U.S. spy freed by Cuba was longtime asset
U.S. spy freed by Cuba was longtime asset
By Adam Goldman December 17 at 3:07 PM
The Cuban government on Wednesday freed a U.S. spy whom President Obama
described as one of most important intelligence agents that the United
States has ever had in the Communist country and who helped unravel
several long-running Cuban espionage operations.
U.S. officials said the release of the spy, a native of Cuba who has not
been publicly identified, was a major priority for the intelligence
community as part of any deal with the Cubans. That agreement, Obama
said, also included the exchange of three Cuban spies by the United
States and the release of former U.S. aid worker Alan Gross by Cuba on
The choreographed exchange ranked as one of the most significant spy
swaps in recent memory and came four years after the United States
exchanged 10 “sleeper” agents with Russia in return for the release of
several Russian nationals who had spied for the West.
Little is known about the Cuban-born spy other than that he had been
imprisoned for nearly two decades and presumably had been working on
behalf of either the FBI or the CIA long before that.
In a highly unusual disclosure, the Obama administration on Wednesday
revealed specific operations that the spy had helped the United States
penetrate, saying he provided critical information that led to the
arrests of those known as the “Cuban Five”; of former State Department
official Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers;
and of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top Cuba analyst, Ana Belen Montes.
Although the U.S. intelligence community is believed to have significant
operations in Cuba, the existence of a single asset who was instrumental
to so many high-profile counterintelligence cases was previously unknown.
While U.S. officials say the spy was ranked among the United States’s
best assets in Cuba, a former senior CIA official said there was another
alongside him, an individual known as “Touchdown,” who defected in the
late 1980s. Touchdown revealed that many of the CIA’s assets in Cuba
were double agents.
The Myers investigation was one of the most serious espionage cases
involving the State Department in recent years. The FBI long suspected
there was a mole in the agency but did not have a name.
In 2009, as part of its counterintelligence operations, the FBI launched
a “false flag” operation against the Myerses involving an undercover FBI
agent posing as a Cuban intelligence emissary. In a string of recorded
meetings, the couple described their ties to the Havana government. They
would later plead guilty to spying.
In 2010, the husband was sentenced to life in prison; his wife received
nearly seven years. The FBI did not disclose in its indictment how law
enforcement officials initially learned about the couple’s activities.
Montes, the DIA analyst, was also spotted early by the Cuban government
in a “classic tale of recruitment,” according to the FBI. In 1984, Cuban
officials learned she was “sympathetic to their cause,” and she soon
agreed to help, landing a job at the agency in 1985.
According to the FBI at the time, it was a DIA colleague who reported
her in 1996 to a security official, suspecting she might be “under the
influence of Cuban intelligence.” The bureau made no mention of its
secret asset in Cuba, likely to protect him, even though he was already
Montes was arrested days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and
pleaded guilty in 2002. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Another woman, Marta Rita Velazquez, whom the FBI said introduced Montes
to Cuban intelligence, was charged in 2013 with conspiracy to commit
espionage. Velazquez, of Puerto Rico, lives in Sweden.
It’s unclear what role the secret U.S. spy played in the arrest of the
Cuban Five — three of whom were released Wednesday and two of whom were
released from prison earlier. But, as in the other cases, he appears to
have provided information to U.S. intelligence before he was imprisoned
According to the indictment of the Cuban Five, U.S. authorities learned
as early as 1995 that Cuban intelligence had sent operatives to the
The U.S. intelligence community issued only a brief statement after the
spy exchange on Wednesday.
“Information provided by this person 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,” said Brian Hale, a spokesman for the
Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Hale added it was a “fitting closure to this Cold World chapter of
Adam Goldman reports on terrorism and national security for The
Source: U.S. spy freed by Cuba was longtime asset – The Washington Post