CubaBrief: Revisiting the Havana Syndrome and the possible complicity of Cuba’s intelligence services

The Economist on August 23, 2021 published an “explainer” on the Havana Syndrome that raises more questions than it answers, and contains a notable omission. In the first paragraph in the second sentence the article leaves out the second place, after Cuba, that such cases popped up which was in 2017 in China. It got bad enough that 280 U.S. diplomatic and family members underwent medical screenings in China.

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According to The New York Times, in their May 12, 2021 article “Mysterious Ailments Are Said to Be More Widespread Among U.S. Personnel“, “the number of cases within the C.I.A., the State Department, the Defense Department and elsewhere spurred broad concern in the Biden administration. The initial publicly confirmed cases were concentrated in China and Cuba and numbered about 60, not including a group of injured C.I.A. officers whose total is not public.”

The Economist also tries to explain as a credible alternative to the microwave attacks, that had been established as most likely in late 2020, the idea of mass psychogenic illness citing the “extreme stress of living under round-the-clock surveillance in Cuba, which had only just restored diplomatic ties with America in 2015, may have contributed.” This ignores that Canadian diplomats do not live under such stress, but also suffer from the Havana Syndrome, and that there had been a full diplomatic presence by the United States in Cuba since the establishment of Interests Sections in Washington and Havana in 1977 during the Carter Administration.

Meanwhile the “Havana Syndrome” has spread around the world, and most recently impacted U.S. diplomats in Germany.

Polygraph.info, a fact-checking website produced by Voice of America (VOA), on August 11, 2021 fact checked the Russian Foreign Ministry describing claims made about the Havana Syndrome as “fictions” and prepared an overview on the topic. They have also found the injuries are real and serious:

multidisciplinary medical examination of Havana Syndrome victims published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences in 2018 found that they had suffered from “persistent cognitive, vestibular, and oculomotor dysfunction, as well as sleep impairment and headaches.”

“These individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma,” the report said.

Another National Academies of Sciences report in 2020 reached two conclusions: the reported syndrome was both unique and credibly consistent with electromagnetic wave exposure.

“First, the committee found a constellation of acute clinical signs and symptoms with directional and location-specific features that was distinctive; to its knowledge, this constellation of clinical features is unlike any disorder in the neurological or general medical literature…”

“Second, after considering the information available to it and a set of possible mechanisms, the committee felt that many of the distinctive and acute signs, symptoms, and observations reported by DOS employees are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy. Studies published in the open literature more than a half century ago and over the subsequent decades by Western and Soviet sources provide circumstantial support for this possible mechanism.”

Abhijnan Rej writing in The Diplomat reported on credibility of the Havana Syndrome in December 2020 but gave the Castro regime the benefit of the doubt claiming that “while the Russian intelligence services could carry out covert operations against U.S. diplomats in Havana without the knowledge of the Cuban government, it is highly unlikely that they would be able to do so in China without, at the very least, tacit acceptance by the Chinese authorities.” Rej ignores Havana’s track record on espionage, and an intelligence service that Brian Latell, a retired veteran CIA analyst and Cuba specialist described as “world class”. It is equally unlikely that Cuba’s Directorate General of Intelligence would not know what the Russians were up to in Cuba targeting American diplomats.

In the conversation around the Havana Syndrome, and the failure of Havana and Beijing to carry out their duty to protect diplomats in their respective countries it is important not to underestimate the capabilities of the Cuban intelligence services or their possible complicity.

The Economist, August 23, 2021

The Economist explains
What is Havana syndrome, the puzzling malady plaguing Western diplomats?

Potential culprits range from sonic weapons to microwaves—and even nothing at all

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A MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS is afflicting American and Canadian diplomats, spies and embassy staff all over the world. Over 200 people have reported symptoms that are baffling doctors. First identified in Cuba, cases have since popped up in Australia, Austria, Colombia, Russia and Uzbekistan. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that two more American officials, this time stationed in Germany, had suffered too, the first time the symptoms have been reported in a NATO country. What might be causing “Havana syndrome”?

In late 2016 in Havana, Cuba’s capital, several CIA officers working at the American embassy described the sensation of pressure in their heads and the sound of what sounded like a swarm of cicadas. They suffered from nausea and fatigue and had trouble remembering things. They also complained of ear pain and hearing loss. Later, brain scans revealed tissue damage similar to that caused by a car accident or a bomb blast. America’s government was spooked, withdrawing more than half its embassy staff in the city. Could the Cubans be using a mysterious new weapon?

Initially, American officials pointed the finger at sonic weapons, devices that use sound to disturb and disorient. But this theory was scrapped because sound waves at frequencies outside of the range of human hearing cannot cause concussion-like symptoms. Next they considered microwaves. A report published last year by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) concluded that microwave beams could alter brain function without causing “gross structural damage”, explaining many of the symptoms. In 2019, another report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) came to a similar conclusion. According to the NASEM report, Russia has worked with microwave technology since the 1950s; the Soviet Union used to blast them at the American embassy in Moscow.

Other experts on microwaves, however, are more circumspect. Jeffrey Staab, a professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic who was on the NASEM panel, has said that there was too little information on the sufferers to draw a conclusion. And although scientists have long been aware that microwave beams directed at a person’s head can make them hear clicking sounds, a phenomenon called the Frey effect, it is not known to cause injuries. Kenneth Foster, the scientist who first described the mechanism behind the effect, thinks the microwave link “defies credibility”.

Some propose a third explanation, which neither of the panels from NASEM and JAMA could rule out: mass psychogenic illness. This can occur when people in a group perceive the same symptoms, despite no external cause. Its supporters believe that there is no underlying disease, even though the symptoms are real and distressing. The extreme stress of living under round-the-clock surveillance in Cuba, which had only just restored diplomatic ties with America in 2015, may have contributed.

Although nearly one-third of individuals reported hearing loss from the attacks in Cuba, a standard test found that loss actually occurred in just two out of 21 people—both of whom suffered before the events in Cuba. Brain scans showed changes to white matter (the tissue that makes up around 60% of the brain) in three out of 21 patients, which is not unusual for a group of normal test subjects of that sample size. “When you take away these severe symptoms, this is what doctors see in their offices every day,” says Robert Baloh, a neurologist who devised some of the tests used to assess the affected diplomats.

In political and scientific circles, the theory of an attack continues to hold water. On August 6th American officials, including the Director of National Intelligence and the bosses of the CIA and the FBI, met to discuss the progress of investigations into the syndrome. Several of President Joe Biden’s advisers have said that they believe the CIA will eventually trace Havana syndrome (referred to by the administration as “anomalous health incidents”) to Russia. But some worry that politics are getting in the way of scientific fact. No matter whether the syndrome is being caused by a secret weapon, or is psychogenic, the symptoms are real and often agonising for those affected.

https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/08/23/what-is-havana-syndrome-the-puzzling-malady-plaguing-western-diplomats

The Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2021

U.S. Officials in Germany Hit by Havana Syndrome

Diplomats affected by mysterious symptoms express concerns about vulnerability of American staff posted overseas

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The American Embassy in Berlin is investigating unexplained illness among U.S. staff posted in Germany. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/DPA/Zuma Press

By Bojan Pancevski

Updated Aug. 18, 2021 6:01 pm ET

BERLIN—At least two U.S. officials stationed in Germany sought medical treatment after developing symptoms of the mysterious health complaint known as Havana Syndrome, U.S. diplomats said.

The symptoms, which included nausea, severe headaches, ear pain, fatigue, insomnia and sluggishness, began to emerge in recent months and some victims were left unable to work, the diplomats said. They are the first cases to be reported in a NATO country that hosts U.S. troops and nuclear weapons.

U.S. diplomats said similar incidents had been registered among American officials stationed in other European nations, but declined to provide any detail.

Some victims were intelligence officers or diplomats working on Russia-related issues such as gas exports, cybersecurity and political interference, U.S. diplomats and people familiar with an investigation into the illness said.

NBC News reported in July about at least one Havana Syndrome case among Berlin-based U.S. diplomats.

The set of symptoms first surfaced in 2016 among U.S. diplomats in Cuba and have since been observed in China, Russia and, more recently, in Austria, a neutral nation. There have been unconfirmed cases in Poland, Taiwan, Georgia and even in Washington, D.C. Some U.S. officials have said the complaints could be caused by attacks using radio-frequency energy such as microwave radiation.

The Central Intelligence Agency has tapped a veteran of the agency’s hunt for Osama bin Laden to head a task force aimed at finding the cause of the symptoms, current and former officials familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal in July.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-officials-in-germany-hit-by-havana-syndrome-11629279001


Polygraph.info, August 11, 2021

Havana Syndrome, Microwave Weapons, Russian Lies

August 11, 2021

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A national flag flown outside the U.S. Embassy on Novinsky Boulevard in central Moscow, June 16, 2021. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS)

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By Fatima Tlis

On August 6, U.S. security and intelligence officials met in Washington, D.C., to boost an interagency investigation of the so-called “anomalous health incidents” (AHI) that have been reported by hundreds of U.S. government officials and their families worldwide.

Hosted by the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, the Joint Intelligence Community Council said it is a “top priority to identify the cause of AHI, provide the highest level of care to those affected, and prevent such incidents from continuing.”

First reported by the American and Canadian diplomats stationed in Havana, Cuba, in 2016, the health incidents are popularly known as Havana Syndrome. Victims have reported a sudden illness with symptoms that include headaches, vertigo, disorientation, ringing in the ears, loss of vision and hearing. In some cases, brain damage and long-term illness were reported.

More recently, U.S. personnel in China, Russia, the U.K. and, last month, Vienna, Austria, have reported similar symptoms.

A U.S. State Department task force investigated after the initial Havana reports. In September 2018, Ambassador Peter Rode, who led that effort, told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that the department had “come to the determination that they were attacks.”

Evidence “based on communication intercepts” suggests that Russia is behind these attacks, NBC reported, citing U.S. intelligence sources. Officials have long suspected that some type of microwave or electromagnetic device could have been used to target the workers.

In Russia, state officials and top lawmakers have met the U.S. reports about the Havana Syndrome and suspected Russian involvement with denials and mockery.

Russian officials and state media have claimed that speculation about Russia’s knowledge or use of microwave weaponry or similar technology is fake, invented by “aging mentally unstable Russophobes,” and that the mysterious symptoms are more likely the result of “hangovers.”

On August 5, Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency quoted Aleksandr Bikantov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s media office:

“The Russophobic agitprop continues to propagate fakes. We sympathize with our colleagues and wish them good health. We believe that it is immoral and low to launch anti-Russian speculations, citing ailments. Fictions about some psi rays are beyond common sense.”

That claim is false. Although the cause of Havana Syndrome remains a matter of debate, evidence pointing to Russia’s weapons capability is more than mere speculation or science fiction. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, defense ministry, top military developers and experts all have hinted at or boasted about electromagnetic weapons.

Note: Microwaves, like gamma rays, x-rays and radio waves, are a form of electromagnetic radiation.]

In March 2018, Putin said in his annual address to parliament that Russia “has all reasons to believe that we are a step ahead” of other countries in creating “prospective weapons based on new physical principles.” Putin said it was too early to reveal the details, but that “specialists will understand” what he meant for Russia’s defense capabilities.

In October of that year, the Kremlin-controlled RT (Russia Today) news agency reported that “weapons based on new physical principles” referred to “SVCh-weapons.” “SVCh” is the Russian abbreviation for microwave.

The RT report said this class of electromagnetic weapons could destroy or temporarily incapacitate an enemy’s machinery and computers, and was also harmful to humans, causing a “degradation of the nervous and immune systems as well as metabolic failures.”

RT cited a representative of the Russian “Koncern Radio Electronic Technologies,” KRET, a major Russian defense contractor.

In November 2018, Zvezda, the Russia’s defense ministry’s official news channel, reported that the Russian army had been testing electromagnetic weapons both “in the lab and in the field.” Both the RT and Zvezda reports focused on “SVCh-cannons,” artillery and rockets.

The TASS state news agency reported in October 2018 that the SVCh weapons could be harmful to the soldiers operating them, and that the defense ministry had devised ways to isolate operators.

Today we already have SVCh weapon models which can work with precision on machinery and human targets,” TASS quoted Air Force Gen. Vladimir Popov as saying. According to the news agency, Popov said that now is not the time to “show all the cards” because “there may be, you know, people who will say that these are not humane means of waging war. And on the other hand, they will say that here again we have taken a step towards another arms race.”

In July 2020, the Russian defense ministry’s research and special projects department declared a “breakthrough” in microwave weapons development, announcing it was funding and coordinating “field-research” in SVCh-weaponry, military robotics, hypersonic weapons and biotechnology as the “military confrontation between states spilled over into the military science and military technology.”

The Kremlin website’s archives of Russian government and Russian Security Council meetings with the president include several mentions of SVCh weapons technology. In the earliest, dated March 19, 2007, then-defense minister Sergei Ivanov reported to Putin that the development of “SVCh-electronics has been effectively launched,” and “not only for military but for civilian use as well.”

In November 2013, during an unclassified portion of a meeting on Russia’s defense and space developments, Pavel Sozinov, constructor-general of the state-owned Almaz-Antey arms manufacturer, told Putin: “Those new electronic technologies I’ve mentioned earlier” are “unfolding.” Asked by Putin when they would start being produced for sale, Sozinov answered “in 2016.”

book written by a team of Russian experts and published in 2009, titled “Parallel weaponry, or with what and how killing will be done in the 21st Century,” reported that the former Soviet Union launched a SVCh-weapons program in 1977, with the first models created by 1982.

According to the book, a Soviet commission ultimately killed the big weaponry part of the project but nonetheless found that precision SVCh weapons were very effective against telecommunication systems. “Thus, the new direction has emerged and has been successfully developing since, that is the use of SVCH-weapons to cause functional harm,” the book says.

The U.S. National Security Agency reportedly has evidence that at least one country possesses microwave weapons.

In September 2018, The New York Times obtained and released an NSA memo from 2014. In it the agency confirmed, based on 2012 intelligence, that an unnamed “hostile country” was in possession of “a high-powered microwave system weapon that may have the ability to weaken, intimidate, or kill an enemy over time and without leaving evidence.”

“This weapon is designed to bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves, causing numerous physical effects, including a damaged nervous system,” the NSA memo stated.

The Times report said several countries, including the U.S., China and Russia, have been developing microwave weapons, but that Russia was the most likely culprit behind the attacks against the American officials in Havana. That conclusion was based on an analysis of the travel logs of the Russian intelligence operatives prior to and during the Havana attacks. The Times interviewed American scientist Allan H. Frey, whose research papers on the topic published in 1960s drew much attention from the Soviets.

“Not long after his initial discoveries, Mr. Frey said, he was invited by the Soviet Academy of Sciences to visit and lecture,” the Times reported. “Toward the end, in a surprise, he was taken outside Moscow to a military base surrounded by armed guards and barbed-wire fences.”

“ ‘They had me visiting the various labs and discussing the problems,’ including the neural impacts of microwaves, Mr. Frey recalled.”

Initially, U.S. intelligence and other officials viewed the Havana Syndrome reports with skepticism, and an early FBI investigation dismissed the “attack” theory, according to news reports.

The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit’s initial investigation concluded that the “Havana patients” were suffering from a “mass psychogenic illness” – “a condition in which a group of people, often thinking that they have been exposed to something dangerous, begin to feel sick at the same time.”

But with the newly reported cases, the FBI is now “reassessing” its conclusion, The New Yorker reported in July, citing an unnamed U.S. official.

A 2020 book, “Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria” by Robert W. Baloh, professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, and Robert E. Bartholomew, medical sociologist and author in New Zealand, fueled skepticism about a weapons attack.

Its authors claimed that the American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba had mistaken the “mating calls of insects for a sonic weapon” causing a mass psychosis.

Critics say the book is flawed, noting that the Havana Syndrome has been reported in places and seasons with no mating insects. Also, the victims did not always know what symptoms others were experiencing.

As to the Russians’ mocking “hangover” claims? In fact, the Havana Syndrome symptoms are real and unusual, scientists concluded.

multidisciplinary medical examination of Havana Syndrome victims published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences in 2018 found that they had suffered from “persistent cognitive, vestibular, and oculomotor dysfunction, as well as sleep impairment and headaches.”

“These individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma,” the report said.

Another National Academies of Sciences report in 2020 reached two conclusions: the reported syndrome was both unique and credibly consistent with electromagnetic wave exposure.

“First, the committee found a constellation of acute clinical signs and symptoms with directional and location-specific features that was distinctive; to its knowledge, this constellation of clinical features is unlike any disorder in the neurological or general medical literature…”

“Second, after considering the information available to it and a set of possible mechanisms, the committee felt that many of the distinctive and acute signs, symptoms, and observations reported by DOS employees are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy. Studies published in the open literature more than a half century ago and over the subsequent decades by Western and Soviet sources provide circumstantial support for this possible mechanism.”

https://www.polygraph.info/a/fact-check-havana-syndrome-russia-lies/31405194.html


In case you missed it.

The Diplomat, December 7, 2020

Diplomats in China and Cuba Plausibly Targeted by Microwaves: US Report

While the National Academies’ report carefully hedges its claims, it is likely to add to the mystery around the Havana Syndrome.

By Abhijnan Rej

December 07, 2020

report released by the United States’ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on December 5 has concluded that the “most plausible” cause of unusual symptoms observed by U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families at the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba in late 2016 and at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China in early 2017 was directed, pulsed radio frequency energy. The National Academies research was undertaken at the behest of the U.S. State Department and attempts to bring a degree of closure to something of an enduring mystery.

As the report reiterates, diplomats in Havana and Guangzhou suffered from sudden and unusual “symptoms such as a perceived loud noise, ear pain, intense head pressure or vibration, dizziness, visual problems, and cognitive difficulties, and many still continue to experience these or other health problems.” However, while it notes that microwave radiation (high frequency radio waves) directed at the U.S. embassy and consulate employees and their families plausibly explains the range of symptoms observed in the “Havana Syndrome,” the report also cautions that the National Academies Standing Committee tasked to find their cause “could not rule out other possible mechanisms and found it is likely that a multiplicity of factors explains some cases and the differences between others.”

The “sonic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Havana (so described because those afflicted had reported hearing noises along with other symptoms) beginning in 2016 spanned a small cottage industry of theories. What added a greater sense of mystery to it all was the fact – as revealed in a November 2018 New Yorker article on it – that several of those affected (including “Patient Zero”) in Havana were CIA officers working under diplomatic cover. In fact, as the New Yorker article reports, one of the theories behind these attacks was that it was carried out by Cuban intelligence to ferret out CIA operatives among U.S. diplomats in the Havana embassy inaugurated two years before, in 2015 as then President Barack Obama sought to normalize ties with Cuba. The Cuban government had denied the charges vehemently and offered to cooperate with the United States as it investigated the unusual illness.

In any event, when U.S. consulate staff in Guangzhou started reporting similar symptoms — which were serious enough for the U.S. to call back a number of its personnel and issue an advisory for all U.S. citizens in China — it became crystal clear that the Havana episode was likely the work of a third country. In May 2018, the Chinese Foreign Ministry had claimed that it had investigated the issue and found no evidence of foul play. The state-owned China Daily was even more strident in its denial, with one of its bureau chiefs writing “Many Western politicians are not bothered to look at the facts when pointing fingers at China. Their knee-jerk reaction is that China is wrong and harbors ill intentions.”

U.S. sources have also suggested that Russia was behind the attacks in China and Cuba. Adding to the plausibility of this hypothesis is the fact that, in the early 1960s, the United States found evidence that Soviet security services were bombarding the U.S. embassy in Moscow with microwaves, with the CIA’s first theory being that they had done so in order to influence the behavior of American diplomats. (The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was tasked to investigate this possibility.)

However, while the Russian intelligence services could carry out covert operations against U.S. diplomats in Havana without the knowledge of the Cuban government, it is highly unlikely that they would be able to do so in China without, at the very least, tacit acceptance by the Chinese authorities. Add to this a recent claim by a professor from Beijing’s Renmin University that China had used a microwave weapon to dislodge the Indian Army from the south bank of the Pangong Lake in August – an assertion, most likely correctly, dismissed by the Indian Army as fake – and the fog of claims and counterclaims around the Havana Syndrome has only thickened.

https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/diplomats-in-china-and-cuba-plausibly-targeted-by-microwaves-us-report/

From the Archives
Reuters,
May 27, 2012

Fidel Castro, spy master, bedeviled US, says former analyst

By David Adams

* Castro described as ‘unchallenged spy master’

* U.S. ‘grossly underestimated’ Cuba-ex CIA official

* Castro knew in advance Kennedy would be shot-defector

MIAMI, May 27 (Reuters) – For almost three decades after Fidel Castro took power, Cuba’s budding intelligence service fielded four dozen double agents in a world-class operation under the nose of the CIA, according to a new book by a veteran CIA analyst.

It was not until June 1987, when a Cuban spy defected to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, blind-siding U.S. intelligence services, that the CIA learned how badly it had been duped, writes Brian Latell, a retired veteran CIA analyst and Cuba specialist.

“Castro was a supreme, unchallenged spy master,” Latell told an audience at a recent book reading.

The revelations in Latell’s book help explain how Castro survived several well-documented assassination attempts and the impoverished island of Cuba weathered the changes that toppled other communist regimes in the late 20th Century.

“In the annals of modern spycraft it’s a pretty extraordinary accomplishment. It’s difficult to keep one double agent in play, and he managed them all … down to the minute details,” added Latell, author of “Castro’s Secrets, the CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine,” published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Latell began watching Cuba in the mid-1960s and served as U.S. National Intelligence Officer for Latin America before retiring from the CIA in 1998.

All four dozen double agents were recruited in Cuba and other parts of the world and personally run by Castro. He favored young, rough-hewn, impressionable teens without a university education.

“Castro wanted them to be uncontaminated by the old Cuba. He wanted them to be malleable and enthusiastic,” Latell says.

While Cuba has trumpeted its success with double agents in the past, Latell’s book shows the penetration was more extensive than previously known, and compromised U.S. intelligence sources and methods.

The defection in 1987 of Florentino Aspillaga finally alerted the CIA to the extent of Castro’s spy network. “They were in a state of shock. Nothing like this had ever happened to us before,” said Latell.

Aspillaga was “the most informed and highly decorated officer ever to defect from Cuban intelligence,” Latell says, and his defection was a turning point in the CIA’s attitude toward Cuba.

“Until that point we grossly underestimated the Cubans. We never imagined that little Cuba could run an intelligence service that was world class,” he says.

Counter-intelligence operations were subsequently stepped up. After only four Cubans spies were arrested between 1959 and 1995, that number rose more than ten-fold between 1998 and 2011, Latell writes in his book.

Aspillaga was recruited as a spy at age 16 and spent 25 years in Cuban intelligence. His defection provided “some of the most precious secrets including the double agents,” says Latell, who interviewed him over several days in 2007.

The interview was conducted at the request of Aspillaga, who said he simply wanted to tell his story.

Aspillaga also shared an unpublished memoir with Latell, asking for no payment or favor in return. The former agent now lives with a new identity after surviving an assassination attempt in London in 1988.

CASTRO AND JFK

Aspillaga is just one of a dozen defectors Latell interviewed in the book, which relies on thousands of pages of declassified CIA documents the author reviewed at the National Archives in Maryland, as well as interviews with several CIA officers.

In the book, Latell reveals that Cuban intelligence knew more about the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy than they admitted at the time, including information about the shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Aspillaga told the CIA that in his first year he was trained to do radio intercept work, listening for CIA transmissions to spies on the island and incursions by sea.

On Nov. 22, 1963, the day of the assassination, he was ordered to stop all CIA tracking efforts and redirect his antennas away from Miami and direct them toward Texas.

Castro knew Kennedy was to be fired upon, Latell says Aspillaga told him.

The Warren Commission never attributed a motive to Oswald but Latell argues Oswald was fascinated with Castro and “his motive was to protect Fidel.”

It is well known Oswald met Cuban officials during visits to Cuba’s Mexican consulate in the summer of 1963, but there is no evidence he ever worked directly for Cuban intelligence.

Latell says that while Cuban agents had kept track of Oswald, his research found no evidence linking Castro to the assassination. Instead, Latell has his own more nuanced theory.

Castro and his intelligence officers “were complicit in Kennedy’s death,” Latell writes, “but … their involvement fell short of an organized assassination plot.”

Cuban intelligence officers “exhorted Oswald” and “encouraged his feral militance,” he writes, “but it was his (Oswald’s) plan and his rifle, not theirs.”

Castro had plenty of reason to want Kennedy out of the way. A Senate Committee found in 1975 that the CIA had pursued assassination as an instrument of foreign policy, with Fidel Castro as one of its prime targets.

The Committee’s first documented plots against Castro began in 1960, when the CIA contacted organized crime figures eager to return to the good old days of gambling, extortion and corruption in Cuba. Subsequent plots involved poison, an exploding seashell and marksmen with high-powered rifles.

Even though the CIA’s monitoring of Cuban intelligence improved substantially in the last 25 years, the Cubans remained very capable, Latell says.

He cites the case of Ana Belen Montes, a Cuban mole at the Defense Intelligence Agency, who was arrested in 2001 only days before she would have gained access to U.S. plans to attack al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan.

Fidel Castro is, however, no longer in charge. Now 85, he handed over power to his brother after falling ill in 2006 and is likely “too debilitated” to run spy operations, Latell says. (Reporting by David Adams; editing by Todd Eastham)

https://www.reuters.com/article/castro-spymaster-book/fidel-castro-spy-master-bedeviled-us-says-former-analyst-idUSL1E8GOM0220120528