Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    New trade-regulation debate – Should the U.S. share intelligence withCuba?

    New trade-regulation debate: Should the U.S. share intelligence with Cuba?

    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
    intelligence agents.

    “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:; Twitter: @francoordonez

    Source: Obama’s new Cuba trade rules call for sharing intelligence | In
    Cuba Today –