Cuban Spy Ring the Focus in Political Thriller ‘Wasp Network’ 1

A scene from director Olivier Assayas’ thriller, ‘Wasp Network,’ which stars Penélope Cruz.

Marie-Louise Gumuchian

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) – A ring of Cuban operatives seeking to infiltrate anti-government groups exiled in Miami in the early 1990s is the focus of French director Olivier Assayas’ “Wasp Network”, a star-studded political thriller based on a true story.

Starring Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, Gael Garcia Bernal and Wagner Moura, the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday, where it is competing with 20 others for the top Golden Lion prize.

The action begins in Havana with Cuban pilot Rene Gonzalez, played by Ramirez, flying off to the United States to defect, leaving his wife, Cruz’ Olga, and their daughter behind in the Communist state led by Fidel Castro.

While it appears at first that he wants to start a new life in Florida, he joins other exiled Cubans there as part of a ring known as the Wasp Network, a pro-Castro group.
Led by Garcia Bernal’s undercover operative Manuel Viramontez, they infiltrate Cuban-American groups that want to topple the Castro regime.

“I liked the idea of leading the audience in one direction and then twist it and then we see the other side of the game,” Assayas told a news conference.

Garcia Bernal described the key characters as “spies that are trying to stop violence”.

“There’s something very unique about this story that highlights the act of love that actually made them do this, and the people they left behind support them,” he said.

The film is based on the true story of The Cuban Five intelligence officers who were arrested in Florida in 1998, convicted of espionage and other activities and jailed, before eventually being released after lengthy jail terms as part of a prisoner swap between the two countries.

Assayas, known for “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper”, said shooting in Cuba was “what allowed this film to happen.”

“I thought there would be conditions, strings attached, the reality there was not. We were completely free to make the film as wanted. We were monitored to put it mildly, but there were no consequences on the film,” he said.

Article continues here: Hollywood Fiction

Editor’s Note: Any similarities between this movie and the real Wasp Network are purely coincidental. After all, the real Wasp Network played a central role in the premeditated murder of four Americans, influenced the U.S. political system at the local, state and Federal levels; spied on numerous military targets including SOUTHCOM, CENTCOM, SOCOM, NAS Key West and Barksdale Air Force Base; indimidated American media outlets, manipulated the Cuban American community, etc.  

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A Cynical End for Castro’s Faux-Beloved “Cuban Five” 4

Cuban FiveBy Chris Simmons

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.

Heroic Homecoming For Cuban Agents Brings Speculation About Future in Politics 6

The "Cuban Five," which includes Ramon Labanino (top left), Gerardo Hernandez (top right), Fernando Gonzalez (bottom left), Antonio Guerrero (bottom right) and Rene Gonzalez (center), have become part of the new political intrigue in Cuba. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

The “Cuban Five,” which includes Ramon Labanino (top left), Gerardo Hernandez (top right), Fernando Gonzalez (bottom left), Antonio Guerrero (bottom right) and Rene Gonzalez (center), have become part of the new political intrigue in Cuba. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

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.

Theater of the Absurd: Released Convict Rene Gonzalez Turns Blogger to Lobby for Fellow Spies 2

Rene Gonzalez’s Blog: “I’m a spy, they say,”

This page is also available in: Spanish

Why do I entangle on the web

Spy-turned blogger, Rene Gonzalez

Spy-turned blogger, Rene Gonzalez

http://rene4the5.com/

This post constitutes my presentation to the world of the blogosphere. To write it I’ve counted on the politeness of people who have preceded me on this field. Not all of them share the same views, but they all wish for a better Cuba and share an intellectual honesty which I respect. They are also together on the support for the Five. In this regard they represent millions of people both in Cuba and around the world.

I’ve wanted this questionnaire to answer to some of the questions from those millions of people. It is my aspiration that with the development of the blog some other answers are found, even for so many that don’t know about the case or that knowing it, for diverse reasons, are not today with the cause of the Five.

I sincerely believe in truth as a value. I believe that accessing it benefits everybody, even those who refuse to hear it. I trust that truth will find its way through this blog.

El primer agente cubano de “Los Cinco” que quedó en libertad estrena blog 1

(ARCHIVO) René GonzálezADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

(ARCHIVO) René GonzálezADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

(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.

 

 

 

Delegation Returns From Cuba Without Alan Gross 2

FILE - This undated handout photo provided by the Gross family shows Alan and Judy Gross at an unknown location. An attorney for a Gross, who has spent over four years imprisoned in Cuba, argued before a federal appeals court that his client should be allowed to sue the U.S. government over his imprisonment. (AP Photo/Gross Family, File)

FILE – This undated handout photo provided by the Gross family shows Alan and Judy Gross at an unknown location. An attorney for a Gross, who has spent over four years imprisoned in Cuba, argued before a federal appeals court that his client should be allowed to sue the U.S. government over his imprisonment. (AP Photo/Gross Family, File)

By Suzanne Pollak

Senior Writer, Washington Jewish Week

Bethesda Jewish Congregation Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer returned Wednesday from a two-day trip to Cuba “saddened and disappointed Alan [Gross] did not come away in our care.”

Schnitzer was part of a three-member Joint Delegation of American Religious Leaders that participated in meetings with high level Cuban officials on Nov. 3 and 4 with the goal of freeing Alan Gross, the Potomac man serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for crimes against the state.

Prior to his departure, Schnitzer said talks with the officials seemed more ambiguous than he could remember and therefore he had hoped Gross would be allowed to leave Cuba.

“We all feel this an especially auspicious time,” Schnitzer said, noting that the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April of 2015 creates “a window of opportunity.” Panama has invited Cuba to attend for the first time, and if there is any movement in negotiations to free Gross, it might be possible for officials from the United States and Cuban to meet and work things out, Schnitzer said.

Gross, 65, was arrested in December 2009 while in Cuba working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Gross was there to connect Cuba’s Jewish population to the Internet but was convicted in 2011.

Schnitzer, who represented the Cuban American Jewish Mission, was joined on the trip by Rev. John McCullough of Church World Service and Rev. Gradye Parsons of the Presbyterian Church.

The delegation, along with the Cuban Council of Churches, called for “the humanitarian release” of Gross and the Cuban Five. The Cuban government has insisted it will free Gross only if the United States frees the Cuban Five, three of whom have been in prison in the United States since 1998 following their convictions for espionage, conspiracy to commit murder and other charges. The other two have completed their prison sentences and returned to Cuba.

Freeing the Cubans still in American prisons “is the best and only way to get Alan out,” Schnitzer said. “The Cubans are waiting for this country, waiting for America, to engage” in talks, he said.

At the end of the trip, the delegation issued a joint statement. “Our common prayer is that by working together, we can help reunite these families and our countries.”

During the short visit, Schnitzer tried several times to visit Gross, but “Alan is not taking any visitors except his wife,” he said. However, he did learn that Gross, already in failing health, is having trouble walking due to “hip issues,” has difficulties with one eye and “lost another tooth.”

Since February, members of the delegation have met with members of Congress, the State Department and American religious leaders to pave the way for their two-day trip.

On Monday and Tuesday, the three men met with Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Chief of Mission, United States Interests Section Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, Assistant Foreign Minister Josefina Vidal Ferrerio, Minister of Religions Caridad Diego Bello and Rene Gonzalez, one of the freed members of the Cuban Five.

spollak@washingtonjewishweek.com

@SuzannePollak

Cuba’s “Free The 5” Campaign Falters As Support Plummets 4

Convicted Spy Rene Gonzalez:  the poster child for the regime's "Free the 5" program

Convicted Spy Rene Gonzalez: the poster child for the regime’s “Free the 5” program

By Chris Simmons

The headline in CubaSi proclaims “Tsunami of Messages for the Cuban Five Flood the White House.” However, all is not as it seems and even the false enthusiasm of Havana’s spinmeisters can no longer hide the truth. The “Cuban 5” campaign is dying.

A key facet of the “Cuban 5” propaganda operation has been to “flood” the White House with the letters and emails of support on the 5th day of every month. But a drought of supporters has reduced the “tsunami” to a small creek. Just a few thousand messages demanding the release of the three remaining Wasp Network spies arrived at the White House last Friday reported CubaSi.

Almost any well organized and motivated special interest group can generate hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of letters, postcards, and emails at the drop of a hat. In contrast, a Cuba-led program allegedly involving participants from over 40 nations only generates a few thousand emails and letters once a month. The men and women of the Directorate of Intelligence’s “Active Measures” Department (M-IX) should be rightfully embarrassed.

Editor’s Note:  Active Measures are the use of disinformation, threats, and/or violence to discredit opponents or otherwise manipulate the behavior of an individual or group. Disinformation is false or inaccurate information deliberately spread with the goal of rendering genuine information useless. 

Internet Foils Disinformation Operation Regarding Funeral For Mother of Alan Gross 5

Spy vs spyBy Chris Simmons

Cuba’s once world-class propaganda operations suffered another self-inflicted blow late yesterday, this time by expelled Spy Josefina Vidal, who continues to serve undercover as director of the US Division within Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vidal issued a press release claiming Havana is unable to award Gross a humanitarian visa for the funeral because “…neither the Cuban penitentiary system nor the US penitentiary system provide the possibility for inmates to travel abroad, no matter the reason…”

Before crafting this poorly conceived propaganda piece, Mrs. Vidal and her DI brethren should have searched the internet, where they would have found this Associated Press story on convicted Wasp Network spy Rene Gonzalez from April 12, 2013:  Judge approves Cuban spy visit home.

Is it really possible that the DI can’t even pull off a simple disinformation mission anymore without tripping over itself? Unbelievable! Ironically, readers will also note that the AP story is proudly displayed on the website by the National Committee to Free the Five.

Cuban Spy Arrives in Venezuela 1

Convicted Spy Rene Gonzalez (Courtesy:  PRELA)

Convicted Spy Rene Gonzalez (Courtesy: PRELA)

René González was imprisoned for 13 years

El Universal

René González, a Cuban spy regarded as hero of the Cuban revolution, arrived on Monday in Venezuela. Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elías Jaua welcomed him at Maiquetía airport. González is one of the five individuals imprisoned in 1998 by US authorities for spying of anti-Castro groups in Florida. According to the Cuban government, the group was on counter-terrorist duty. González was sentenced to 13 years in prison and three years on parole. González visited the Cuartel de La Montaña, the site that holds the remains of late President Hugo Chávez. There, he met with Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Arreaza.

El Salvador President Meets with Two Cuban Spies Convicted in U.S. 1

Salvador Sanchez Ceren celebrates election results / AP

Salvador Sanchez Ceren celebrates election results / AP

  Experts concerned about his willingness to work with U.S. on anti-drug, anti-gang efforts

By Daniel Wiser, Washington Free Beacon

El Salvador’s purportedly moderate new president met this week with two Cuban spies convicted in the United States, raising questions about his willingness to work with U.S. officials on anti-gang and anti-drug efforts.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren met with the spies as well as Cuban President Raul Castro on the communist island, according to a Salvadoran news outlet. The two men, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez (no relation), were members of the “Cuban Five” that were convicted on charges of conspiracy and espionage in the United States and later released to Cuba.

The visit received scant media coverage but could be a sign that the new president will govern as more of a hardline leftist. Ceren, a former Marxist guerilla leader in El Salvador, promised to govern as a moderate before narrowly winning the presidential election in March.

The other three members of the Cuban spy ring are still serving prison terms in the United States. One of them, Gerardo Hernandez, was linked to the deaths of four Cuban exiles in 1996. The exiles were pilots in the Brothers to the Rescue group that aided thousands of Cuban rafters fleeing the island.

Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs during the George W. Bush administration, said in an interview that Sanchez Ceren’s pledge to work together with the United States as a moderate leader now appears to be “pretty hollow.”

“He’s also sort of aligning himself with a failed [Cuban] model obviously in terms of economic policy and totalitarianism, and unrelenting hostility to the United States,” Noriega said. “It bodes very ill for where he wants to take El Salvador.”

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on Sanchez Ceren’s visit to Cuba and referred the Washington Free Beacon to the Salvadoran government. “We continue to work with the government of El Salvador on our many shared interests, including regional security,” the spokesperson said.

The direction of El Salvador’s government has important implications for U.S. security.

El Salvador is “a major transit country for illegal drugs headed to the United States from source countries in South America,” according to the State Department’s 2014 report on international narcotics control. Illicit drug shipments cost American taxpayers about $193 billion in 2007 for the health care and criminal justice systems, the latest data available.

Article continues here:  El Salvador President Meets with Convicted Cuban Spies