CubaBrief: Castro spy who plotted terrorist acts on U.S. soil criticizes the Center for a Free Cuba over Twitter. Reminding us that we left him out of our analysis

The Wall Street Journal in a January 12th editorial titled “Cuba’s Support for Terror” recognized that “after a five-year hiatus, the State Department on Monday returned Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism [SSOT]. What took so long?” The last CubaBrief offered a brief summary of instances of terrorism carried out by and sponsored by the dictatorship in Havana, and their close working relationships with other SSOTs. Cuba should never have been taken off the list.

Five members of the Castro regime's WASP network that operated in the USA

Five members of the Castro regime’s WASP network that operated in the USA

There was an omission that needs to be corrected and thanks to Mr. Rene Gonzalez, a Cuban spy jailed in the US for 13 years and now back in Cuba, who over Twitter responded to the earlier CubaBrief with false claims about the Center for a Free Cuba. The Center’s response was to ask him if he was projecting and link to one of the appeals in his case that recognized Mr. Gonzalez’s involvement in “active measures.”

Active measures is a method of political warfare conducted by security services “to influence the course of world events, ‘in addition to collecting intelligence and producing a politically correct assessment of it”. Active measures range from disinformation and other media manipulations to special actions involving various degrees of violence’ including murder.

In the 2005 appeal “United States vs Campa” to the 11th Circuit Court that was initially successful, but was rejected by both the 11th Circuit’s decision and that rejection upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 2009. Court documents described the Cuban spy as follows.

“[Rene] Gonzalez worked in a number of operations and “active measures.” He was furnished with proposed text for anonymous letters and telephone calls by Hernandez and was directed to consider ways to harass and cause dissension among the counter-revolutionary organizations by disseminating rumors that Basulto was disparaging various members.228 Gonzalez was directed to study BTTR’s airplane hangar, to consider burning down its warehouse and spreading rumors that BTTR had burned the warehouse for insurance money, to disable BTTR equipment and antennae, and to threaten a United States government agent with execution and send him a book bomb-appearing device.229″

Mr. Gonzalez was a part of the WASP spy network. The WASP Network (La Red Avispa) was made up of over forty officers and agents, four escaped to Cuba when the FBI began rounding them up in 1998. Ten were captured, and five of them pleaded guilty and cooperated with the prosecution and became unpersons in Cuba. The five who did not cooperate, remained loyal to Castro, and became the focus of an international propaganda campaign organized by the Castro regime. Rene Gonzalez served 13 years of his 15 year prison sentence and was the first of the spies freed in 2011. The second to be freed was Fernando Gonzalez after completing his sentence in February 2014. The campaign did not end until December 2014 when the remaining three spies (Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramon Labanino ) with the longest prison sentences, had them commuted by President Obama.

The Wasp Network engaged in espionage: targeted U.S. military facilities, planned to smuggle arms and explosives into the United States, infiltrated two non-violent exile groups, and carried out numerous other activities to sow division, shape public opinion, meddle in U.S. elections, and provided information for Operation Scorpion that led to the extrajudicial killings of Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales on February 24, 1996. Operation Scorpion was a Cuban intelligence operation of the Castro regime that sought to destroy Brothers to the Rescue using MiG fighters to shoot down their planes in an act of state terrorism carried out over international airspace.

This network also gathered personal information of American military personnel “compiling the names, home addresses, and medical files of the U.S. Southern Command’s top officers and that of hundreds of officers stationed at Boca Chica Naval Station in Key West.”

The above mentioned, to a large degree, has been memory holed. The usual suspects over the years have attempted to downplay the significance of the Wasp Network. For example, Ann Louise Bardach, author of Cuba Confidential, claimed that “FBI agents investigating the Wasp Network” … “were upset at the money and resources wasted on the trial” because “these were low-level people at the bottom of the food chain. They thought they would be sent home.”

The facts demonstrated otherwise during the trial, and in the aftermath of their return to Cuba.

All of this came out during the WASP spy network trial. Gerardo Hernandez, the head of the network was convicted in June 2001 of murder conspiracy, for the four killed in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, and for espionage. He was condemned to a double life sentence.

The WASP spy network was disbanded in 1998 by the FBI, but another high ranking Castro spy, burrowed deep in the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes, was not arrested until days after the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked on September 11, 2001. How many are still out there? Mr. Hernandez had his double life sentence commuted by President Obama on December 17, 2014 as part of the concessions made in the drive to normalize relations between Washington and Havana, and the return of American hostage Alan Gross.

In April 2020, Gerardo Hernández was promoted to Deputy National Coordinator of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), and tasked with spying on all Cubans in the island. On December 17, 2020 he was promoted to the Castro dictatorship’s Council of State, the 31-member body that governs day-to-day life on the island.

If what Ms. Bardach says about the FBI is true then they got their intelligence wrong. These were not “low-level” people, but operatives who engaged in disinformation and influence operations, espionage and state terrorism, and one of them is now in a national leadership position. Commuting their sentences was a failure of the first order.

Mr. Gonzalez’s twitter attack on January 13, 2021 is a textbook example of their influence operations and disinformation. Merriam Webster dictionary defines “disinformation” as follows: ” false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.” This is a moment of great political tension in the United States with an impeachment and trial of a U.S. President underway, and Havana is attempting to throw the naming of Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism into the current political crisis to seek an advantageous position and shape public opinion in the United States and elsewhere. Mr. Gonzalez is an expert in the “big lie” that the founder of the regime that he works for perpetrated against Cubans.

Fidel Castro lied about his true intentions, because he knew that if he had told Cubans that he was a communist he would never have taken power. On December 2, 1961 he explained his reasoning.

“If we had paused to tell the people that we were Marxist-Leninists while we were on Pico Turquino and not yet strong, it is possible that we would never have been able to descend to the plains.”

On March 26, 1964, after announcing that he had always been a Marxist Leninist, Castro explained: “I conceive the truth in terms of a just and noble end, and that is when the truth is truly true. If it does not serve a just, noble and positive end, truth, as an abstract entity, philosophical category, in my opinion, does not exist.”

Therefore when Mr. Gonzalez tweets that “a lie repeated 100 times becomes a truth, seems to be the motto of fascists like Goebbels, Pompeo and the Center for a Free Cuba” it is much more than the Cuban spy projecting, but also his bosses in the Intelligence Directorate ( Dirección de Inteligencia, DI). The lie is at the root of who they are. The big lie is baked into the regime’s DNA with the example set by Fidel Castro. In addition to lying the Castro regime, even before its founding, was a fierce advocate of terrorism, and never abandoned it as a tactic.

This is why Cuba belongs on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, and why their spies and agents of influence work so hard to deny it with their big lie.

The Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2021

Cuba’s Support for Terror

Obama’s engagement failed to change Havana’s behavior.

By The Editorial Board

A woman walks near a graffiti with the Cuban flag in Havana on Jan. 12Photo: yamil lage/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

A woman walks near a graffiti with the Cuban flag in Havana on Jan. 12Photo: yamil lage/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

After a five-year hiatus, the State Department on Monday returned Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism. What took so long?

State’s practice of listing countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” has been in place since 1979. President Reagan added the tropical communist regime in 1982. Cuba remained so designated until President Obama removed it from the list in 2015 in its campaign to normalize relations. But Havana doesn’t want to be normal, and it has deepened and broadened its commitment to terrorism.

The collapse of Venezuela’s democracy over two decades has been run out of Havana by Cuba’s military-intelligence apparatus. The once-sovereign South American nation is now essentially a Cuban satellite used as a base for transnational crime and terrorism. A 2019 report by the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism found that “Cuba and Venezuela continued to provide permissive environments for terrorists.”

[ Full article here ]

Politico, December 17, 2014

Price of U.S.-Cuba deal: Releasing a murderer


12/17/2014 12:05 PM EST

The deal President Barack Obama announced Wednesday setting in motion the most significant warming in U.S.-Cuba relations in half a century comes with an American concession that may be a tough sell for the White House: releasing from a U.S. prison a Cuban spy serving a life term for murder.

One of the three Cubans whose sentences Obama commuted Wednesday as part of the groundbreaking  agreement between Washington and Havana is Gerardo Hernández, who was convicted in 2001 of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the shoot down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes over Cuba in 1996, in which four Cuban émigrés aboard the aircraft were killed.

Hernández and the two others released were members of the so-called “Cuban Five” — a group of Cuban nationals convicted in 2001 of acting as what amounted to a spy ring known as “the Wasp Network.” The group used shortwave radios to receive direction from Cuba, including demands for information on Cuban exile groups in Florida and U.S. military activities in the Caribbean.

(VIDEO: President Obama: A ‘new chapter’ for Cuban relations)

White House officials declined to answer questions Wednesday morning about the release of Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero or whether Obama granted them formal commutations. All three were arrested in 1998. Labañino and Guerrero originally got life sentences on espionage charges, but later were resentenced by a court to 30 years and about 22 years, respectively.

In remarks Wednesday, Obama simply referred to the three men released as “Cuban agents” and noted they’d served more than 15 years in prison. He did not mention the murder conviction.

A Justice Department spokesman confirmed the releases came following commutations granted by Obama under his executive clemency powers.

“We can confirm that, prior to the President acting to commute the sentences of three former Cuban intelligence agents, Justice Department lawyers reviewed the proposed clemency orders for these prisoners,” spokesman Brian Fallon said. “In accordance with the President’s decision, these three individuals have now been formally released from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. Their transfer to Cuba is complete, and was carried out without incident by the U.S. Marshals Service.”

(VIDEO: Alan Gross arrives in the U.S. from Cuba)

The Cuban Five were eventually acknowledged as agents by the Cuban government and became a cause célèbre for the regime as well as some left-wing activists in the U.S. At one point, a federal appeals court overturned the convictions of the men due to the atmosphere surrounding their trial, but a broader panel of judges reversed that decision.

The two other members of the Cuban Five had already been released from prison, one in 2011 and the other earlier this year.

U.S. officials insisted Wednesday that the three Cuban agents serving time in the U.S. were not swapped directly for U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross, who had spent more than five years in Cuban custody on espionage charges.

Instead, American officials said the three Cubans released Wednesday were swapped for another person who had aided U.S. intelligence services and had been in a Cuban prison for more than 20 years. That person was not named.

Prisoner swaps involving the release of convicted criminals or those facing criminal charges are not unusual in the world of espionage. However, release of a person serving a life term on a murder charge is uncommon, at least in the U.S.

The New York Times, June 9, 2001

5 Cubans Convicted in Plot to Spy on U.S.

By The Associated Press

Five Cubans were convicted today of conspiring to spy on the United States for the government of Fidel Castro, and the leader of the group faces up to life in prison for his role in a Cuban air force attack that killed four Americans.

The leader, Gerardo Hernandez, was found guilty of contributing to the death of the four members of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue who were shot down by Cuban jet fighters in international airspace in 1996.

Relatives of the dead men were present throughout the six-month trial. The jury deliberated five days.

Prosecutors said Mr. Hernandez knew about plans to shoot down the Brothers to the Rescue planes on Feb. 24, 1996, because he warned two agents who infiltrated the group not to fly during a four-day period.

The defense said he was prosecuted as a scapegoat for the Cuban government, which had warned, after nearly two years of violations of its airspace by the group, that intruders risked being shot down.

The founder of Brothers to the Rescue, José Basulto, had flown at low levels over Havana on one occasion and had dropped 500,000 political leaflets on another. His plane crossed into Cuban airspace on the day of the attack. He was the lone survivor.

”This is justice. This is an act of God,” Mr. Basulto said. ”I’m glad the jury saw through all the lies.”

All five defendants were convicted of operating as foreign agents without notifying the government and conspiracy. Three of the group were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage for their efforts to penetrate military bases even though they obtained no United States secrets. The men showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

Prosecutors presented a case based largely on 2,000 pages of decrypted communications peppered with communist jargon seized when the five were indicted in 1998 as part of the 14-member spying network.

The defense relied on the decades-long history of animosity between the United States and Cuba, saying the agents’ primary mission was to thwart extremist exiles who supported terrorism against Cuba. The defense cited a string of Havana bombings that killed one tourist and injured 12 others in 1997.

Ramón Labanino and Antonio Guerrero, who were assigned to study military bases, also face life sentences on the espionage conspiracy convictions.

Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez, who are not related, face up to 10 years in prison on charges of failing to register as foreign agents and conspiracy.

Five other indicted members of the group pleaded guilty in exchange for their cooperation and were given reduced sentences. Four others are fugitives believed to be in Cuba.

A version of this article appears in print on June 9, 2001, Section A, Page 12 of the National edition with the headline: 5 Cubans Convicted in Plot to Spy on U.S.

CNN, May 7, 1999

Murder conspiracy charged in downing of Cuban exile planes

May 7, 1999
Web posted at: 7:54 PM EDT (2354 GMT)

MIAMI (CNN) — An alleged Cuban spy already under indictment faces a new charge of murder conspiracy in connection with the downing of two Cuban exile planes in international waters in 1996.

Gerardo Hernandez, first accused as a spy in a federal indictment last fall, was charged with murder conspiracy in a new and broader indictment filed in U.S. District Court Friday.

The new indictment added four new names to the list of people accused of operating a widespread spy ring in south Florida directed by Cuban intelligence.

Most prominent: suspected Cuban double agent Juan Pable Roque. Roque defected to the United States in 1992, worked closely with the Brothers to the Rescue exile group, acted as a paid FBI informant on exile groups and wrote a book called “Deserter” lambasting Castro’s dictatorship.

Four years later — and one day before the planes were shot down — Roque flew back to Cuba and was debriefed by Cuban officials.

U.S. prosecutors charge Hernandez and others acting as agents for the Cuban government were part of a group called “The Wasp Network.” According to the indictment, “the activities of the network were overseen, directed, analyzed and reviewed by the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence.”

The indictment charges Hernandez — using the code name Giro — worked directly for a Cuban intelligence operation called “Operation Scorpion.”

Prosecutors allege Hernandez fed Scorpion information including Brothers to the Rescue flight data.

Authorities charge Hernandez and other Miami-based Cuban agents were warned by Cuban intelligence that none should fly with the exile group between February 24-27, 1996.

The two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down February 24.

The original indictment was filed in September 1998 and charged 10 people. All are in custody pending trial.

Prosecutors would not say whether they’ve contacted the Cuban government to try to have Roque turned over.

Alicia Valle, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami, told CNN, “We will take whatever steps we may take to get a hold of a suspect who is outside our jurisdiction.”