Caracas Nest of Spies: From WikiLeaks to the Snowden Affair 3

By Nikolas Kozloff, Huffington Post

As the unlikely Snowden saga continues to unfold, further disclosures are eroding the already tense relationship between Washington and Caracas. According to Brazilian newspaper O Globo, the National Security Agency or NSA conducted high level espionage on Venezuela, including the cataloguing of telephone calls and access to the internet, through a program called PRISM. Citing documents leaked by Snowden, O Globo reports that the NSA collected information on everything from Venezuelan military purchases to the South American nation’s oil industry.

Though Caracas officials are certainly aware that the U.S. spies on Venezuela, Snowden’s specific revelations relating to NSA may have far-reaching consequences. Already, Nicolás Maduro has said he is willing to offer diplomatic asylum to Snowden, and the Venezuelan president adds that the United States has “created an evil system, half Orwellian, that intends to control the communications of the world.” Snowden, Maduro adds, is a hero who has unveiled the nefarious machinations of American political elites.

It’s unclear whether Snowden can take advantage of Maduro’s offer, and traveling to South America could prove logistically difficult for the young whistle-blower. Nevertheless, the Snowden affair represents a huge fiasco for the Obama administration and could lead to Latin Americans undertaking intelligence counter-measures against Washington. As revealed in WikiLeaks documents, Venezuela and Cuba have long collaborated on intelligence matters, and if anything the Snowden episode will probably strengthen such ties.

Low-Level Diplomatic Warfare in Caracas

According to WikiLeaks documents, the late Hugo Chávez was apparently so taken with Havana that he consulted directly with Cuban intelligence officers without bothering to vet the reporting through his own intelligence services. Meanwhile, the Cubans themselves trained and advised Chávez’s security detail. Furthermore, the Cubans openly trained Venezuelan intelligence officers in “both political indoctrination and operational instruction” and some Venezuelan military officers underwent “ideological training” in Cuba itself.

Even if Chávez was unaware of recently disclosed NSA espionage, the authorities must have suspected the Bush administration was spying on Venezuela. In light of such pressures, it’s certainly not surprising that Chávez would take countermeasures. Ridiculously, however, U.S. diplomats constantly played the victim while complaining of high level harassment. In 2006, for example, the U.S. embassy in Caracas claimed the Venezuelan National Guard had seized and opened “part of an inbound U.S. Military Group shipment” consisting of “household effects and commissary rations.” According to the Americans, the authorities’ handling of the incident “quickly spiraled out of control, with senior Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (BRV) officials accusing the United States of wrongdoing.”

“Unique Threat Environment” at the U.S. Embassy

Perhaps, Chávez officials suspected that Embassy personnel was secretly working for the NSA or collecting intelligence, and the situation in Caracas continued to deteriorate in subsequent years. By early 2009, Venezuela was openly refusing to issue visas to new embassy personnel, including the Defense Attaché and USAID representative. American diplomats continued to play the victim, writing Washington that in the absence of a “credible commitment by the GBRV to normalize visa issuance for personnel assigned to Caracas, we should convey to them the potential consequences of continued harassment.” Further cables suggest that, far from improving, the atmosphere became more and more toxic. One year later the embassy even requested a “Defensive Security Coordinator” or DSC to manage “defensive planning.” The embassy, U.S. officials noted, had a “very unique threat environment.”

Not surprisingly, Washington’s political and diplomatic pressure on Caracas continued to drive Chávez closer to Havana, though the Americans seemed clueless as to why Venezuela would want to conduct an independent foreign policy. The Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, embassy staff noted, had fallen under Cuban influence. U.S. diplomats fretted that the politicization of the Ministry was “nearly complete” and complained about Chávez’s policy of sending young Venezuelan diplomats to Cuba for training. The same individuals, Americans noted, were later promoted rapidly and “often act as ideological watchdogs” or “commissars” within BRV embassies.

U.S. diplomats also worried about Chávez’s intelligence apparatus. Not mincing any words, the American embassy declared that joint Cuban-Venezuelan intelligence gathering “could impact U.S. interests directly.” Chávez’s intelligence service was among “the most hostile towards the United States in the hemisphere,” but fundamentally lacked experience and expertise. With the help of the more seasoned Cubans, however, Chávez would have more routine access to the activities of the U.S. government.

Snowden Fallout

Fast forward to the present and far from deterring Cuban-Venezuelan ties, the NSA scandal has led to greater diplomatic solidarity between the two nations. In Havana, Raúl Castro has stopped short of offering asylum to Snowden but nevertheless supports Venezuelan moves to harbor the young whistle-blower. Castro, who says he’s long been aware of secretive NSA programs, added that Cuba has been “one of the most harassed and spied-upon nations on the planet.” If Snowden ever makes it out of the Moscow airport, Cuba will likely play an important part in the former NSA employee’s travel plans. Indeed, Snowden’s most straightforward route to Latin America would be on a direct Aeroflot flight from Russia to Havana. From there, the whistle-blower could continue on his way by catching a flight to Caracas.

How has the Obama administration managed to single-handedly turn much of Latin America against the U.S.? Prior to the Snowden affair, it looked as if Secretary of State John Kerry might have brokered a thaw in U.S.-Venezuelan relations. If anything, however, the Snowden affair will probably exacerbate the poisonous atmosphere so vividly described in WikiLeaks cables. Recently, the U.S. probably exerted pressure on Western European governments to divert Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane to Vienna on suspicion that Snowden was squirreled somewhere aboard. Morales, who had been traveling en route from Moscow to La Paz, denounced U.S. interference and many Latin American nations have rallied to his defense.

Perhaps, the Obama White House might have minimized diplomatic damage over the Snowden affair by not making such a deliberate attempt to apprehend the young NSA whistle-blower. In a rapidly unraveling fiasco, Obama has furthermore sought to bully and intimidate many countries who would dare to harbor Snowden. One can only guess that presently diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas are possessed with a siege-like mentality and may fear the Maduro administration will resort to counter-measures. Perhaps, even as we speak U.S. diplomats are complaining to their superiors about joint Cuban-Venezuelan intelligence which is harassing American officials and unfairly targeting the U.S. embassy.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left.

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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.”

Maduro Seeks to Consolidate Leadership With Asylum Offer to Snowden 1

Analysts do not believe the US would retaliate against Venezuela

By Reyes Theis, El Universal

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s offer of asylum to former US intelligence agent Edward Snowden should not lead to retaliation from the US, but it is likely to delay the restoration of bilateral relations, analysts pointed out, adding that Maduro’s proposal will bring political gains nationally and internationally.

Legally, Venezuela is entitled to grant asylum to Snowden. The controversy around the move is rather political, said Pedro Nikken, former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The expert added that “the Venezuelan Government may shelter him, in a very controversial move, because there are common crimes (brought against him), that are closely related to political issues. I do not think the issue is legal, but it is a matter of politics and principles.”

Nikken also rejected the fact that Venezuela offered to grant asylum to Snowden, who revealed a spy network of the US Government, “while in Venezuela the government spies on everybody.” “The fundamental political issue is that Snowden has become an uncomfortable case, because he represents the US is a State exerting pressure, with intelligence networks, spying, and delving into the life and behavior of its citizens and the allied countries. Within the framework of the US democratic discourse, that is very uncomfortable,” said expert in political sciences and international security researcher Víctor Mijares.

Mijares rules any US retaliation against Venezuela for offering asylum to the former spy. “I doubt that, taking into account (Barack) Obama’s policy, there will be reprisals against Venezuela. He (Obama) does not want to retaliate, especially not against Latin American States. He tries not to resemble his predecessor (George W. Bush) and introduces himself within the framework of a good neighbor policy,” Mijares noted. However, Mijares conceded that the case could actually slow down the efforts to bring Caracas-Washington relations back to normal, “but we have to wait and see how important the case continues to be for the United States.”

Internationalist Giovanna De Michele highlighted the domestic impact of Maduro’s asylum offer. “Maduro is criticized because he does not look strong. When he spoke of an improved relationship with the US, Chavismo disliked the move,” she said. She pointed out that it is convenient for the Venezuelan government to give asylum to Snowden “because it gives the government a Hugo Chávez-style image of strength, autonomy, irreverence against the status quo. That will yield political dividends, both in and out of Venezuela.”

In the event that Snowden decided to come to Venezuela, Nicaragua or Bolivia, identification documents should be issued for the former agent to leave Sheremetyevo Airport, in Moscow.
Once his identity documents have been issued, the government granting asylum would send a plane to Moscow, possibly a military aircraft, to move the US citizen. Then, a flight path has to be established and the overflight of the relevant nations has to be authorized previously, lawyers explained.

Snowden’s departure would give some respite to Russia; otherwise, this case would harm Moscow’s relations with Washington. Further, the G20 Summit would be tarnished by the absence of Barack Obama, who would not attend the meeting if the former agent stays in Russia.

Cuba’s Raul Castro Criticizes U.S., Backs Allies on Snowden 2

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Raul Castro on Sunday backed offers of asylum by Venezuela and other Latin American countries to fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden and criticized the United States for what he described as bullying other nations. Castro, speaking behind closed doors to Cuba’s National Assembly, said Venezuela and other countries in the region have the right to grant asylum “to those persecuted for their ideals or struggles for democracy, according to our tradition,” according to the official Prensa Latina News Agency. Foreign journalists were barred from the parliament meeting. Castro’s remarks were his first public comment on the Snowden affair.

Cuba over the years has given refuge to various U.S. fugitives it considers political refugees, most notably members of the Black Panthers group decades ago.

Communist-run Cuba’s leftist allies Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua have stated that their doors are open to Snowden. Castro did not say if Cuba had received an asylum request and what the country’s position would be if it does. Snowden, 30, is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport and has been trying to find a country to give him sanctuary since he landed there from Hong Kong on June 23.

There are no direct commercial flights between Moscow and Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, and the usual route involves changing planes in Havana. It is not clear if Cuban authorities would let him transit. There was no sign of Snowden aboard the flight to Havana on Saturday.

Castro denounced U.S. threats of economic sanctions against any country that harbours Snowden and also denounced this week’s incident in which some European countries banned Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane from their airspace on suspicion that it was carrying the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor. “These actions demonstrate we live in a world in which the powerful feel they can violate international law, violate the national sovereignty of other states and trample on the rights of citizens,” he said, accusing the United States of employing a “philosophy of domination.” Castro downplayed Snowden’s revelations of secret U.S. spy programs, stating Cuba had been one of the countries most spied upon on the planet. “We already knew about the existence of these systems,” he said, as he closed the parliament meeting.

Shakur, Snowden, and the State Department: Is Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism? 1

By Rebecca Lullo and Phineas Rueckert, Research Associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

On May 30, the State Department submitted its annual report on terrorism (“Country Reports on Terrorism 2012”) to Congress, notably maintaining Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism along with Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Cuba was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism on March 1, 1982. It has remained ever since on the list of states that Washington accuses of repeatedly providing support for international acts of terrorism. The justification for Cuba’s presence on the list—that it is providing a safe haven for wanted fugitives and particularly for Assata Shakur—is flimsy at best. [1] Upon closer examination this assertion fails to be convincing. Cuba’s unfounded listing as a state sponsor of terrorism undermines U.S. credibility abroad, hampering its efforts to counteract authentic terrorism around the world.

As to the most common criteria for determining state sponsors of terrorism, the State Department has had to openly acknowledge that Cuba is not providing weapons or training to terrorist groups and is cooperating with the international community’s efforts to combat money laundering. Cuba is currently hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), calling into question claims that Cuba is harboring FARC members. Nevertheless, the assertion that Cuba is a safe haven for terrorists provides the main justification for its classification as a state sponsor of terrorism and is entirely duplicitous in its argument.

Assata Shakur and Edward Snowden: Two Distinct Cases of U.S. Fugitives and Cuba

The contention that Cuba shelters U.S. fugitives primarily alludes to the case of JoAnne Chesimard, better known as Assata Shakur, who became the first woman placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list on May 2 of this year. [2] Shakur is wanted for escaping from jail and fleeing to Cuba after being convicted of murdering a state trooper in New Jersey in 1973. Her conviction remains highly controversial due to the lack of definitive forensic evidence of her involvement, though her presence at the turnpike where the incident occurred is uncontested. [3] Many believe that Shakur was unfairly targeted due to her leadership role within the Black Panther Party and membership in the Black Liberation Army. [4]

Even if Shakur’s conviction holds, her classification as an international terrorist does not. First, U.S. statute defines terrorism as using or threatening violence against civilians or civilian populations for political gains. [5] An active-duty state trooper is not a civilian; therefore, this murder cannot be considered an act of terrorism. Second, the crime was allegedly perpetrated in the United States by a U.S. citizen and against a U.S. citizen, thus ruling out any basis for classification as an act of international terrorism.

Despite these considerations, the United States continues to demand Shakur’s extradition even though Cuba is under no obligation to do so. The Cuban government first granted Shakur asylum in 1984 based on her reasonable fear of being persecuted or prosecuted for her political beliefs and race upon her return to the United States. [6] Granting Shakur asylum absolved the Cuban government of any legal responsibility to comply with the U.S. request. [7] Even if Shakur had not been granted asylum, the Cuban government is not obligated to extradite fugitives charged with political crimes in accordance with a 1904 treaty with the United States. [8] Consequently, the FBI’s convenient reclassification of Shakur less than a month before the state sponsors of terrorism list was released points to inter-agency collaboration within the federal government to justify the continued presence of Cuba on the list.

Recent events regarding National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden shed further light on the inappropriate nature of Cuba’s continued listing as a state sponsor of terrorism. After fleeing the United States and subsequently being charged with three counts of espionage, Snowden travelled first to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, where he requested political asylum from Ecuador. As there were no direct flights from Russia to Ecuador at the time, his publicized route included layovers in Havana and Caracas. Snowden’s transit is a highly political matter for all nations involved, since they can be implicated in giving refuge to a U.S. fugitive. However, the plane to Cuba took off without Snowden on board.

Story continues here: Shakur, Snowden, and the State Department: Is Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism?

Edward Snowden May Be Cuba or Latin America Bound … Cuba Keeps Earning its Place on the State Sponsors of Terror List 2

By Jason Poblete, DC Dispatches

There are news reports this morning that NSA leaker Edward Snowden may be headed to Havana, Cuba to hide from U.S. authorities. If Snowden is going to Cuba, it is because he knows he will find safe-haven from U.S. law for doing things that have been extremely detrimental to our global war against radical Islam. If true, it further reinforces that the State Department’s recent report keeping Cuba on the state sponsors of terror list was the correct one.

Under U.S. law, the designation of placing a country on the list a legal and political decision by the Executive Branch. The legal justification is found in numerous laws including Sec. 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, Sec. 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and Sec. 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. Cuba earned its spot on the state sponsors of terrorism list since 1982. Please note that the release of the report does not constitute that there was a review by the U.S. government.

Why has Cuba and the Cuban Communist Party earned the designation? Here is a small and partial list based solely on what is in the public domain:

1. Cuba has a large number of individual and entities listed on the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals List (based on numerous legal authorities);
2. The harboring of an FBI fugitive in Cuba since 1984: cop killer Joanne Chesimard. Chesimard was a member of the radical left-wing terrorist group, the Black Liberation Army and is wanted for her role in the first-degree murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. Trooper Foerster was shot and killed with his own weapon in the name of “black power”. There is a petition to have Chesimard extradited to the United States;
3. Cuba’s harboring of Chilean terrorists linked to the assassination of Senator Jaime Guzman, founder of one of Chile’s conservative political parties, the Independent Democratic Union (The death of a conservative leader does not rank very high with Cuban regime supporters in the United States;
4. The false peace process the Cuba claims to be brokering the past few years with the Colombian FARC terrorist group and Colombia’s government;
5. The harboring of FARC terrorists;
6. The Cuban regime’s support of Venezuela and vice-versa. I could write several articles on this gem. Venezuela should have been added to the state sponsors list years ago. But that is a subject for another post;
7. Harboring of Spain ETA terrorists;
8. Cuba’s close and ongoing relationship with state sponsor of terror Iran and others state sponsors of terrorism;
9. Cuba has engaged, and likely still engages in a biological weapons program. If it does not, then why does the regime refuse to allow inspectors at sensitive sites throughout the island;
10. The Ana Belen Montes espionage case, among others including Kendall Myers and the Cuban Five;
11. And, the most important reason, it is in the U.S. national interest to do so.

A few weeks ago a Washington, DC think tank, CSIS, hosted a conference titled, “The Case to Remove Cuba from the Terrorist List.” You can listen to the panel here. Here are some of the reasons the panelists believe that Cuba should be removed from the terrorist list:

1. Calls from leaders in the Western Hemisphere to remove Cuba from the list (Note: with few exceptions, there are no leaders in the Western Hemisphere that are truly allies of the United States. Moreover, this is not a factor for putting Cuba on the list);
2. Strategic move by the United States by removing Cuba from the list would help people-to-people contacts (Note: this is not an element of any of the state sponsors terrorism designation criteria. And, what about prong 1 of U.S. policy, pressure on the Cuba regime?);
3. See #2 in the prior section of this post. The panelist argue it is not a factor, and if it were, they argued the “political exception” to extradition treaties and, at times, seemed to question the logic of calling Chesimard a terrorist;
4. They glossed over #7, supra, by saying Spain has asked Cuba to keep them in Cuba by granting them Cuban citizenship (Note: This is absolutely false and I have confirmed it with Spanish government colleagues currently serving);
5. Listing Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism is an “arbitrary and capricious” act (Note: for national security law purposes, this legal standard is a weak one to use and, at times, practically completely inapplicable to the Cuba question);
6. Judgements piling up in U.S. federal court because people are using the designation to file claims against Cuba (Note: I’d argue this is consistent with U.S. law and policy of pressuring the regime);
7. There are countries that should be on the list but are not on the list;
8. It serves no useful purpose (Note: if that is the case, why spend so much time talking about it?);
9. The Cuban government is a good at “spinning things” so they have used the designation for propaganda purposes in Cuba;
10. It is an extreme position to have Cuba on this list.

Interestingly, not once throughout the CSIS panel did any of the speakers discuss that U.S. law toward Cuba requires a two-prong approach: (1) helping the Cuban people and (2) isolating the Cuban regime. They focused only on prong (1). We could go on and on. Reach your own conclusions. Folks who support removing Cuba from the list are mainly people who oppose current U.S. policy. It is that simple. They are trying to make it political because it advances, in their minds, a path forward to ease sanctions on the regime.

The reality is that the political ball is in Cuba’s court, not the United States. The regime knows what it has to do and it choses not to change its ways. For now, a “small sector in Miami and DC” (as people said several times during the CSIS conference) will continue to advance efforts to isolate the Cuban regime as well as support the people of Cuba. That is a good thing. If we want to reach agreement on outstanding questions such as U.S. property claims against Cuba, Cuba’s debt, and much more (see my list as to why Cuba should stay on the terrorism list), we need to maintain a firm hand.

Study the history of modern, and not so modern dictatorships, and one thing stands out: they crumble sooner or later. The Castro brothers have lasted longer than most because Cuba is an island. Literally, an island in the middle of the Caribbean. In prior times, Cuba was important for Western Hemisphere geo-strategic purposes, but the U.S. can make due with the status quo. Just look at the last five decades. The U.S. has managed just fine without Cuba and, as a bonus, we even maintain a military base there.

We can argue ad nauseam who was right and what policy was not, but we won. That is all that matters. It is now up to the regime to decide how it wants to spend its waning days. Why do some people insist on handing over to Cuban one propaganda victory over another over another? That is what we do every time the U.S. weakens some component of U.S. policy. The have been trying to do so since the Bush Administration.

If Edward Snowden is headed to Cuba, he will become yet another token of the regime’s resistance to the U.S. The thing is, the Cuban people on the island are growing very impatient and the regime is running out of political tricks. We should take advantage of this political pressure cooker and increase economic sanctions once and for all. Then and only then will the Cubans regime come to its senses. And, if Snowden is not going to Cuba but to some other country in the Western Hemisphere, I can all but guarantee that Cuba is somehow lending a hand to make it so.

OPED: Forgotten Cuba? Is Washington Playing Word Games in Latest Espionage Estimate? 3

By Chris Simmons

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that “A new intelligence assessment has concluded that the United States is the target of a massive, sustained cyber-espionage campaign that is threatening the country’s economic competitiveness, according to people familiar with the report. The National Intelligence Estimate identifies China as the country most aggressively seeking to penetrate the computer systems of American businesses and institutions to gain access to data that could be used for economic gain.”

The newspaper goes on to note that “The National Intelligence Estimate names three other countries – Russia, Israel and France – as having engaged in hacking for economic intelligence but makes clear that cyber-espionage by those countries pales in comparison with China’s effort.” [emphasis added] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-said-to-be-target-of-massive-cyber-espionage-campaign/2013/02/10/7b4687d8-6fc1-11e2-aa58-243de81040ba_story.html

While the story makes for tantalizing reading for the layman, it raises several red flags with this retired intelligence officer. Let’s start with the most fundamental: why is cyber-espionage, which in this NIE is reportedly narrowly focused on America’s “economic competitiveness,” separate and distinct from the NIE on economic espionage? Computer hacking is simply a technique used to steal industry secrets. It should be nothing more than a chapter in the NIE on Economic Espionage. To remove and spotlight this tool is to distort the actual intelligence targeting of our economic interests.

Cuba, for example, runs the largest Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) complex in the Western Hemisphere outside of our own National Security Agency (NSA). Since the 1960s, economic espionage has been a priority for the DI. For example, a declassified CIA report noted that in 1964, Havana appointed General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI) officer Orestes Guillermo Ruiz Perez as Vice-Minister for Economics within the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Separate CIA documents stated that in 1973, DGI officer Alberto Betancourt Roa served as president of Cuba’s Chamber of Commerce. During 1986-1987, he served as Vice-Minister of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade. By the early 1990s, Betancourt headed Cubazucar, the national sugar corporation.

A key example of Havana’s success in economic espionage is the case of Guillermo “Bill” Gaede, In the 1980s, Cuba recruited Gaede to steal information on computer software and provide it to case officers in Mexico. Havana, in turn, passed the information to the USSR and East Germany until the end of the Cold War. Gaede, an Argentine communist and software engineer, worked for Advanced Micro Devices, Incorporated in Sunnyvale, California from 1979-1993. He provided Cuba with AMD specs, designs, “Blue Books,” masks, wafers, and small measuring devices.

Experts said Russia, with whom Cuba shared its stolen information, possibly narrowed the US technology lead by exploiting the chip designs and manufacturing techniques, which AMD spent millions of dollars to develop. Experts opined that Gaede’s damage was limited, as the technology used in the semiconductor industry advances so quickly that designs and manufacturing techniques quickly become outdated. However, the damage control provided by the experts failed to address the true effect of systematic and long-term economic espionage.

Gaede later claimed his initial motivation was his belief in communism, but this motivation waned after he repeatedly traveled to Cuba and became disillusioned. He left AMD in 1993 because of mistaken fears that the company would soon detect his misconduct. The technology giant Intel then hired him and greed became his motivator. He filmed the entire process used to make the Pentium chip, down to the smallest technical detail. He subsequently sold the information to China and Iran, which paid him handsomely. The secrets stolen from ADM and Intel ultimately earned Gaede the nickname, the “The Billion Dollar Spy.” He was arrested in late 1995.

The following year, the CIA advised the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Cuba ranked sixth of the seven nations worldwide that “extensively engaged in economic espionage” against the US. The CIA rated France as the most serious threat, followed by Israel, China, Russia, Iran, and then Cuba. Havana, it noted, liked to target American firms whose facilities were based outside of the US. In a separate 1996 report, the US government reiterated that Havana collected “political, economic, and military information within the United States.” The report went on to note that the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) had begun targeting those technologies needed to help Cuba’s ailing economy.

Subsequently, Cuba appeared prominently in a classified list known as the National Security Threat List (NSTL). The NSTL is compiled by an FBI-led, interagency group which identifies the issues and countries which pose the greatest strategic intelligence threat to U.S. security interests. The 1999 list, apparently the most recent to have been declassified, declared that out of approximately 180 countries in the world, only 11 were so dangerous that they were included on the NSTL. These strategic threats were China, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Similarly, a 1999 report by the US government’s National Communication System identified Cuba as having used electronic intrusions to collect economic intelligence. Additionally, during the latter half of the 1990s, the Department of Energy included Cuba as one of 22 nations on its “Sensitive Country List.” The DOE list is now restricted, so it is not known whether Cuba remains on the list.

Fast forwarding to late 2007, the Heritage Foundation had this to say about Cuba’s espionage capabilities:

• Since Raul Castro took the reins as acting head of state in 2006, Cuban intelligence services have intensified their targeting of the U.S. Since 9/11, however, U.S. intelligence agencies have reduced the priority assigned to Cuba.

• Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence (DI) is among the top six intelligence services in the world. Thirty-five of its intelligence officers or agents have been identified operating in the U.S. and neutralized between 1996 and 2003. This is strong evidence of DI’s aggressiveness and hostility toward the U.S.

• Cuba traffics in intelligence. U.S. intelligence secrets collected by Cuba have been sold to or bartered with Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and other enemies of the United States. China is known to have had intelligence personnel posted to the Cuban Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) site at Bejucal since 2001, and Russia continues to receive Cuban SIGINT information. Additionally, many Cuban intelligence agents and security police are advising Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

• Cuban intelligence has successfully compromised every major U.S. military operation since the 1983 invasion of Grenada and has provided America’s enemies with forewarning of impending U.S. operations.

• Beijing is busy working to improve Cuban signals intelligence and electronic warfare facilities, which had languished after the fall of the Soviet Union, integrating them into China’s own global satellite network. Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal has noted that this means the Chinese army, at a cyber-warfare complex 20 miles south of Havana, can now monitor phone conversations and Internet transmissions in America. (For the entire Heritage Foundation feature, see http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2007/10/cuba-at-the-crossroads-the-threat-to-us-national-security)

Then, in July 2008, Dr. Joel F. Brenner, Director of the U.S. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (an element of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) said: “The Russians and the Chinese remain big problems for us. The Cubans are a problem for us and the Iranians are a big problem for us… and the Cubans have a very accomplished set of intel services and they are something we have to watch.”

Last year, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) told the Senate Armed Services Committee “Cuba remains the predominant foreign intelligence threat to the United States emanating from Latin America.” Shortly thereafter, former Director of the National Counterintelligence Executive, Michelle Van Cleave, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that “…measured by its reach, history, objectives and success against us, Cuba is easily within the Top Ten list worldwide.”

Cuba earned its position as “Intelligence Trafficker to the World” by stealing U.S. secrets, not necessarily hacking our computers. Knowing this, it is disingenuous for Washington to split hairs between old-school “economic espionage” and “cyber-espionage directed against economic targets.” Everyone understands that Washington insiders exploit the cyber threat to generate publicity for themselves and funding for their projects. It’s time for the administration to stop minimizing the threat from Havana and revitalize our Counterintelligence services so they can better identify and destroy foreign spy services operating in America.