The Cuban Spy Network in the U.S.

Friday, May 3, 2013
Excerpt from Stratfor Global Intelligence's report this week, "The Cuban Spy Network in the U.S. Government":

The [Marta Rita] Velazquez case, when studied in conjunction with those of [Ana Belen] Montes and Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, provides a fascinating window into the scope and nature of Cuban intelligence efforts inside the United States. With Velazquez at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Montes at the Defense Intelligence Agency and Myers in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Cubans had incredible coverage of the American government's foreign policy and intelligence community. Even after Montes was arrested and Velazquez fled to Sweden, Myers remained at the State Department until his retirement in 2007.

It is also quite interesting that all three of these cases are linked to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Velazquez and Montes were students in the program in the early 1980s, and Myers taught there until 1977, after receiving a Ph.D. from the school in 1972. He returned to the school following his retirement in 2007 and worked as a professor of European Studies until his arrest in June 2009. The school is a high-profile institution that has a proven track record of placing graduates in the American foreign affairs and intelligence communities -- and of hiring former government personnel to serve as professors. Still, it is not the only program with such a profile, and the Cubans would almost certainly have recruited a promising agent from Georgetown's Walsh School, Harvard's Kennedy School or any other program if provided the opportunity. The fact that there were three high-profile Cuban agents who penetrated the U.S. government and who were all associated with the School of Advanced International Studies would seem to be an incredible coincidence. The FBI is probably still looking for potential agents who Myers could have spotted for recruitment when they studied there from 2007 to 2009.

When considering espionage cases, we often refer to an old Soviet KGB Cold War acronym -- MICE -- to explain the motivations of spies. MICE stands for money, ideology, compromise and ego. Traditionally, money has proved to be the top motivation for Americans arrested for espionage, but as seen in the Velazquez, Montes and Myers cases, the Cubans were very successful in recruiting American agents using ideology. Like the Montes and Myers complaints, there is no indication in the Velazquez complaint that she had ever sought or accepted money from the Cuban intelligence service for her espionage activities. While Velazquez and Montes were both of Puerto Rican descent, Myers' recruitment shows that Cuban intelligence officers did not just confine their recruitment activity to Hispanics.

In addition to the Cuban preference for ideologically motivated agents, this case also shows that the Cuban intelligence service is very patient and is willing to wait years for the agents it recruits to move into sensitive positions within the U.S. government rather than just focus on immediate results. It took several years for Velazquez to get a job with access to Top Secret information. Although it must be recognized that this is often the case with ideologically motivated agents who are commonly recruited while students. It is also clear that Cuban espionage efforts against the United States did not end with the Cold War and continue to this day. 

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation from the Velazquez case for American counterintelligence officials, though, is the fact that Velazquez was not caught due to some operational mistake or intelligence coup. The only reason she was discovered is because of Montes' arrest and confession, which uncovered her activities. This means that her espionage tradecraft was solid for the nearly 18 years that she worked as a Cuban agent within the U.S. government. Furthermore, the background investigations conducted for the security clearances she held with the Department of Transportation and the Agency for International Development did not pick up on her anti-American sentiments -- even the "full field" investigation that would have been conducted prior to her being granted a Top Secret clearance.