AP Story Renews Focus on Fulton Armstrong; Former Confidant of Ana Montes 3

Fulton Armstrong

Fulton Armstrong

By Chris Simmons

Recent articles by the Washington Free Beacon and other media outlets have challenged the credibility of the Associated Press. A central figure in the newswire’s use of suspect sources is Fulton Armstrong, the one-time National Intelligence Officer for Latin America.

Following the conviction of career spy Ana Montes, several administration officials – including Otto Reich – sought the reassignment of NIO Fulton Armstrong, one of the government’s senior specialists on Cuba. The New York Times cited critical officials as describing Armstrong as overly “soft” on Cuba threats to U.S. interests. Behind the scenes, they were deeply concerned not only with Armstrong’s strong ties to Montes, but how closely his analytic conclusions mirrored or endorsed hers.

In Newsmax, Kenneth Timmermann wrote that Armstrong would minimize or trivialize everything “derogatory to Castro, Venezuela, or to the FARC.” Several former U.S. intelligence officers confirmed that Armstrong, aided by Janice O’Connell, Senator Christopher Dodd’s top staffer, went so far as to continuously defend Montes “in closed-door sessions with top policy-makers” long after her arrest.

Armstrong is well-known for consistently minimizing Cuba’s ability to threaten U.S. interests and its continued support to terrorists. In one interview, Scott Carmichael – the senior Counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency – said Montes was “on a first name basis” with the Armstrong. In fact, Montes and Armstrong confided in one another by phone into the final stages of her investigation.

Dr. Norman Bailey, who previously served as the Issue Manager on Cuba & Venezuela for the Director of National Intelligence noted, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Fulton Armstrong had something to do with Ana’s products not being pulled.”

In his book, Sabotage: America’s Enemies within the CIA, Rowan Scarborough recalled a meeting convened by Fred Fleitz, a CIA officer on an interagency tour with the State Department. Representatives from most of the Intelligence Community attended, including Fulton Armstrong. Citing the damage caused by Montes, Fleitz called for a review of all intelligence products on which she’d worked. He felt such a review might provide insights into disinformation and biases built into her analysis. Armstrong opposed any such review as wholly unnecessary. “He had worked on the same assessments as Montes and was sure she did not distort them,” wrote Scarborough.

Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, was so repulsed by Armstrong’s openly biased stance that he banned him from his office. In a view shared by many, Noriega said: “I didn’t question his patriotism. I questioned his judgment.” Noriega went on to tell his assistant he “didn’t want to see a single scrap of paper he was involved in. I was not interested in a person with such a profound lack of judgment.”

In conclusion, a 2012 post by Capitol Hill Cubans reported the following:  “During his three-year stint as a staffer to Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Armstrong often forgot who was the elected Senator … and led a mostly unauthorized assault on all-things Cuba policy under the Senator’s name.  This led to Armstrong’s retirement in 2011.”

 

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Critics Question Sources for AP Report on Cuba Democracy Program 1

AP

 

 

 

Say sources had political agenda to undermine U.S. policy

By Daniel Wiser, Washington Free Beacon

Critics are raising questions about the Associated Press’s recent report on a U.S. program to foster civil society in Cuba and have accused the news organization of cooperating with sources who have a political agenda against U.S. policy toward the island.

The AP recently reported on the program that sent Spanish-speaking youth to Cuba to help build health and civil society associations, which the news organization described as a “clandestine operation” with the goal of “ginning up rebellion.” Human rights groups involved in the program criticized the report and said it mischaracterized the nature of the civil society projects.

Defenders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program say the AP has been less than forthright about the sources for its reporting. They also allege that the AP obtained information and documents from longstanding critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba’s communist government.

The anti-Castro website Capitol Hill Cubans alleged that the key source for the AP’s reporting on both the civil society program and a separate project, an attempt to develop a Twitter-like social media service for Cubans, was Fulton Armstrong. Armstrong is a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) staffer and senior intelligence analyst for Latin America.

Armstrong told the Washington Free Beacon in an email that although the AP contacted him, he was not the main source of information and documents. “The AP’s reports are pretty obviously based on documentary evidence provided by insiders concerned about the regime-change programs,” he said, adding that he was never fully briefed on what he called USAID’s “clandestine, covert operations.”

“Because the SFRC had investigated these scandalously run secret programs during my tenure on the Committee staff, and because my boss (Chairman [John] Kerry) was concerned enough to put a hold on the programs for a while, I was logically among the dozens of people to be called by the AP reporters,” he said.

Armstrong has long raised the ire of U.S. officials and activists advocating a tough line against the Castro regime. Foreign policy officials in the George W. Bush administration attempted to reassign Armstrong from Latin American intelligence after arguing that he was “soft” on threats from Cuba, according to a 2003 report by the New York Times.

Feature continues here:  Critics Question Credibility of AP Sources

 

The Castros’ Captive: Why Appeasing Havana Won’t Free Alan Gross 2

By Frank Calzon in Foreign Affairs (magazine)[a CFR publication]

In “Our Man in Havana,” R. M. Schneiderman suggests that Alan Gross will not be freed from his Cuban prison unless the U.S. State Department shuts down its programs supporting democracy and human rights in Cuba. This conclusion is faulty, if not utterly ridiculous. Gross, who worked for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, is serving a 15-year jail sentence for trying to help Havana’s Jewish community connect to the Internet, an act most of the world does not recognize as a crime. In 2009, Gross was seized just before he was scheduled to fly home to the United States and held for 14 months before any charges were filed against him. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has aptly described him as a “hostage.”

What seems to gall Schneiderman is not Gross’ imprisonment, but rather that Congress mandated the democracy-promotion program in Cuba in the first place. Schneiderman characterizes the U.S. government’s continuation of such programs as a failed opportunity to do away with “the antiquated politics of the Cold War.” He is correct that the programs are modeled on those that successfully cracked the Iron Curtain and that, after the collapse of European communism, were wholeheartedly endorsed by Lech Walesa, Václav Havel, and others. But he is wrong to call the program “antiquated” when Cuba remains a Stalinist-style state. The programs’ fundamental goal remains to break through the Castro regime’s control of information that isolates the Cuban people and keeps them in bondage.

That the democracy-promotion program annoys the Cuban regime does not make it a failure of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, there is no evidence to support Schneiderman’s claim that canceling the program would have freed Gross or produced other tangible benefits. The author recounts a 2010 conversation between Fulton Armstrong, a senior adviser to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and “high-level Cuban officials.” Armstrong is quoted as telling the Cubans that the democracy programs were “stupid.” He continued, “We’re cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can’t kill them.” Armstrong then asked, “Will this help you release Alan Gross?” to which he believes the Cubans said yes. This misses the fact that when it comes to Cuba, only two people are empowered to say yes — Raúl and Fidel Castro. And the Castros have a long history of biting any hand of friendship extended to them.

Indeed, even though Congress placed a hold on funding for the democracy program in 2010, Gross was tried and sentenced in March 2011. Washington may have had other reasons to think Cuba would be releasing Gross, but he did not come home with either former President Jimmy Carter nor Richardson, both of whom traveled to Havana.

By now, this story should be all too familiar. As president, Carter attempted reconciliation, establishing the U.S. Special Interests Section in Havana and making efforts at establishing some form of diplomatic relations. Castro’s response was to export thousands of prison inmates and patients from insane asylums to Florida, to send Cuban troops to fight a war in Angola in support of Soviet interests, and to assist anti-American insurgencies in Central America. Later, when U.S. President Bill Clinton again sought to improve relations, Fidel ordered two unarmed, civilian American aircraft shot down over the Straits of Florida in international waters. In response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempts to reduce the animosity between the two countries by easing trade restrictions and lifting limits on remittances, Raúl Castro — who has taken over for Fidel — not only ignored the president’s suggestion that Cuba reduce its taxes on remittances but also jailed Gross.

Gross is not the only person who has been punished for supporting human rights on the island. The regime has detained and expelled many visitors who dared to meet with dissidents. Among them were the current foreign minister of the Czech Republic; a cabinet secretary from Spain; Dutch, German, and European parliament members; journalists; and human rights activists. Gross’ imprisonment — set against the background of the continued repression of Cubans, the harsh punishment meted out to dissidents, and the refusal to allow prison inspections by international organizations — should serve as a wake-up call to those proposing unilateral concessions for the sake of normalization with Havana. Appeasement does not discourage the bad behavior of dictators; it emboldens it.

The time to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba will come only when Havana begins taking steps toward democracy and a free-market economy and reconsiders its alliances with North Korea, Syria, and other U.S. adversaries. Releasing Gross would be one indication that Cuba is ready to change. Obama ought to tell Raúl Castro that the United States holds him personally responsible for Gross’ well-being. Similarly, policy decisions that have increased and allowed remittances and encouraged American tourists to travel to the island can be reversed and revisited. Cuba has always played hardball, and if Castro’s government wants to continue its ways, the United States is not without rackets.

Report: John Kerry Held Secret Talks with Cuba to Free Alan Gross 2

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

Sen. John Kerry, nominated as the next secretary of state, held a secret meeting with Cuba’s foreign minister in 2010 in a failed bid to win the release of jailed USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, according to a published report. A senior state department official also met in secret with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez to discuss the Gross case, but the foreign minister lectured the U.S. official for an hour, added the report in the respected magazine Foreign Affairs.

José Cardenas, a former top official at the U.S. Agency for International Development, wrote that the article amounted to a “lesson on the folly of attempting to appease dictators.” A knowledgeable Senate aide also challenged the article’s description of the role that Fulton Armstrong, a senior staffer in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former CIA analyst, played in the campaign to free Gross.

Gross was arrested in Havana in late 2009 and sentenced to 15 years for giving Cuban Jews sophisticated communications equipment paid for by USAID’s “pro-democracy” programs, outlawed by Cuba as designed to bring about “regime change.” His continued detention has been a key block in efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations. The report authored by R.M Schneiderman, an editor at Newsweek, includes previously unknown details of a U.S. effort to win Gross’ freedom by cutting back funding for the pro-democracy programs and making them less provocative to Cuba.

In September of 2010, Spanish government officials helped arrange a secret meeting between then-Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela and Rodríguez to discuss a possible release of Gross, according to Schneiderman. “The Cubans were far less flexible than the Americans expected. The U.S. … wanted Cuba to release Gross, and only then would it press ahead on any other policy changes,” he wrote. “Rodríguez allegedly lectured Valenzuela for roughly an hour on Cuba’s history of grievances.”

A month later, at the request of Cuban diplomats in Washington and with State Department approval, Kerry met with Rodríguez at the home of Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York, according to the report. “There was no quid pro quo, but the meeting seemed to reassure the Cubans that the democracy programs would change, and the Cubans expressed confidence” that Gross would be freed after his trial, which was held in March of 2011, the report noted.

President Barack Obama has nominated Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and backer of improving relations with Cuba, to succeed Hillary Clinton. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry chairs, is expected to easily approve the nomination.

Schneiderman wrote that in early 2010, the State Department and USAID asked Armstrong, who had long criticized the programs as inefficient and wasteful, to help them make the programs less offensive to Havana — hoping Cuba might then free Gross. And that summer, “at State’s behest,” Armstrong began meeting with officials at the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington to tell them about the changes that were being made to the programs, Schneiderman wrote.

“We said, ‘Look, message received,’ ” he quoted Armstrong as saying. “‘These [programs] are stupid. We’re cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can’t kill them.’” The Cubans seemed appreciative. “We asked them, ‘Will this help you release Alan Gross?’ ” Armstrong went on. “And the answer was yes.’”

But Sen. Bob Menendez, a powerful Cuban American Democrat from New Jersey, stepped in to defend the programs in the spring of 2011 and persuaded the White House to roll back most of the changes, Schneiderman wrote. Havana grew chary at the same time, he added, as Raúl Castro faced domestic opposition to his economic reforms and a U.S. jury acquitted Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile blamed for several Havana bombings, of lying to U.S. immigration officials. “Mired in mistrust and miscalculation, each side seemed to be waiting for the other to blink,” he wrote. “Eventually, however, the United States appeared to step back from an opportunity to free Gross from jail and strike a blow against the antiquated politics of the Cold War … The Cuban-American lobby had won.”

Schneiderman’s article drew harsh criticisms from those who favor the USAID programs like Cardenas, a Cuban American who was the agency’s deputy assistant administrator during the George W. Bush administration. The article showed “the heroic efforts of some Obama administration officials to give the Castro regime everything it wanted” for Gross, he wrote in a column published in several Web sites. “Offering to gut a democracy program because a dictatorship opposes it sends a terrible message to authoritarian regimes around the globe.” Cardenas also described Armstrong as “an unabashed promoter of U.S.-Cuba normalization” and added, “Let’s hope this Fulton Armstrong-led fiasco puts an end to any more appeasement attempts.”

Armstrong was the CIA’s top Latin America analyst 2000-2004, was assigned to the Clinton White House and later to NATO in Europe. A colleague at the Pentagon, Cuba analyst Ana Belén Montes, was arrested in 2001 for spying for Havana and is now serving a 25-year sentence. After retiring from the CIA in 2008 he became a senior staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and left in 2011 to become a senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies in Washington. He did not return an El Nuevo Herald email requesting an interview for this story.

A senior Senate Republican aide with first-hand knowledge of USAID’s Cuba programs meanwhile said that Schneiderman exaggerated the role Armstrong played in the effort to win Gross’s release in 2010 and 2011. “My talks with DOS [Department of State] yielded the contrary, that DOS was annoyed at Fulton, wanted him to butt out,” the aide, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald. “His efforts actually made it harder … for the DOS to get Gross out, because Fulton set unrealistic expectations that the Cubans believed and that were politically impossible in the US,” the aide added.

Cuban officials have now made it all but clear that it will release Gross early only if the U.S. government frees five Cuban spies convicted in a Miami trial in 1998 as part of the “Wasp network.” The Obama administration has said repeatedly no swap is possible because Gross is not a spy. Schneiderman wrote that Cuba’s offer is “a position that many think is negotiable.”

How Not to Appease a Dictatorship 1

Posted By José R. Cárdenas on Monday, December 31, 2012 – 10:16 AM, Foreign Policy Blog

Do we really need another lesson on the folly of attempting to appease dictators?

Apparently, Foreign Affairs thinks so — albeit inadvertently. They recently posted a piece, “Our Man in Havana,” about the heroic efforts of some Obama administration officials to give the Castro regime everything it wanted for the release of jailed development worker Alan Gross. Specifically, this meant gutting the official U.S. democracy program for Cuba that Gross was operating under. In the end, however, they just could not overcome the intransigence of — not the Castro regime — but the “Cuban-American Lobby” in Congress.

Indeed, not only did they not wind up with the long-suffering Gross’s freedom, but, to boot, former Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela was forced to sit through a humiliating meeting with Cuban officials ranting about all the dictatorship’s grievances against the United States. As the article puts it, “The Cubans were far less flexible than the Americans expected.” (One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.)

The central figure in this drama of high diplomacy is one Fulton Armstrong, a controversial former CIA analyst who began a second career as a staffer for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). (Today, he is affiliated with American University.) Armstrong was such an unabashed promoter of U.S.-Cuba normalization in the inter-agency process that he was shipped off to Europe during the Bush 43 administration, although not before playing a role in trying to scuttle John Bolton’s nomination to serve as U.S. representative to the United Nations.

Apparently, Armstrong was enlisted by the administration to serve as a go-between with the Castro regime, no doubt due to the fact that he was a “friendly face” in the eyes of the Cubans. His mission: convince the Castro regime that the Obama administration agrees with them that USAID’s Cuba democracy programs “are stupid” and that, in the words of Armstrong, “we’re cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can’t kill them.”

The article also includes other Armstrong-sourced inanities meant to further discredit the USAID program: that he was told by a “State Department official” that Gross’s mission was “classified” and by another that Gross “likely worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Apparently, Armstrong needs new sources, because such assertions are nonsense and known to be by anyone remotely associated with the program (as I was during my time with the Bush administration).

The ever-resourceful, man-on-a-mission Armstrong even enlisted his former boss, Senator Kerry, in the appeasement effort, arranging for him to meet with Cuban officials in New York. The article reports, “there was no quid pro quo, but the meeting seemed to reassure the Cubans that the democracy programs would change, and the Cubans expressed confidence that Gross would receive a humanitarian release shortly after his trial.” (That was in March 2011).

Enter the villain: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a member of the nefarious “Cuban American Lobby.” He supposedly called Denis McDonough, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, to say basically hands off the Cuba program. According to a former government official, “McDonough was boxed in.” Now, there’s a tough call: side either with a lawless dictatorship or with an influential U.S. senator from your own party.

In the end, the effort to appease the Castro regime ended predictably: no freedom for Alan Gross and only utter contempt from Castro regime lackeys. Indeed, is there any mystery why Gross continues to languish in a Cuban jail cell when, according to Armstrong, unnamed administration officials signal to the Cubans that they think the democracy program is “stupid” as well? Moreover, offering to gut a democracy program because a dictatorship opposes it sends a terrible message to authoritarian regimes around the globe.

As I have written several times before, the best approach to securing Alan Gross’s freedom is not giving in to the demands of an illegitimate regime, but by denying it things it wants and needs, such as U.S. tourists spending hard currency under currently licensed travel programs. Let’s hope this Fulton Armstrong-led fiasco puts an end to any more appeasement attempts and the issue is placed in the hands of those with a more sober understanding of the nature of the Castro regime.

Fulton Armstrong’s Unwitting Revelation 2

Source:  Capitol Hill   Cubans   

The new edition of Foreign   Affairs magazine has an article entitled “Our Man in Havana”   about the Castro regime’s imprisonment of American development worker Alan   Gross and U.S. efforts to free him.

Sadly, the article is more akin to a novel (or ego-trip) narrated by former   CIA analyst and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Fulton Armstrong,   transcribed and edited by Daily Beast editor R. M. Schneiderman.

The plot-line is quintessential Fulton Armstrong:

Alan Gross is not a victim of the repressive Cuban dictatorship, which has   unjustly imprisoned him for over three years, but of the democratically-elected   Cuban-American Members of the U.S. Congress, whom he refers to as “the   Cuban lobby.”

It’d be interesting to know whether Armstrong and Scheinederman similarly   refer to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) or other Jewish Members of Congress   as the “Jewish lobby” or former U.S. Senator and now President   Barack Obama as the “black lobby.”

Such labels are insulting and reveal ethnic biases, as former U.S. Senator   Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is currently being reprimanded for.

In the case of Armstrong, it may be due to his blinding ideological bias.

Armstrong has long history of   internally working against U.S. policy towards Cuba. During his time at the   CIA, Armstrong authored, together with his former colleague at the Defense   Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes, an oft-cited 1998 report that argued   that Cuba no longer posed a security threat to the United States. Ironically,   just three years later (in 2001), Montes was identified as a Cuban spy,   arrested, convicted and is now serving life in a federal prison.

He has fervently opposed any endeavor that promotes freedom for the Cuban   people, whether its USAID’s democracy programs, Radio and TV Marti, or a   simple Senate resolution calling for the release of political prisoners. If   the Castro regime dislikes it, so does Fulton Armstrong.

Moreover, Armstrong is particularly insulted by the concept of “regime   change” in Cuba. Perhaps he finds the alternative — “regime   preservation” — to be more appropriate.

During his three-year stint as a staffer to Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) at the   Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Armstrong often forgot who was the   elected Senator (obviously not him) and led a mostly unauthorized assault on   all-things Cuba policy under the Senator’s name. This led to Armstrong’s   retirement in 2011.

However, in Armstrong’s zeal to promote unconditional dialogue with the   Castro dictatorship and to demonize elected Members of the U.S. Congress, the   article contains an important Freudian slip:

[T]he Cuban government adopted an attitude of wait and see. By fall,   there had been little talk about easing the U.S. embargo or taking Cuba off   the list of terrorist states — two top priorities for Raúl Castro, who was   by then in charge.”

Easing the embargo is a priority for Raul Castro?

How could this be?

Cuba “experts” have assured us that Castro really doesn’t want the   embargo eased, for it gives him an “excuse” for his failures.

Of course, anyone who has witnessed first-hand how hard the Castro regime   lobbies to have the embargo unilaterally lifted in Washington D.C. knows just   how important it is for Raul.

This reality is reinforced by a second “slip” about former U.S.   President Jimmy Carter’s visit to Cuba last year:

Both Carter and Castro tried to minimize expectations; they made it   clear this was still part of a trust-building dialogue. And to build that   trust, Carter called for an end to the embargo.”

In other words, to get in Castro’s good graces, one has to lobby against the   embargo for him.

Clearly, the unilateral ending of the U.S. embargo is Raul’s end-game.

So much so, that he’s even willing to take an American hostage.


And Armstrong unwittingly confirms this.

Harder Line on Cuba in Alan Gross Push 1

After Election, Is Havana Confrontation Best Policy?

By Paul Berger, The Jewish Daily FORWARD

The campaign to free Alan Gross, a Jewish contract worker jailed in Cuba for almost three years, has dramatically ramped up since President Obama’s reelection. But experts warn that the latest salvos in the battle to free Gross, led by his wife, Judy, and a prominent human rights lawyer, are scattershot and potentially counterproductive. “There is not a single, self-respecting, knowledgeable Cuba expert who thinks this new strategy is comprehensive or has a snowball’s chance of working,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former national intelligence officer for Latin America at the CIA.

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“This is a very fluid moment,” added Julia Sweig, a Latin America specialist for the Council on Foreign Relations. “It is a moment when the Obama administration should well be getting in a room and negotiating the terms of [Gross’s] release. I would hate to see any of this public pressure diminish or hurt that environment.” The Gross family, led by lawyer Peter Kahn, started turning up the heat on the administration and on the Cuban government at the beginning of this year, taking to newspapers and television to blast both sides for using Gross as a pawn in U.S.-Cuba brinksmanship.

Since the presidential election, on November 6, the campaign has become even fiercer. On November 11, Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer, and Judy Gross, staged a protest in Florida outside of a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. The same day, they released a letter from more than 500 rabbis to Cuban leader Raul Castro, calling for Alan’s release on humanitarian grounds and they reported Cuba to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture claiming that an insufficient amount of medical attention they said was being given to Alan constituted torture.