Intelligence, General James R. Clapper, who told Congress Russia, China, Iran & Cuba pose the greatest threat to the United States.

 

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Director of National Intelligence Tells Congress: Russia, China, Iran & Cuba Pose Greatest Espionage Threat to US 2

General James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI)

General James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI)

In testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said (in part):

Moving to counterintelligence, the threat from foreign intelligence entities, both state and nonstate, is persistent, complex, and evolving. Targeting and collection of US political, military, economic, and technical information by foreign intelligence services continues unabated. Russia and China pose the greatest threat, followed by Iran and Cuba on a lesser scale. As well, the threat from insiders taking advantage of their access to collect and remove sensitive national security information will remain a persistent challenge for us.”

Complete testimony here:  DNI Testimony

Special Report: State Department Watered Down Human Trafficking Report 1

human_traffickingBy Jason Szep and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In the weeks leading up to a critical annual U.S. report on human trafficking that publicly shames the world’s worst offenders, human rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions hadn’t improved in Malaysia and Cuba. And in China, they found, things had grown worse.

The State Department’s senior political staff saw it differently — and they prevailed.

A Reuters examination, based on interviews with more than a dozen sources in Washington and foreign capitals, shows that the government office set up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior American diplomats and pressured into inflating assessments of 14 strategically important countries in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report.

In all, analysts in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – or J/TIP, as it’s known within the U.S. government — disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries, the sources said.

The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery – such as the illegal trade in humans for forced labor or prostitution – won only three of those disputes, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit, according to the sources.

As a result, not only Malaysia, Cuba and China, but countries such as India, Uzbekistan and Mexico, wound up with better grades than the State Department’s human-rights experts wanted to give them, the sources said. (Graphic looking at some of the key decisions here.

Of the three disputes J/TIP won, the most prominent was Thailand, which has faced scrutiny over forced labor at sea and the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims through its southern jungles. Diplomats had sought to upgrade it to so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” status. It remains on “Tier 3” – the rating for countries with the worst human-trafficking records.

The number of rejected recommendations suggests a degree of intervention not previously known by diplomats in a report that can lead to sanctions and is the basis for many countries’ anti-trafficking policies. This year, local embassies and other constituencies within the department were able to block some of the toughest grades.

State Department officials say the ratings are not politicized. “As is always the case, final decisions are reached only after rigorous analysis and discussion between the TIP office, relevant regional bureaus and senior State Department leaders,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in response to queries by Reuters.

Special Report continues here: Human Trafficking

 

Pentagon: Russian Spy Ship, Tug Operating Near U.S. 1

Just like old times: Tourists in a old American car pass by Russian Vishnya class warship CCB-175 Viktor Leonov, docked, on February 26, 2014, at Havana harbor (AFP/Getty Images)

Just like old times: Tourists in a old American car pass by Russian Vishnya class warship CCB-175 Viktor Leonov, docked, on February 26, 2014, at Havana harbor (AFP/Getty Images)

Ships near nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga.

By Bill Gertz, Washington Free Beacon

A Russian intelligence-gathering ship has been operating off the U.S. East Coast and near the Gulf of Mexico for the past month, the Pentagon said Thursday.

“We are aware that the Russian ships Viktor Leonov and Nikolay Chiker are currently operating in waters that are beyond U.S. territorial seas but near Cuba,” said Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman. “We respect the freedom of all nations, as reflected in international law, to operate military vessels beyond the territorial seas of other nations.”

The Leonov is an intelligence gathering ship outfitted with high-tech electronic spying gear. The Chiker is an ocean-going naval tug that has been accompanying the spy ship on its mission.

Pentagon officials suspect the ships were part of a spying operation since March against the U.S. nuclear missile submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga. and other U.S. military facilities

Both ships were detected operating off the coast of Florida near the U.S. Naval Station Mayport, Fla., which is south of the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

The Russian intelligence gathering coincides with heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over Moscow’s recent military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

An official said it is possible that the electronic spying is related to watching U.S. nuclear missile submarines as part of a Russian nuclear exercise.

According to Russian military press reports, some 10,000 Russian troops and 1,000 pieces of military equipment of the Strategic Missile Forces took part in an exercise April 17 to 19—coinciding with the transit of one of the ships, the Chiker, to Cuba from the coast off northern Florida on April 19.

“The exercises will test the cohesiveness and skills of units and commands in the process of alerting and the achievement of training objectives under various circumstances and in any time of the day,” Russian defense spokesman told Interfax.

The Chiker also is known to support submarines and is equipped with lift capability for servicing Russian submarines.

Feature continues here:  Russian Spy Ship

The Roots of Venezuela’s Disorder: Russia and Cuba are Reaping What They’ve Sown in Latin America 2

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal

On Wednesday, as Venezuelan strongman Nicólas Maduro was promising more repression to crush relentless student protests, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters that Moscow plans to put military bases in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. A few days later a Russian spy ship arrived in Havana harbor unannounced.

The usual Cold War suspects are back. More accurately, they never left. Former KGB officer Vladimir Putin is warning President Obama that Russia can make trouble in the Americas if the U.S. insists on solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Meanwhile, Latin America’s aging Marxists are lining up behind Mr. Maduro, successor to the late Hugo Chávez.

Russia and Cuba are finally reaping the benefits of the revolution they have long sown in Latin America. Any chance of defeating them requires setting the record straight about how Venezuela got so poor.

Venezuelan politicians sold left-wing populism like snake oil for decades before Chávez came to power in 1999. They demagogued entrepreneurs and indoctrinated the masses with anti-businesses propaganda. From the earliest days of the Cuban revolution, Castro was a hero in Venezuelan universities where Cuban-Soviet propaganda flourished. By the 1960s school children were being weaned on utopian collectivism. The brainwashing intensified when Chávez opened Venezuela to Cuban proselytizers.

Through it all, the politically connected got rich, including the chavistas. But today a large part of the population believes that business is underhanded and greedy. This is why escaping the noose of totalitarianism is going to be difficult. The culture of liberty has been nearly annihilated, and even if Mr. Maduro is overthrown, that culture must be rebuilt from the ground up.

To be sure, social media makes it harder to put a smiley face on tyranny than in the 1980s. Back then a doctrine like sandinismo could be marketed by Cuba and Russia to naïve Americans as the salvation of the Nicaraguan poor even while the Sandinista army burned Miskito Indian villages and arrested banana-selling peasants as speculators in the highlands.

Today word gets around. A Feb. 18 cellphone image from the Venezuelan city of Valencia—of a young man carrying the limp body of 22-year-old Genesis Carmona after she was shot in the head by Maduro enforcers—has gone viral as an emblem of the repression.

Story continues here: The Roots of Venezuela’s Disorder: Russia and Cuba are Reaping What They’ve Sown in Latin America

Will Pollard, Gross Follow in Wake of Ostreicher? 2

By Jacob Kamaras, JNS.org

WHILE an air of mystery surrounds the details of Jewish businessman Jacob Ostreicher’s return to US soil after being held for more than two years in Bolivia, the involvement of legislators and a high-profile celebrity in his case may shed some light on the conditions that could lead to the freedom of other high-profile Jewish prisoners, such as Jonathan Pollard (US), Alan Gross (Cuba) and Ilya Farber (Russia).

Ostreicher, a 54-year-old Brooklyn native, traveled to Bolivia in December, 2010 to oversee rice production and was arrested in June, 2011 on suspicion of money laundering and criminal organization.

No formal charges were ever brought against him, but he spent 18 months in prison before being released on bail in December, 2012, after which he remained in Bolivia under house arrest.

News of Ostreicher’s escape from Bolivia broke Dec. 16, and little was known about the circumstances of his return to America until actor Sean Penn told the Associated Press on Dec. 18 that he was with Ostreicher following a “humanitarian operation” to free the Jewish businessman “from the corrupt prosecution and imprisonment he was suffering in Bolivia.”

In May, Penn testified about Ostreicher’s situation in a hearing before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), one of the leading advocates in Congress for Ostreicher’s release, had arranged the hearing and on Dec. 17 thanked Penn “for his tireless work to free Jacob.”

Bill Richardson — the former governor of New Mexico and US Ambassador to the UN — said in a recent conference call with reporters that, like the rest of the public, he doesn’t “have all the circumstances of [Ostreicher’s] escape” from Bolivia.

But Richardson attempted to explain the conditions that may have led to Ostreicher’s freedom, citing a meeting he had with Bolivian President Evo Morales a year ago as an example of the “quiet diplomacy” he and other key officials engaged in on Ostreicher’s behalf.

Richardson also said that in the efforts to bring about Ostreicher’s release, there was “intensive public pressure by many Jewish organizations” that was “very effective.”

“What needs to happen in successful releases is a combination of public pressure and private diplomacy,” Richardson said. “Those combinations in many cases are the roots for success.”

ON Dec. 10, Richardson wrote a letter to President Barack Obama …..

Story continues here: Will Pollard, Gross Follow in Wake of Ostreicher?

NYC’s Mayor-Elect Long Tied to Cuba & Nicaragua’s Sandinistas 2

Bill De Blasio, the Big Apple’s first Democratic mayor in decades, is an unapologetic Sandinista supporter who later honeymooned in Cuba. Beginning his political career as a minor aide to David Dinkins, the last Democratic NYC mayor, he subsequently served in the Clinton administration and ran Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign.

De Blasio travelled to Nicaragua while in college during the 1980s. Further enamored by his visit, he returned home and joined a Nicaragua solidarity group. Questioned during the campaign about his support of the brutal Sandinista regime, he sounded very much like convicted spy Ana Montes, claiming he was “very proud” of his support of the Sandinista Revolution.

Read the entire article here: The Sandinista supporter who married a former lesbian and rose through the political ranks to become mayor New York

Brazil Spied on Iran’s Ambassador to Cuba, Russian Diplomats, Others 2

Brazilian Agency Spied on Foreign Workers

By Lucas Ferraz, Folha de S. Paulo

SPECIAL ENVOY TO BRASILIA

The Brazilian government’s main espionage branch spied on three foreign diplomats at embassies and in their homes, says a report by ABIN (Brazilian Intelligence Agency).

The report includes details on ten secret operations between 2003 and 2004 and shows that even countries with which Brazil has attempted closer relations in recent years, such as Russia and Iran, were targets of ABIN.

It also says Russian diplomats involved in negotiations to purchase military equipment were photographed and followed on trips.

The same occurred with employees of the Iranian embassy, followed so that ABIN could identify their contacts in Brazil. The report also shows that ABIN agents followed Iraqi diplomats on foot and by car to photograph them and record their activities at the embassy and at their homes.

The Presidency’s Institutional Security Cabinet, to which ABIN is subordinate, confirmed the operations and said they were carried out according to the Brazilian legislation.

The Brazilian government says they were counterintelligence operations, that is, they sought to protect secrets in Brazil’s interest.

During the “Miucha” operation in 2003, ABIN followed the routine of three Russian diplomats, including the former general consul in Rio, Anatoly Kashuba, who left the country in the same year, and representatives of the Rosoboronexport, the Russian weapon export agency.

The “Xá” operation monitored the routines and contacts of Iranian diplomats – ABIN followed the steps of Iran’s then-ambassador in Cuba, Seyed Davood Mohseni Salehi Monfared, during a visit to Brazil between April 9 and 14, 2004.

An ABIN agent who examined the report at Folha’s request said the Iranians were likely followed at another country’s request, a typical cooperation between intelligence agencies.

The report also shows that the Brazilian government spied on the Iraqi embassy after Iraq was invaded by the U.S. in 2003.

Translated by Thomas Muello

Cuban Ally’s Dangerous Plunge 1

Bolivia’s Descent Into Rogue State Status

The country is a hub for organized crime and a safe haven for terrorists.

Mary O’Grady, Wall Street Journal

In the years after a brutal 10-year Soviet occupation, Afghanistan became a petri dish in which a culture of organized crime, radical politics and religious fundamentalism festered—and where Osama bin Laden set up operations.

Now something similar may be happening in Bolivia. The government is an advocate for coca growers. The Iranian presence is increasing. And reports from the ground suggest that African extremists are joining the fray.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is also the elected president of the coca producers’ confederation, and Vice President Alvaro García Linera, formerly of the Maoist Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army, began building their repressive narco-state when they took office in 2006.

Step one was creating a culture of fear. Scores of intellectuals, technocrats and former government officials were harassed. Many fled.

Seventy-five-year-old José Maria Bakovic, a former World Bank infrastructure specialist, was targeted but refused to yield. As president of the highway commission from 2001-06, he had developed a bidding system for road construction to reduce corruption. This stymied Mr. Morales. Bakovic was twice imprisoned and appeared in court more than 250 times for alleged administrative crimes, according to people familiar with his case.
Nothing was ever proven.

In early October, prosecutors summoned Bakovic to La Paz for another grilling. Cardiologists said the high altitude would kill him. The government overrode their objections, effectively issuing a death warrant. He went to La Paz on Oct. 11, had a heart attack and died the next day in Cochabamba.

With the opposition cowed, President Morales has turned Bolivia into an international hub of organized crime and a safe haven for terrorists. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has been expelled. United Nations data show that cocaine production is up in Bolivia since 2006 and unconfirmed reports say that Mexican, Russian and Colombian toughs are showing up to get a piece of the action. So are militants looking to raise cash and operate in the Western Hemisphere.

The Tehran connection is no secret. Iran is a nonvoting member of the “Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas” ( ALBA ). Its voting members are Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

In testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security in July, global security specialist Joseph Humire described Iran’s interest in ALBA: “Iran understood that the wave of authoritarian populism known as ’21st Century Socialism’ that was sweeping through the region offered the Islamic Republic a permissive environment to carry out its global agenda against the West.” Bolivia is fertile ground.

Iran may have put up some or all of the money to build a new ALBA military training facility outside of Santa Cruz. According to Mr. Humire, the Iranian Embassy in La Paz is “reported to contain at least 145 registered Iranian officials.” There is also Bolivian support for radical Islamic converts like the Argentine Santiago Paz Bullrich, a disciple of Iranian cleric Mohsen Rabbani and the co-founder of the first Shia Islamic association in La Paz.

Iran may be using its Bolivian network to smuggle strategic minerals like tantalum (used to coat missiles), Mr. Humire told Congress. It may even be smuggling people. Unconfirmed but credible reports describe high officials ordering the issuance of I.D. cards and passports to numerous young, fit “turks”—a slang term in South America for Middle Easterners. One witness told a Bolivian source of mine (who asked to remain anonymous for reasons of safety) that the foreigners were Iranians but not diplomats.

In late September, according to the Bolivian daily La Razón, Bolivia’s prospective consul to Lebanon was detained by Bolivian officials for allegedly trying to smuggle 392 kilos of cocaine to Ghana.

Thanks to steady cocaine demand, the Bolivian economy is awash in cash. Africa lies on the major transit route for European-bound cocaine. That may explain the increased sightings of Somalis, Ethiopians and South Africans in Santa Cruz, an unlikely place for African migration. In April, the partially burned body of a mutilated black man was found near the Brazilian border, suggesting a drug deal gone bad. An unusual marking was carved on the victim’s right thigh, as if villains wanted to be sure to get credit for the brutality.

Within days the Spanish daily ABC reported on a Spaniard, also tortured with a carving on his leg, found in the same area. I learned from a source who did not want to be identified that the victim allegedly told police that the black man who had died was his friend and was African. According to my source, a witness said the dying man also murmured the words “al-Shabaab,” the name of the Somali terrorist group.

One Bolivian I know claims that at Mr. Morales’s 2006 inauguration he saw Mohamed Abdelaziz, secretary general of the separatist Polisario Front, which has carried on a long conflict with Morocco.

North Africa is becoming a hotbed of violence. There are rumors of insurgent and terrorist alliances. If Mr. Abdelaziz was indeed in La Paz, it raises further questions about Bolivia’s foreign policy.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.

For NSA Leaker Snowden, Venezuela or Elsewhere? 3

By Carol J. Williams, Chicago Tribune

As fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden weighs his asylum options, he should be familiar with the name Luis Posada Carriles.

Both Venezuela and Cuba want to get their hands on the 85-year-old Posada, accused of orchestrating the 1976 terrorist bombing of a Cuban airliner in which all 73 on board died. The U.S. government has for years refused a Venezuelan extradition request for Posada, a Cuban-born Venezuelan citizen who lives in the supportive Cuban exile community of South Florida that applauds his longtime mission to kill former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

U.S. administrations back to the Nixon era have turned a blind eye to — and at times encouraged — Posada’s anti-communist militancy, partly to court the Cuban exile constituency that can sway swing-state Florida in presidential elections. But faced with the prospect of bringing former NSA contractor Snowden to justice and putting an end to the embarrassing disclosures of U.S. government surveillance, President Obama could make the political calculus that delivering Posada to Caracas would be a fair exchange.

Even if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro fulfills his offer to protect Snowden, analysts point out that Maduro won’t be in power forever. And Snowden, 30, is almost certain to outlive the leftists’ shaky grip on the leadership in politically turbulent Venezuela. Maduro is one of three Latin American leaders to offer Snowden asylum and an escape from the diplomatic no-man’s land in which he has been living for 18 days at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua have also said Snowden would be welcome to shelter in their countries.

Cuban President Raul Castro, brother of the revolutionary leader that Posada has targeted for decades, has made sympathetic noises about Snowden’s plight. But Havana has stopped short of offering a haven for Snowden, who is accused of leaking classified information.

Like Venezuela, Cuba has unresolved diplomatic issues with the United States. Four of five Cubans convicted of espionage in 2001 remain in U.S. prisons serving long terms for spying on anti-Castro exile groups like those aligned with Posada. Getting back the “Five Heroes,” as they are known in Cuba, has been a cause célèbre for the Castro regime. Also, the Cuban government holds U.S. citizen Alan Gross, convicted two years ago of illegally importing and installing telecommunications equipment in Cuba without government approval.

Although the possibility of trading the four remaining spies for Gross has presumably been considered, the White House might be more keen to get Snowden, whose leaks have continued since he outted himself as the source of revelations that the NSA gathers data on billions of phone calls, emails and texts worldwide.

Experts familiar with the thorny relationships between Washington and leftist-ruled Latin American countries see Snowden’s security in Venezuela as potentially short-lived. “The first thing he has to ask himself about any country he’s considering for asylum is what do they want from the United States and what leverage does the United States have over them,” said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst on Latin America at the National Security Archive, an independent documentation research center in Washington.

Venezuela wants Posada extradited, said Kornbluh, who has extensively researched the Posada case. “But on the other hand, coming to a deal with the United States for a swap like that would undermine the nationalist credentials of a country that stood up and agreed on principle to let him come.” The open question, Kornbluh said, is how much Maduro wants to move toward the political center and court better U.S. ties to shore up an economy in crisis despite enviable oil wealth.

Charles Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela who is president of the Institute of the Americas, says he takes the Latin American leaders at “face value” in their offers of asylum. What is more perplexing, he said, is how Snowden could travel from Moscow to Caracas without the plane entering U.S. or allied airspace.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the Obama administration has conveyed “to every country that might be considered a destination for Snowden” that he should attempt to travel nowhere other than to the United States.

Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College, sees little prospect of Maduro swapping Snowden for Posada. But he points out that Maduro won a narrow victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in an April election to succeed President Hugo Chavez, who died in March. And opposition leaders have vowed to organize a recall of Maduro within three years, opening the possibility of regime change in the near future. Snowden would be better served taking asylum in Bolivia, Tinker Salas said, as Morales appears more firmly in power and less susceptible to U.S. pressure than the other Latin American leaders who have put out the welcome mat.

Snowden was offered asylum by Morales on Saturday as the Bolivian president vented his outrage over an incident last week in which four European countries denied his plane entry into their airspace because of rumors that Snowden was on board. “That was a slap in the face of everybody in Latin America” that has spurred a fresh anti-imperialist frenzy in the region, said Daniel Hellinger, an international relations professor at Webster University in Missouri.

“There is little doubt that it will set back relations between Venezuela and the United States, which had been showing signs of improvement,” Hellinger said. “I do not think Maduro will use Snowden as a pawn at all. More dangerous for Snowden is the prospect, given the close election in April, that Maduro might be recalled within a few years.”