By Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), THE HILL
In the 12 months since President Obama publically announced his normalization effort with the communist Castro regime, the White House should have learned two painful lessons. First, the Castro brothers have not and will not change their oppressive ways. Second, the regime’s role as “intelligence trafficker to the world” ensures it will continue seeking opportunities to undermine U.S. national security.
The Cuban military and intelligence service will use this rapprochement as a pretext to expand Cuba’s espionage efforts within our borders.
One year ago, as a concession to the Castro regime, Obama made the grave mistake of releasing the last three of five incarcerated Cuban spies known as the “Cuban Five.” These five Cuban intelligence agents were arrested by federal authorities in 1998 and subsequently convicted on several counts, including failing to register as a foreign agents, using false identities, and conspiracy to commit espionage. The network’s leader, Gerardo Hernandez, was also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for his involvement in the shoot down of two U.S. search and rescue aircraft operated by Brothers to the Rescue, which led to the murder of three U.S. citizens and one U.S. legal permanent resident.
Cuban Military Intelligence officer Hernandez, head of the espionage ring known as the Wasp Network, was convicted in 2001. Soon thereafter, the Cubans aggressively aided the San Francisco-based National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. Now, the Cuban regime and their sympathizers are taking similar actions on behalf of Ana Belen Montes. Press reports suggest Washington and Havana are thinking about another spy trade, but this time for Montes, the highest-ranking American ever convicted of spying for Fidel Castro in our history.
A senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Montes was arrested on September 21, 2001, just ten days after September 11. She later pled guilty to spying and was sentenced to a 25-year prison term. The timing of her arrest was based on the fact that the U.S. government did not want a spy in the Pentagon to endanger American combatants headed to Afghanistan.
Montes had learned of military plans for our operations in Afghanistan and we did not want her to pass along that information to our adversaries. For several years during the latter half of the 1980s, she routinely provided Cuba with information on El Salvador’s Armed Forces and its embedded U.S. advisors. In a notorious March 1987 incident, a major Salvadoran base was attacked mere weeks after Montes visited it. Sixty-eight Salvadoran soldiers and their Green Beret adviser were killed during the battle. Simply put, Montes probably has the blood of one American on her hands and the U.S. didn’t want to risk the lives of untold Americans, including American service men and women.
Feature continues here: Montes – Forgotten Spy
Several spies, collectively known as the “Cuban Five,” have been hosted and toasted before adoring socialist crowds around the world for several months. Decorated with much fanfare in Havana, these over-hyped “Heroes of the Revolution” are the latest circus performers in Havana’s theater of the absurd.
You see, in reality, the “Five” have been put out to pasture. “Golden Exile” you might say. Members of the Wasp Network, they were five of an estimated 42 spies in the largest espionage ring ever known to have operated in the United States. A rare joint venture between Havana’s civilian and military intelligence services, it was led by Cuba’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DIM). Its primary targets were the Pentagon’s regional headquarters responsible for military operations in the Americas (SOUTHCOM) and the Middle East (CENTCOM), as well as US special operations worldwide (SOCOM).
In a massive sweep stretching 152 miles, the FBI arrested 10 of the spies in September 1998. Seven more Wasps were arrested or expelled over the next several years. Many of those arrested accepted plea agreements and turned against their masters in Havana. The “Five” held fast and were found guilty of espionage associated-crimes. Career DIM case officer Gerardo Hernandez, the former head of the deadly network, was sentenced to two life terms for conspiracy to commit murder in the February 1996 deaths of four Americans.
Once convicted, the regime could ill-afford for its lethal cabal to switch sides like their subordinates. The destitute island invested considerable monies to sustain their morale with family visits and a never-ending parade of diplomats from the (then) Cuban Interests Section in Washington and the Cuban Mission to the United Nations. A global propaganda campaign known as “Free the Five” was initiated. During the secret talks to restore diplomatic ties, the United States even helped artificially inseminate Adriana Perez, the spy-wife of incarcerated killer, Gerardo Hernandez. The effort, which tragically misguided Obama officials saw as a goodwill gesture, was prompted by Perez’s personal appeal to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), who passed the request to White House officials.
But to the ever cynical regime, its “heroes” are now little more than famous liabilities.
Moscow’s KGB long ago taught its Cuban allies that incarcerated spies can never again be trusted. The leftist dictatorship sees its freed spies as failures. After all, three were spy-handlers (“Case Officers”). Theoretically the best of the best, it was their mistakes – or that of their underlings – that had attracted the attention of US spy-catchers.
Despite the propaganda mission of the “Felonious Five,” there is an important lesson for America to learn. Given Havana’s extraordinary investment in five men who meant nothing to it — imagine what it can accomplish when it truly cares.
PPPFocus.com reports Havana is adamant that “normalization would not happen as long as the economic blockade against Cuba stays on, as long as the US maintains its naval base in Guantanamo and as long as Cuba is not compensated for the economic damage caused by decades of hostility.”
Reuters reports Cuba is aggressively pushing a claim for more than $300 billion in economic damages because it understands “President Barack Obama is attempting to advance normalization as much as possible before his second and final term ends in January 2017.”
Meanwhile, the Cuban News Agency (ACN) continues its unfettered loathing of Cuban exiles in features like “Miami Anti-Cuban Mafia Rejects Reopening of Cuban Embassy in the U.S.”
“We are going to have diplomatic relations with the United States without having ceded one iota.” — Gerardo Hernandez, Cuban spy who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison by a U.S. federal court for the murder conspiracy of Americans, thereafter commuted and released by President Obama as part of his one-sided deal with Raul Castro [Courtesy: Capitol Hill Cubans]
After spending 16 years in US prisons, Gerardo Hernandez shares his remarkable story behind his liberation.
Cuban intelligence officer Gerardo Hernandez was a central character in the frosty relations between Cuba and the United States.
His return to Cuban soil on December 17, 2014 marked a dramatic new beginning for both countries.
After 16 years in US prisons, he was given a hero’s welcome, and remains defiant and loyal to his government.
In 2001 he was convicted by a Miami court and handed down two life sentences for sending intelligence back home to Cuba.
The court said his actions assisted in the murder of Cuban exiles – in the shooting down of two planes – who were attempting to overthrow the Castro government.
He was a spy, but Hernandez, and the other members of the so-called “Cuban Five” spies captured on US soil and now released, have been declared national heroes by Fidel Castro and were decorated by Cuban president Raul Castro earlier this year.
All this time he had been separated from his wife Adriana Perez, yet, to the surprise of many she was nine months pregnant when he returned to Cuba in 2015. What hadn’t been revealed was that in an unusual diplomatic gesture of good will, officials on both sides had worked to send Hernandez’s sperm to Panama, so that the couple could have a child through artificial insemination.
Hernandez’s surprise release, and the story involving his wife and their baby, which may never have been born, was a key ingredient in secret negotiations leading to a historic agreement to end more than half a century of hostilities between the US and Cuba.G
Now, for the first time, Hernandez and his wife share the story of his imprisonment and release, Perez‘s experiences, how Hernandez posed as a Puerto Rican graphic artist in the US before his capture and how their child was conceived in a diplomatic move, as they talk to Al Jazeera in Havana, Cuba.
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.
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.
(EFE/La Habana) René González, uno de los agentes cubanos condenados en EEUU y en libertad en la isla desde el año pasado, estrenó el blog personal “Soy un espía, dicen”, con el que espera divulgar pormenores del caso de “Los Cinco”, uno de los puntos de fricción en el diferendo entre La Habana y Washington.
González, quien cumplió 15 años de prisión y fue el primero de los agentes en salir de la cárcel y en regresar a la isla, respondió en su primera entrada a preguntas de blogueros que radican en Cuba para explicar así por qué ha decidido entrar a las redes sociales.
“Aspiro a que con el desarrollo del blog vayan apareciendo más respuestas, incluso para muchos otros que no conocen del caso o que conociéndolo, por razones diversas, no están hoy del lado de los cinco”, afirmó González, quien ya se había estrenado en la red social Twitter.
El exagente cubano espera que su bitácora “sea una contribución a la ruptura del muro de silencio que se ha tendido sobre el caso” fuera de la isla y pueda “esclarecer los puntos oscuros del mismo”.
“El blog ofrece una oportunidad de que la historia sea abordada directamente por nosotros Cinco, utilizando un formato que permite el diálogo personal, fluido y permanente con quienes deseen aproximarse a ella”, precisó.
El caso de “Los Cinco” ha marcado en los últimos años el diferendo político que Cuba y Estados Unidos mantienen hace más de cinco décadas, y actualmente se considera uno de los principales escollos para una posible normalización de las relaciones junto a la detención y encarcelamiento en Cuba del contratista norteamericano Alan Gross.
Considerados en Cuba “héroes” y “luchadores antiterroristas”, los espías fueron detenidos en 1998 cuando la Oficina Federal de Investigaciones (FBI) desmanteló la red de espionaje cubana “Avispa”, que actuaba en el sur de Florida.
Todos admitieron que eran agentes “no declarados” de La Habana ante EEUU, pero alegaron que espiaban a “grupos terroristas de exiliados” que conspiraban contra el entonces presidente Fidel Castro, y no al Ejecutivo estadounidense.
René González y Fernando González son los únicos que ya han sido liberados tras cumplir sus condenas, mientras que los otros tres, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino y Antonio Guerrero, permanecen encarcelados.
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD Nov. 2, 2014
Nearly five years ago, authorities in Cuba arrested an American government subcontractor, Alan Gross, who was working on a secretive program to expand Internet access on the island. At a time when a growing number of officials in Washington and Havana are eager to start normalizing relations, Mr. Gross’s continued imprisonment has become the chief obstacle to a diplomatic breakthrough.
There is only one plausible way to remove Mr. Gross from an already complicated equation. The Obama administration should swap him for three convicted Cuban spies who have served more than 16 years in federal prison.
Officials at the White House are understandably anxious about the political fallout of a deal with Havana, given the criticism they faced in May after five Taliban prisoners were exchanged for an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan. The American government, sensibly, is averse to negotiating with terrorists or governments that hold United States citizens for ransom or political leverage. But in exceptional circumstances, it makes sense to do so. The Alan Gross case meets that criteria.
Under the direction of Development Alternatives Inc., which had a contract with the United States Agency for International Development, Mr. Gross traveled to Havana five times in 2009, posing as a tourist, to smuggle communications equipment as part of an effort to provide more Cubans with Internet access. The Cuban government, which has long protested Washington’s covert pro-democracy initiatives on the island, tried and convicted Mr. Gross in 2011, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for acts against the integrity of the state.
Early on in Mr. Gross’s detention, Cuban officials suggested they might be willing to free him if Washington put an end to initiatives designed to overthrow the Cuban government. After those talks sputtered, the Cuban position hardened and it has become clear to American officials that the only realistic deal to get Mr. Gross back would involve releasing three Cuban spies convicted of federal crimes in Miami in 2001.
In order to swap prisoners, President Obama would need to commute the men’s sentences. Doing so would be justified considering the lengthy time they have served, the troubling questions about the fairness of their trial, and the potential diplomatic payoff in clearing the way toward a new bilateral relationship.
The spy who matters the most to the Cuban government, Gerardo Hernández, is serving two life sentences. Mr. Hernández, the leader of the so-called Wasp Network, which infiltrated Cuban exile groups in South Florida in the 1990s, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors accused him of conspiring with authorities in Havana to shoot down civilian planes operated by a Cuban exile group that dropped leaflets over the island urging Cubans to rise up against their government. His four co-defendants, two of whom have been released and returned home, were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The two who remain imprisoned are due for release relatively soon.
Feature continues here: NYT Seeks to Reward Cuban Hostage-Taking
By George Mehrabian, The Militant
ATHENS, Greece — About 300 people viewed watercolors by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five, at the Oct. 2-5 annual Syriza youth festival, a major political and cultural event here attended by several thousand people. Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left), a social-democratic coalition founded in 2004, is today the largest opposition bloc in the Greek parliament. On display was a collection of 15 watercolors by Guerrero titled “I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived” that depict the experiences of the five revolutionaries during their first 17 months in the “hole” at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. The exhibit was part of a Cuban booth set up in the festival’s International Corner, which was dedicated to Palestine, Venezuela and Cuba. Showings of Guerrero’s art in Greece have been organized by a joint effort of the José Martí Cultural Association, Greek Solidarity Network-La Red Solid@ria, Hasta La Victoria Siempre and the publishing house Diethnes Vima. “The Syriza youth festival was the 10th stop since the Greece tour was launched in May,” said Loukia Konstantinou, who helped organize the showing. More than 1,300 people have seen the exhibit, some 550 of whom have signed petitions demanding President Barack Obama release the three revolutionaries who remain in prison — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Guerrero. Participants at Guerrero’s 15-watercolor exhibit in Greece have bought a total of 159 books published by Diethnes Vima and Pathfinder Press on the Cuban Five, the Cuban Revolution and other working-class politics.