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    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
    humanitarian grounds.

    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
    in prison.

    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
    in Cuba.

    According to the indictment of the Cuban Five, U.S. authorities learned
    as early as 1995 that Cuban intelligence had sent operatives to the
    United States.

    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
    U.S.-Cuban relations.”

    Adam Goldman reports on terrorism and national security for The
    Washington Post.

    Source: U.S. spy freed by Cuba was longtime asset – The Washington Post