New trade-regulation debate: Should the U.S. share intelligence with Cuba?
BY FRANCO ORDOÑEZ
President Barack Obama's new 12-page directive on trade and travel to
Cuba, widely heralded for its elimination of limits on Americans'
purchases of cigars and rum, contains a largely unnoticed provision that
has alarmed Cuban-Americans in South Florida.
It instructs the U.S. director of national intelligence to cooperate
with Cuban intelligence services.
The Obama administration says the one-sentence objective, which calls on
the Office of the Director of National Intelligence "to find
opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest" with Cuban
counterparts, is intended to combat "mutual threats."
But in South Florida the directive has angered a community that
remembers the roles Cuban spies and agents played in the downing of two
planes of the Brothers to the Rescue exile group and the theft of U.S.
military secrets by an agent planted in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"Forget about the cigars, this is a huge deal," said Rep. Mario
Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican. "This is a huge threat to our national
Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee,
said Cuba shares intelligence with Russia and Iran, among others.
Earlier this year, Gen. James Clapper, the director of national
intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Cuba was
among four countries that pose the greatest espionage threat to the
United States. The others were Russia, China and Iran.
"The threat from foreign intelligence entities, both state and
non-state, is persistent, complex and evolving," Clapper testified in a
February hearing on "Worldwide Threats." "Targeting collection of U.S.
political, military, economic and technical information by foreign
intelligence services continues unabated."
Over the course of five decades, Fidel Castro built one of the world's
most active intelligence services, whose missions included spying on
U.S. military facilities in South Florida and infiltrating leading Cuban
exile organizations in Miami.
But Joseph Wippl, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who spent
30 years in the agency's National Clandestine Service, said that was not
the case today. Cuba no longer poses a serious threat to the United
States, he said.
"I think probably the intelligence relationship we'd have with Cuba is
like the one we have with Russia," he said. "Will they continue to spy
against us? I would think so. Would we continue to spy against them? I
would think so."
Despite that adversarial relationship, U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have agreed to share
intelligence on Islamic State militants. Wippl, who teaches intelligence
studies at Boston University, sees a similar scenario in which the
United States shares information on a limited basis in specific areas,
such as counternarcotics.
Brian Latell, a former CIA official who wrote "Castro's Secrets: Cuban
Intelligence, the CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy," said
the administration directive sounded exploratory and could be good if it
helped save immigrant lives or stopped drug planes on their way to the
United States. But he said he didn't expect much enthusiasm in U.S.
intelligence agencies for sharing anything sensitive with their Cuban
counterparts. He also noted Clapper's comments to the Senate Armed
Services Committee on the Cuban counterintelligence threat.
"Cuban intelligence activities in the United States are still very
intense and very wide-ranging, and they probably haven't been reduced at
all over the very high levels of previous years," said Latell, who is an
adjunct professor and senior research associate at the Gordon Institute
for Public Policy at Florida International University.
There already is some cooperation between high-ranking defense officials
from both countries. The commander of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo
has long held private meetings with Cuban military officials to discuss
fire protection in the arid land around the base. Earlier this year,
Cuban national security officials toured the Pentagon's counter-drug
center in Key West. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, the commander of the U.S.
Southern Command, described it as an effort to crack down on illegal
trafficking in the Caribbean.
But the idea of sharing sensitive "intelligence" with the country that
created an elaborate system to spy on the United States seems
incomprehensible to many. In the 1990s, Cuban intelligence created the
Wasp Network, which spied on U.S. military facilities in South Florida
and infiltrated the Brothers to the Rescue. Information the network
passed to Havana helped Cuba down two of the group's planes, killing
their four occupants.
Gerardo Hernández, who was condemned to two life sentences in federal
prison for leading the Wasp Network, was freed along with two other
Cuban spies in a 2014 prisoner swap that heralded the warming of
relations and included Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency
for International Development. In one of the stranger aspects of the
newfound diplomacy, before Hernández's release, the U.S. government sent
his sperm to his wife in Cuba so she could get pregnant.
Some worry that Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes could be next to be released.
Sometimes referred to as the most important spy you've never heard of,
Montes spent nearly two decades spying for the Cuban government while
working for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. The Obama
administration has said it has no intention of releasing or swapping her.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., was among a group of Cuban-American
lawmakers who raised concerns last year that the Castro government might
use its diplomats at the reopened Cuban embassy in Washington as
"It is unconscionable that D.C. is seeking engagement on the
intelligence front with an avowed enemy of the U.S. when we know of
Russia's military presence in Cuba, Castro's espionage apparatus and air
traffic security at risk, which all undermine our own national
security," she said.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @francoordonez
Source: Obama's new Cuba trade rules call for sharing intelligence | In
Cuba Today - http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article109411977.html