Al Jazeera Interview With Cuban Spy: ‘I will do it again if I have to’ 2

After spending 16 years in US prisons, Gerardo Hernandez shares his remarkable story behind his liberation.

Cuban intelligence officer Gerardo Hernandez was a central character in the frosty relations between Cuba and the United States.

His return to Cuban soil on December 17, 2014 marked a dramatic new beginning for both countries.

After 16 years in US prisons, he was given a hero’s welcome, and remains defiant and loyal to his government.

In 2001 he was convicted by a Miami court and handed down two life sentences for sending intelligence back home to Cuba.

The court said his actions assisted in the murder of Cuban exiles – in the shooting down of two planes – who were attempting to overthrow the Castro government.

He was a spy, but Hernandez, and the other members of the so-called “Cuban Five” spies captured on US soil and now released, have been declared national heroes by Fidel Castro and were decorated by Cuban president Raul Castro earlier this year.

All this time he had been separated from his wife Adriana Perez, yet, to the surprise of many she was nine months pregnant when he returned to Cuba in 2015. What hadn’t been revealed was that in an unusual diplomatic gesture of good will, officials on both sides had worked to send Hernandez’s sperm to Panama, so that the couple could have a child through artificial insemination.

Hernandez’s surprise release, and the story involving his wife and their baby, which may never have been born, was a key ingredient in secret negotiations leading to a historic agreement to end more than half a century of hostilities between the US and Cuba.G

Now, for the first time, Hernandez and his wife share the story of his imprisonment and release, Perez‘s experiences, how Hernandez posed as a Puerto Rican graphic artist in the US before his capture and how their child was conceived in a diplomatic move, as they talk to Al Jazeera in Havana, Cuba.

CODEPINK’s Itinerary For This Week’s Visit to Cuba – Meet With Spies, More Spies & Even More Spies! 4

CODEPINK at their Havana press conference.

CODEPINK at their Havana press conference.

By Chris Simmons

The left-wing group, CODEPINK, is currently in Cuba as it heads a “a historic delegation” that – from February 8-15, “will have high-level meetings with government officials, visit members of the Cuban 5 who were recently released from US prison, talk to doctors who combated Ebola in Africa, and interact with local people about cultural, economic, environmental and health issues.”

However, a closer review of their agenda finds scheduled meetings with intelligence officers and co-opted agencies, including:

Monday, February 9 @9am:  Meeting with Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), followed by a possible meeting with Fernando Gonzalez and the rest of the Cuban 5.

Friday, February 13 @9:00am: Meeting with Josefina Vidal, an expelled Directorate of Intelligence officer currently serving “undercover” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For more details on the intelligence activities of the highlighted groups and individuals, simply use the search tab. For CodePink’s full schedule, click here.

EXCLUSIVE: Senior Cuban Spies Leading “Normalization” Talks With US 6

Josefina Vidal

Josefina Vidal

Gustavo Machin

Gustavo Machin

Josefina Vidal Expected Choice as Cuban Ambassador to US

By Chris Simmons

Two career Cuban spies, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro and Gustavo Machin Gomez, will lead this week’s migration and normalization discussions with the United States. The pair are members of Cuba’s primary foreign intelligence service – the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), and serve as Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the North American Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX).  This is Machin’s second time in the Division, having served as Deputy Chief in 2003 and Division Chief from 2004-2005.

As Havana’s lead “diplomats” on U.S.-Cuban relations, they handled the Alan Gross negations, the return of three of Havana’s jailed spies, and the artificial insemination of DI officer Adriana Perez O’Connor (wife of freed spy Gerardo Hernandez). Perez herself was a member of the Wasp Network – the largest Cuban spy ring ever known to operate in the US. Incidentally, when details are eventually released regarding the Obama administration’s secret talks to restore US-Cuba relations, Vidal and Machin will undoubtedly be at the center of events.

From the DI’s perspective, MINREX’s North America Division is now seen as a de facto wing of the spy service. This assignment is so important that three former members were appointed to ambassadorships. Now we are witnessing the unprecedented return of Ambassador Gustavo Machin to serve as Josefina Vidal’s deputy. Given this pattern of events, I think it’s fairly safe to say Vidal is Raul Castro’s choice to be the first Cuban Ambassador to the United States.

Espionage Backgrounds

Little is publicly known about Vidal’s espionage career.  In May 2003, the US expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage. Seven diplomats were based at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations and seven at the Interests Section. Among the seven Washington-based spies declared Persona Non Grata was First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez PereraHis wife, First Secretary Josefina Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, voluntarily accompanied her expelled spouse back to Cuba.

Previously, Vidal’s lone known success was her support to the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); in particular, Julia E. Sweig, a CFR Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Latin America Program. In her book, Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground, Sweig profusely thanked six Cuban spies for assisting her with her research. The six intelligence officers were Jose Antonio Arbesu, Ramon Sanchez Parodi, Fernando Garcia Bielsa, Hugo Yedra, Jose Gomez Abad and Josefina Vidal.

The son of a revolutionary hero, Gustavo Machin Gomez, was expelled in November 2002 in retaliation for the Ana Belen Montes case. In 2003, he was Deputy Director of MINREX’s North America Division and Chief the following year. In 2006, he was appointed Cuba’s first ambassador to Pakistan, where he is believed to have targeted US counterterrorism operations in the region. He then returned home to head the International Press Center before his current assignment.

DI officer Johanna Tablada preceded Machin in his second tour as Deputy Division Chief before her appointment as ambassador to Portugal.  She was suspected of being assigned to Department M-I, the elite element focused on targeting the US intelligence community, universities, and Congress.

Eduardo Martinez Borbonet previously assisted Vidal as a Counselor in the North America Division.  In November 2011, two weeks after a landslide victory propelled longtime Havana-ally Daniel Ortega into a controversial third term, he became Havana’s ambassador to Nicaragua.

In late December 1998, First Secretary Martinez Borbonet was expelled for his involvement in the South Florida based Wasp Network.  The diplomat-spy served at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN), the traditional hub for Havana’s US-based espionage operations. He had arrived approximately eight years earlier as a lowly Third Secretary.

 

 

 

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.

Cuban National Released in White House Deal with Havana Now Back in the U.S. 3

Rolando Sarraff in 1996, the year he was imprisoned by the Cuban government (L)and more recently (R). Sarraff was sentenced to jail by the Cuban government for spying for the United States. He was freed in a prisoner exchange with the United States last month. (Family photo)

Rolando Sarraff in 1996, the year he was imprisoned by the Cuban government (L) and more recently (R). Sarraff was sentenced to jail by the Cuban government for spying for the United States. He was freed in a prisoner exchange with the United States last month. (Family photo)

By Missy Ryan, Washington Post

A Cuban national imprisoned for nearly two decades as an American spy is now in the United States, his family said Tuesday, the first confirmation of the former U.S. agent’s whereabouts since he was released in last month’s deal to overhaul ties with Cuba.

Rolando Sarraff, a cryptographer with Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence, was imprisoned in 1995 on suspicion that he was passing secrets to the United States. Information provided by Sarraff helped U.S. officials dismantle networks of Cuban spies in the United States, one illustration of the mutual hostility that characterized U.S. dealings with Communist Cuba for more than 50 years.

The White House secured Sarraff’s release last month as part of President Obama’s sweeping agreement to thaw U.S. ties with the island nation. The deal also included the return of an American aid contractor held by Havana and the release of three Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the United States.

But since the deal was announced Dec. 17, Obama administration officials have declined to confirm whether Sarraff was taken to the United States, or whether he was in U.S. government custody somewhere else. For weeks, family members in Cuba, Spain and the United States said they had not been informed by either the U.S. or the Cuban government about his whereabouts.

This week, his sister, who lives in Spain, said she finally heard from her brother. “He’s well, and he’s in the U.S.,” Vilma Sarraff told The Washington Post. She declined to give details.

The Sarraff family’s confirmation of the former agent’s whereabouts were first reported Tuesday by the Associated Press

Missy Ryan writes about the Pentagon, military issues, and national security for The Washington Post.

 

In Cuba, Wife of Freed Spy Gives Birth to Girl 3

FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2014 file photo, Gerardo Hernandez, right, member of “The Cuban Five,” touches the belly of his pregnant wife Adriana Perez, during a concert, in Havana, Cuba. The wife of the Cuban intelligence agent freed by the United States in December, gave birth to a girl, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, after a pregnancy made possible by negotiations to improve ties between the two countries. U.S. officials helped facilitate a process of artificial insemination for Hernandez and his wife. (Ramon Espinosa, File/Associated Press)

FILE – In this Dec. 20, 2014 file photo, Gerardo Hernandez, right, member of “The Cuban Five,” touches the belly of his pregnant wife Adriana Perez, during a concert, in Havana, Cuba. The wife of the Cuban intelligence agent freed by the United States in December, gave birth to a girl, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, after a pregnancy made possible by negotiations to improve ties between the two countries. U.S. officials helped facilitate a process of artificial insemination for Hernandez and his wife. (Ramon Espinosa, File/Associated Press)

By Associated Press

HAVANA — The wife of a Cuban intelligence agent freed by the United States has given birth to a girl after a pregnancy made possible by negotiations to improve ties between the two countries.

The Communist Party daily Granma says the baby named Gema was born Tuesday and weighs 7 pounds and 1 ounce (3.2 kilograms).

U.S. officials helped facilitate a process of artificial insemination so that convicted spy Gerardo Hernandez and his wife Adriana Perez could have a child. It came during talks that led the U.S. to release Hernandez and two other agents last month and the announcement of plans to restore normal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Cuba, meanwhile, freed imprisoned U.S. aid worker Alan Gross.

Corrected Editor’s Note:  Both Gerardo Hernandez and Adriana Perez work for the Directorate of Intelligence (DI). As part of the Wasp Network, her mission was to courier messages and material between Havana and Miami. She was still in training when her husband and nine other Wasp Network members were arrested in September 1998.

Cuba’s Vested Interest in Discrediting CIA Spy Rolando Sarraf Trujillo 9

Raul Castro

Raul Castro

By Chris Simmons

In December, Rolando “Roly” Sarraf Trujillo was identified as the high-value American spy traded for three Cuba spies. In the weeks since, some Republicans, a self-serving former Cuban spy named Bill Gaede, and the Castro regime have joined forces to diminish the importance of Roly’s service to America.

The Republicans are motivated by their mistrust of President Obama. In contrast, Havana’s attacks are driven by the fear its global spy networks will realize they have been betrayed – not by Sarraf Trujillo — but rather by their Cuban masters. Over the last 20 years, a “perfect storm” of events came together to make Havana’s agent communications extremely vulnerable. This fact is well-known to the regime’s leadership, which has inexplicably done little to protect its spies in the field.

I – as well as anonymous intelligence sources in Washington – identified Roly as a Directorate of Intelligence officer assigned to an element known as Department M-XV (Agent Communications). With this placement and access, he would have been able to identify strengths and weaknesses in the High Frequency broadcasts (i.e., shortwave or “ham” radio) that Cuba has transmitted to its spies every day for decades. Sadly, the three-man CIA ring in which Roly served was compromised in 1994. Unable to escape the island like his colleagues, he was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in jail in 1995.

Thus, it’s no coincidence that in 1996, the FBI was able to start reading parts of the HF broadcasts from Havana to its largest spy ring in America. Known as the Wasp Network, this group of 43+ spies stretched from the Florida Keys to New York City and as far west as Louisiana. The Bureau’s code-breaking, while slow and imperfect, proved good enough to arrest 10 Wasp members in September 1998. During these arrests, the FBI acquired physical copies of the encryption and decryption software used by Cuba. It also seized nearly 1,000 encrypted computer disks with roughly 15,000 pages of material.

In August 2001, two more Wasps were arrested and their encryption seized. A month later, Cuban master-spy Ana Belen Montes was arrested at the Defense Intelligence Agency. A covert search of her apartment months earlier had discovered her encryption/decryption software program as well as numerous messages she failed to destroy. The Montes investigation originally began in 1998 as an “unidentified subject” (UNSUB) case. However, sufficient evidence didn’t come together to pinpoint a specific person until September 2000.

In May 2002, another Wasp was arrested and his cipher program recovered. Finally, in June 2009, Cuban spies Kendall and Gwen Myers were arrested. Technology dinosaurs, the couple were part of a handful of Cuban spies who stayed with Morse Code for roughly 30 years, long after almost everyone else had switched to encrypted voice messages.

Rolando Sarraf Trujillo allowed Washington to first gain insights into Havana’s spy networks two decades ago. This knowledge was then amplified by the practical experience the Bureau gained reading Wasp Network communications for over two years. This was followed, in turn, by another huge breakthrough — the subsequent arrests of more than 16 Cuban spies (most of whom took plea agreements and cooperated with the US). In these arrests, the US likely acquired over a dozen working copies of Cuba’s cipher software. Now, with Rolando Sarraf Trujillo presumably being debriefed somewhere in the United States, the US government is adding additional depth to its understanding of Havana’s spy communications.

These events, taken together, should strike terror in the heart of every Cuban spy. If we assume NSA recorded every HF broadcast Cuba sent over the last several decades, then the possibility exists that (at least theoretically), with enough time, people, and funding, Washington could eventually break every message Havana sent.

Even with its communications security in a 20-year freefall, Cuba continues transmitting daily HF broadcasts. So for all those disposable Cuban spies serving secretly throughout the US, I’d recommend you start sleeping with one eye open. Washington is closer to finding you than you ever imagined.

U.S. Spy in Havana Exposed American Moles 4

An image provided by Cuba shows President Castro, right, Wednesday with members of the ‘Cuban Five’ who were released in a U.S. prisoner swap.  European Pressphoto Agency

An image provided by Cuba shows President Castro, right, Wednesday with members of the ‘Cuban Five’ who were released in a U.S. prisoner swap. European Pressphoto Agency

Intelligence Officer Whom Obama Singled Out for Prisoner Exchange Helped Convict Agents for Cuba in Washington

By Felicia Schwartz , The Wall Street Journal, felicia.schwartz@wsj.com

WASHINGTON—In announcing the prisoner exchange that set up a momentous shift in U.S.-Cuba relations, the Obama administration this week made an unusual disclosure, revealing the existence of a key intelligence agent, and detailing specific cases he helped to crack.

The U.S. informant, identified on Thursday as Rolando Sarraff Trujillo by those familiar with his role, had been convicted and imprisoned in Cuba for nearly 20 years for helping Washington. He was recently freed and flown to the U.S.

Undisclosed before this week was Mr. Sarraff’s secret role as an American operative in Cuba who provided critical information that prompted the 1998 arrests of a group of spies known as the “Cuban Five,” intelligence operatives sent to infiltrate U.S. groups opposed to the regime in Havana.

In remarks at the White House, Mr. Obama, without naming Mr. Sarraff, said that he was “one of the most important intelligence agents the United States has ever had in Cuba.”

In a separate set of prominent U.S. espionage cases, Mr. Sarraff also provided information leading to the detection and conviction between 2001 and 2009 of a group of American government officials for funneling information to Havana, the officials said.

The Americans included the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top Cuba analyst at the time, Ana Belén Montes, and former State Department official Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers, officials said.

All are still serving prison sentences.

In a speech Wednesday, Cuban President Raúl Castro didn’t name Mr. Sarraff but said he was “a spy of Cuban origin.” He has been widely identified as a former Cuban intelligence officer imprisoned in Cuba on espionage charges since 1995.

Mr. Sarraff was a cryptographer in Cuba’s intelligence service, said Chris Simmons, who headed a unit on Cuba for the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1997 to 2004.

Mr. Sarraff was arrested in Cuba in 1995, was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1996. He had provided information about the codes used by Cuban spies in the U.S. to communicate with Havana, Mr. Simmons said. Cuba typically used shortwave radio to communicate with agents in the U.S., he said.

U.S. officials used the information to decipher communications and identify spies, even long after he was arrested. “Once you have the insight, if you’ve got enough time, money and resources, you can go back and look at everyone,” Mr. Simmons said.

Feature continues here: Roly

 

The American Spy Traded in the U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Breakthrough 5

People cheer for the "Cuban Five" while holding a poster of the five Cuban intelligent agents, in Havana December 17, 2014. After 18 months of secret talks facilitated by the Vatican and Canada, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed by phone on Tuesday on a prisoner exchange and the opening of embassies in each other's countries. Obama said the moves were made possible by Havana's release of American Alan Gross, 65, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years. Cuba is also releasing an intelligence agent who spied for the United States and was held for nearly 20 years, and the United States in return freed three Cuban intelligence agents held in the United States. The poster reads "Freedom now !". REUTERS

People cheer for the “Cuban Five” while holding a poster of the five Cuban intelligent agents, in Havana December 17, 2014. After 18 months of secret talks facilitated by the Vatican and Canada, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed by phone on Tuesday on a prisoner exchange and the opening of embassies in each other’s countries. Obama said the moves were made possible by Havana’s release of American Alan Gross, 65, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years. Cuba is also releasing an intelligence agent who spied for the United States and was held for nearly 20 years, and the United States in return freed three Cuban intelligence agents held in the United States. The poster reads “Freedom now !”. REUTERS

By Jeff Stein, Newsweek

The unidentified United States spy being swapped as part of a diplomatic breakthrough between the U.S. and Cuba is almost certainly a former cryptographer in Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence who worked secretly for the CIA until he was arrested on espionage charges in the mid-1990s, according to a former U.S. intelligence officer and other sources.

Rolando “Roly” Sarraf Trujillo was “an expert on cryptography for the Cuban Ministry of Interior who was arrested in 1995 and sentenced to 25 years in jail,” says Chris Simmons, a former Defense Intelligence Agency specialist on Cuba.

“I know of all the Cubans on the list of people in jail and he is the only one who fits the description” of the unnamed asset who U.S. officials said was part of the deal to reestablish diplomatic relations between the two former Cold War adversaries.  The agent, U.S. officials said, was swapped for the remaining three members of the so-called “Cuban Five” spy ring, a group of operatives arrested in Florida on espionage charges in 1998. Another element of the agreement, which ended a decades-long feud, was Cuba’s decision to free Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned on the island since 2009, on charges of trying to subvert the state.

“I am 99.9 percent sure that Roly is the guy…” Simmons said in a telephone interview  “He’s the only one who fits the description” of the unidentified U.S. intelligence asset being released by Cuba, he added.

In a speech on Wednesday, Cuban President Raul Castro said that a spy of “Cuban origin” was being released. And the Miami Herald’s Spanish-language edition also reported that its sources believe that Sarraff Trujillo was that man.

Neither Cuba nor the Obama administration’s Director of National Intelligence (DNI) would identify the spy in question or comment on Sarraf Trujillo.

DNI spokesman Brian P. Hale said in a prepared statement that the asset being released spent 20 years in a Cuban prison for his work for the United States. Many of the details of his cooperation are classified, but Hale said he was “instrumental in the identification and disruption of several Cuban intelligence operatives in the United States and ultimately led to a series of successful federal espionage prosecutions.”

Indeed, according to Hale, the spy “provided the information that led to the identification and conviction of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) senior analyst Ana Belen Montes; former Department of State official Walter Kendall Myers and his spouse Gwendolyn Myers; and members of the Red Avispa network, or ‘Wasp Network,’ in Florida, which included members of the so-called Cuban Five.”

Simmons said that, “just as a matter of elimination,” it’s Sarraf Trujillo.

Feature continues here:  Spy Swap