Cuban Military is in Syria; Can Havana’s Spies be Far Behind? 5

Castro_KhruCuba is Intervening in Syria to Help Russia: Its Not the First Time

By James Bloodworth in The Daily Beast:

Reports that Cuban forces are now fighting in Syria follow a long history of the Castro brothers working closely with their patrons in Moscow.

Not for the first time Cuban forces are doing Russia’s dirty work, this time in Syria. On Wednesday it was reported that a U.S. official had confirmed to Fox News that Cuban paramilitary and Special Forces units were on the ground in Syria. Reportedly transported to the region in Russian planes, the Cubans are rumoured to be experts at operating Russian tanks.

For President Obama, who has staked his legacy on rapprochement with America’s adversaries, the entrance of Cuba into the bloody Syrian civil is one more embarrassment. Russia, Iran and Cuba—three regimes which Obama has sought to bring in from the cold—are now helping to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, ruler of a fourth regime he also tried in vain to court early on in his presidency. Obama has been holding his hand out in a gesture of goodwill to America’s adversaries only for them to blow him a raspberry back in his face—while standing atop a pile of Syrian corpses.

Yet for seasoned Cuba-watchers the entrance of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces into the Syrian civil war is a surprise but hardly a shock. A surprise because Cuba was forced two decades ago to curtail its military adventurism by a deteriorating economy (the Cuban military has been reduced by 80 per cent since 1991).

Largely thanks to the involvement of Cuban troops in the fight against Apartheid South African in Angola in the 70s and 80s (not to mention the more recent medical “missions” to disaster-stricken parts of the world) Cuba has gained something of a reputation for internationalism. At one point the Cuban presence in Angola reached 55,000 soldiers, inflicting a defeat on South African forces which helped precipitate the end of Apartheid. “The [Cuban army’s] decisive defeat of the aggressive apartheid forces [in Angola] destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor,” Mandela told the Cuban leader on a visit to Havana in 1991.

In recent years Angola has lent the Castro regime a romantic penumbra which says that, for all its faults, the Cuban revolution is on balance progressive (watch the film Comandante by the ludicrous Oliver Stone to get a sense of what I mean). Yet while everyone remembers Cuban heroics in Angola, few remembers Cuban terror in Ethiopia.

Feature continues here: Cubans in Syria

 

The View From Canada: It’s Time to Take Cuba off the Terror List 2

By Peter McKenna in the Winnipeg Free Press

In some ways, the U.S.-Cuba relationship — even under the presidency of Barack Obama — is still locked in a Cold War time warp. For a host of illogical reasons, including Havana’s 2009 imprisonment of Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who acted illegally in the country, Washington can’t seem to bring itself to break diplomatic bread with the Cuban government.

But there is some chatter in the halls of the U.S. State Department that newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry is seriously contemplating removing Cuba from an arbitrary list of countries that export or promote terrorism. By law, he has to make that determination and recommendation to the president before his department publishes its annual report on terrorism April 30.

Keeping Cuba on that list prevents dual-use military technology, which could include advanced medical equipment, from reaching the island. It also compels Washington to vigorously oppose any loans to Cuba from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Interestingly, Kerry has a record of endorsing moderation in Washington’s irrational and punitive Cuba policy, including his unease with millions of U.S. dollars for secretive democracy-building programs in Cuba. He no doubt believes the time is ripe, as is the political situation in south Florida, for the U.S. to work toward normalizing its relations with the Cuban government.

Cuba has been on the terror list since the list was first pulled together back in 1982. At that time, the reason for doing so was based on Havana’s material support for revolutionary movements and guerrillas in various Latin American countries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. That support no longer exists.

In the case of Cuba’s ties to the struggling Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Spain’s Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA) movement, there is no evidence that it has provided them with arms or paramilitary training. In fact, the Cubans have recently sought to curtail their relationship with ETA members residing on the island.

Further, Cuba is now playing an important mediation role in seeking to resolve the long-standing internal conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government. No matter how you slice it, the rationale for not delisting Cuba is pretty thin.

As a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times opined: “By all accounts, Cuba remains on the list — alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria — because it disagrees with the United States’ approach to fighting international terrorism, not because it supports terrorism.”

It’s worth mentioning that the Cuban government strongly condemned the terror attacks of 2001, offered to send medical supplies and health-care professionals in their aftermath, and acquiesced in Washington’s plan to house suspected terrorists at its Guantanamo Bay naval facility.

Surely if North Korea could be removed from the bad-boy list in 2008 by the former George W. Bush administration — and that Pakistan has never made it onto the list, even though it had sheltered Osama bin Laden for years — it is long overdue to scratch Cuba’s name off.

Cubans have certainly strengthened their case for doing so under the leadership of Raúl Castro, who has introduced economic and social reforms, permitted Cubans to travel freely abroad (including vocal dissidents), opened a constructive dialogue with the Catholic Church and released dozens of political prisoners.

The Canadian government, fresh from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s visit to Havana, should be using its good offices to convince the Americans to delist Cuba. If successful, it would have the salutary effect of bolstering Canada’s brand and profile in the region — a wise move, given that the Harper government has made the Americas a centrepiece of its foreign-policy thrust.

Removing Cuba from the terror list would also go some way toward resetting the U.S.-Cuba relationship on a proper diplomatic footing. This symbolically important step, in conjunction with a series of other confidence-building measures, such as the release of Gross, might eventually lead to the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba and restore Washington’s credibility in the hemisphere. Such a move would obviously be in the best interests of Cuba, the U.S. and the wider international community.

Peter McKenna is professor and chair of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island and the editor of Canada Looks South: In Search of an Americas Policy.

Why Cuba Remains on the List of Terrorist Supporting States…. Reply

Cuba Sees an Opening

By Mauricio Claver-Carone, The American (The Online Magazine of the American Enterprise Institute)

The State Department is reportedly considering dropping Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Doing so would hand Havana a major – and unmerited – diplomatic victory.

Cuba’s Castro brothers have spent billions of dollars over the last decade seducing U.S. farm bureaus and agri-business to lobby Congress to support lifting sanctions on Cuba. Recently recognizing that Congress is unlikely to support unconditional changes, and perceiving a possible opening with the new Secretary of State John Kerry, Castro lobbyists have shifted their focus to the Obama administration and a related goal: the removal of Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Kerry supported unilaterally easing sanctions on Cuba during his Senate career, and speculation that the State Department is considering removing Cuba from the state sponsor list – which also includes Iran, Sudan, and Syria – has been spurred by news reports citing contradictory remarks from anonymous administration sources. Some high-level diplomats have suggested Cuba be dropped from the list, according to the Boston Globe. But the State Department’s spokesperson Victoria Nuland clarified in late February that it had “no current plans” to change Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. However, that has not slowed efforts by those seeking rapprochement with the Castro regime, as a final decision will not be officially revealed until April 30.

Cuba has been on the state sponsors of terrorism list since 1982 due to its hostile acts and support of armed insurgency groups. While being on the list of terrorist sponsors imposes sanctions such as prohibiting the United States from selling arms or providing economic assistance, removing Cuba from that list would have little effect on these sanctions, as these were separately codified in 1996. However, it would certainly hand the Castro brothers a major – and unmerited – diplomatic victory. The Castros have long protested and sought to escape the ostracism associated with the terrorism listing, while refusing to modify the egregious behavior that earned them the designation. They are also hoping the change could improve their standing among otherwise reluctant members of Congress and lead to an unconditional lifting of sanctions in the near future.

Pursuant to the statutory criteria stipulated under Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act (as currently re-authorized under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act), Cuba can only be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list in two ways:

Option one is to have the U.S. president submit a report to Congress certifying that there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of Cuba’s government, that Cuba no longer supports acts of international terrorism, and that Cuba has provided “assurances” that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

It would be disingenuous for anyone to argue that there has been a “fundamental change” when the Castros have ruled Cuba with an iron fist for 54 years. Option one does not pass the laugh test.

Option two is to have the president decide to terminate the listing and submit, at least 45 days before doing so, a report to Congress that the Cuban government has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six months and has made assurances to the United States that it will not support terrorist acts in the future.

It would be an insult to the American people if Cuba were to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism based solely on assurances of change by a dictatorship that brutally represses its population, defies the rule of law, routinely foments anti-Americanism around the world with provocative anti-democratic rhetoric, and is holding in its prisons an American aid worker, Alan P. Gross. Arrested in December 2009, Gross’s “crime” was helping members of Cuba’s Jewish community connect to the Internet.

Feature continues here: http://www.american.com/archive/2013/april/cuba-should-remain-designated-as-a-state-sponsor-of-terrorism

Editor’s Note: Additionally, please remember that after 9/11, Cuba flooded US Embassies around the world with provocation agents whose mission was to degrade and disrupt US Intelligence efforts supporting the war on terror. Details can be found in the Sun-Sentinel article, “Embassy Walk-ins Were Cuba Spies Sent To Mislead U.s., Experts Say,” http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2009-10-20/news/0910190393_1_cuban-intelligence-cuba-experts-cuban-agents

US on Verge of Momentous Cuba Decision: Whether to Take Island off Controversial Terror List 3

HAVANA (Associated Press) – A normally routine bit of Washington bureaucracy could have a big impact on U.S. relations with Cuba, either ushering in a long-stalled detente or slamming the door on rapprochement, perhaps until the scheduled end of the Castro era in 2018. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry must decide within a few weeks whether to advocate that President Barack Obama should take Cuba off a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a collection of Washington foes that also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.

Cuban officials have long seen the terror designation as unjustified and told visiting American delegations privately in recent weeks that they view Kerry’s recommendation as a litmus test for improved ties. They also hinted the decision could affect discussions over the release of jailed U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross, whose detention in 2009 torpedoed hopes of a diplomatic thaw. Inclusion on the list means a ban not only on arms sales to Cuba but also on items that can have dual uses, including some hospital equipment. It also requires that the United States oppose any loans to Cuba by the World Bank or other international lending institutions, among other measures.

U.S. officials agree the recommendation, which Kerry must make before the State Department’s annual terror report is published April 30, has become ensnared in the standoff over Gross. The American was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was caught bringing communications equipment onto the island illegally while working for a USAID-funded democracy-building program. Cuba has been on the terror list since 1982, and is also the target of a 51-year U.S. economic embargo — the reason why the island of beaches, music and rum is the only country Americans cannot visit as tourists. Removal from the list would not change that.

Critics say Cuba’s inclusion on the list has little to do with any real threat posed by the Communist-run Caribbean island, and they say the list has become so politicized it’s useless. North Korea was removed in 2008 during nuclear negotiations that ultimately failed, and was never put back on. Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden had been hiding out, is not on the list in large part because of its strategic importance.

Longtime Cuba analyst Philip Peters of the Virginia-based think tank the Lexington Institute said removing Cuba from the list “makes sense … just because it’s been a specious allegation that the United States has repeated for many years … It would improve the atmosphere.”

Others argue against rewarding Havana unless it releases Gross. “I have long believed it’s in our interest to see an improvement in relations with Cuba,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Gross’s home state of Maryland who traveled with a congressional delegation to Havana last month. But “the first step needs to be resolving Alan Gross’s situation.”

Voices calling for a change in the policy are growing louder, however. Last month, The Boston Globe cited administration sources saying high-level diplomats determined Cuba should be dropped from the list. That prompted State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland to say there were “no current plans” to do so, though she did not explicitly rule out the possibility.
Last week, a Los Angeles Times editorial called for Cuba’s removal from the list, and other newspapers have voiced similar opinions. The Cuba Study Group, a Washington-based exile organization that advocates engagement to promote democratic change, issued a white paper in February calling for an “apolitical” reexamination of the terror designation.

While Kerry can review the designation even after the State Department’s report comes out, Cuba’s continued inclusion on the list in April would almost certainly rule out its chances of removal in 2013. A U.S. official involved in deliberations told The Associated Press that Kerry will ultimately decide and nobody under him is in a position to predict what will happen. “It’s very much up in the air,” he said. But another administration official said that lifting the terror designation will be a hard sell while Gross remains imprisoned. “It’s very unlikely,” the second official said. “There is no consensus. And if you are on (the list), you stay on as long as there is no consensus on taking you off.” The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Ostensibly, Cuba has been designated a terror sponsor because it harbors members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, the Basque militant organization ETA and a handful of U.S. fugitives, many of whom have lived here since the 1970s. But much has changed in recent years. Late last year, peace talks began in Havana between Colombia and the FARC, and even Washington has voiced hope that the negotiations will end Colombia’s half-century old conflict. ETA announced a permanent cease-fire in 2011, and Madrid has not openly called for the return of any Basque fugitives. Cuba has enjoyed improved relations with Spain and Colombia in recent years, and both countries routinely vote at the U.N. against continuing the U.S. embargo.

Under President Raul Castro, Cuba has freed dozens of dissidents and has begun opening its economy and society, though it remains a one-party political system that permits no legal opposition. Castro announced in February that he would step down in 2018 and signaled a likely successor. The time might also be ripe in terms of U.S. politics.

While in the Senate, Kerry was an outspoken critic of America’s policy on Cuba, saying it has “manifestly failed for nearly 50 years.” He called for travel restrictions to end and held up millions of dollars in funding for the type of programs Gross worked with. His boss, President Obama, no longer has to worry about reelection or pleasing Cuban-Americans, an all-important voting bloc in the crucial swing state of Florida.

Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba observer and the author of “Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington,” said all the political winds would seem to point toward a reboot in relations — except for Havana’s decision to hold Gross and try to swap him for five Cuban agents in the US. “In a way they cooked their goose with Alan Gross,” she said. “The Cubans thought, ‘Gee what a brilliant idea, we’ll have a chit to trade.’ Little did they know that they would be at this moment where you have considerable momentum to move on in Washington, and politically, because of the Gross mess, Washington can’t act.”

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.

Today in History: Defector Exposed Cuba’s Support to Terrorists 4

October 10, 1988:  Cuban diplomat Hector Aguililla Saladrigas defected to the US.  During his 14-years in the diplomatic corps, he served in Iran and Syria. He told US authorities that Palestinian radicals secretly provided Havana with large amounts of Western-made weaponry. Havana favored US, Israeli, and Italian weaponry since it helped mask Cuban involvement. These arms were then shipped to Cuban-supported guerrillas in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chile. When he served as the deputy at the Cuban Embassy in Damascus, he routinely went to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to purchase weaponry. On larger acquisitions, a senior Cuban intelligence officer would fly to Damascus to assist him.

Is Cuba’s New Ambassador to Syria a Retired Spy? 1

Speculation is growing that Fernando Perez Maza, Havana’s newly-appointed Ambassador to Damascus, is a recently-retired Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer.

Until recently, Perez Maza had served largely “under the radar” as a First Secretary, most likely since August 2006, when his wife – Ana Belkis Cabrera Arregui – arrived. His presence was discovered on this Facebook page of all Syrian-based embassies and their staff:  http://www.facebook.com/note.php? note_id=316110911755880. In contrast, this link to Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) diplomatic roster lists fewer and more junior, Embassy staff:  http://www.cubadiplomatica.cu/ siria/EN/Home.aspx

From roughly 1995-2002, Perez Maza served as a First Secretary at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. While in Washington, he gained notoriety for his involvement in a brutal attack on a crowd protesting the forced return of rescued rafter, Elian Gonzalez.  The “Elian scenario” is known to have been run almost exclusively as a DI propaganda operation.

In the late 1980s, Perez Maza was a Third Secretary at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria receives credentials in Damascus from Cuba’s new ambassador to Syria, Fernando Perez Massa (Reuters)