In Age Of Terror, Why's Obama Rushing Cuba Flights?

Friday, July 15, 2016
By Mike Gonzalez in Forbes:

In Age Of Terror, Why Is Obama Rushing to Open Daily Flights With Cuba?

As the horrific attack in Nice made clear again Thursday night, America is in the midst of a global war against terrorists who seek to exploit whatever weak spots there are. Why, then, is the Obama administration in an unseemly rush to open daily flights with a communist dictatorship that shares intelligence and weapons with our enemies and has no apparent passenger screening capabilities?

In other words, why has the Obama Administration given eight U.S. airlines approval to operate daily flights to Cuba?

Some in Congress have noticed and have taken steps to stop what looks like another mad dash to hang another ball on President Obama’s legacy tree. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) introduced this week a bill that would pretty much halt the flights until Havana agrees to a number of security guarantees—concessions which Raul Castro will be reluctant to make.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has also been vocal on the issue and may soon introduce a Senate version.

The House bill asks that the Transportation Security Administration submit to Congress details about the type of equipment Cuba uses at its screening checkpoints, an assessment of the ability of known terrorists to access Cuba as a gateway and information on how Cuba vets its airport employees, who are all government workers.

Cuba’s communist government last month wouldn’t even let a bipartisan delegation of the House Homeland Security Committee visit the island nation, where they had expected to inspect the security of Cuban airports.

And a few days later Raul Castro’s government announced that it had given the contract for creating the country’s new air traffic control system to Russia’s largest manufacturer of electronic devices. The contract between Russia’s Azimut and Cuba’s military-owned importer Aviaimport, which has an extensive history of deals with Russia, calls for the transfer of technology, information and research in civil aeronautics.

Azimut is a holding of Ruselectronics, which is part of Rostec, a state-owned tech/defense company whose general director is appointed by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Rostec also supplies Kalashnikovs and other military/defense equipment.

In other words, Congress may be doing President Obama a favor in trying to deny him this latest adornment to his legacy. The 110 potential direct flights per day to Cuba would not only give the repressive machine of Cuba’s government additional funds, it could put America’s security at risk.

As retired General Michael Flynn, whom Obama fired from his position as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency for political reasons, put it in an op-ed in the New York Post last week:

We’re in a global war, facing an enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela. Along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organizations such as Iran, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State.

Here’s the Cuban government’s recent record, as compiled in the Cuba Country Report 2016 of the group Cuban Exile Quarter:

According to a French intelligence outlet, just two months ago, Cuba agreed to share intelligence and armaments with North Korea, a fellow communist dictatorship that routinely destabilizes its region and the world and has a horrendous human rights record equal to that of the Castros.

Lest we forget, in 2013, Cuba violated UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea by shipping it operational weaponry including Russian-made MIG fighter jets, anti-aircraft systems and explosives. A year later, Cuba tried to stop bringing North Korea to the International Criminal Court of Justice for crimes against humanity.

In Venezuela, a fellow socialist country spiraling out of control after years of economic mismanagement and political oppression, the head of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, said in May that Cuban General Raul Acosta Gregorich was heading a contingent of 60 Cuban military officers trying to stop the Castro-friendly ally from toppling.

As for the Middle East, Katko said Tuesday that Homeland Security officials have noted an increase in Cuban passports showing up in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Cuba’s close ties with North Korea, Russia, Venezuela and other anti-social global citizens, combined with the woes at Cuba’s airport, should be enough to hit the pause button on the planned flights.

Lawmakers say that TSA officials have told them privately of their grave misgivings about the level of security at Cuba’s airport. The administration says publicly that TSA has thoroughly scrutinized the airports. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson for example told the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday “What I’ve told our people at TSA is I want an assurance that any last point of departure airport from Cuba satisfies our U.S. screening standards, not just international screening standards.” But Katko says that, behind closed doors, TSA officials complain about “mangy street dogs” being used as “canine units” at Cuban airports.

There are better ways to make money for American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines—the companies that the Department of Transportation has told they can start getting ready to operate the routes. Helping the Cuban government’s repressive machine and putting Americans in danger is not a commendable business plan.

Lawmakers Press Transportation Secretary on Security of Cuba Flights

Click here to read the full letter from current and former Transportation Security Subcommittee Chairs, U.S. Reps. John Katko (R-NY) and Richard Hudson (R-NC).

From WBTV:

Hudson pens letter to USDOT over Cuba travel concerns

Representative Richard Hudson (R-08) is one of two congressmen to write US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx over security concerns surrounding air travel between the United States and Cuba.

Hudson has been vocal about his questions about security at Cuban airports since the country failed to issue visas to him and other congressman who planned to travel to Cuba to study the issue.

Earlier this week, Hudson introduced a bill that would halt commercial air travel to Cuba until a study has been completed regarding security measures and equipment at Cuba’s airports.

Commercial air travel between the United States and Cuba is part of an effort undertaken by the Obama Administration to resume normal relations between the two nations. American Airlines announced last week plans for a scheduled non-stop flight between Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.

A release from American announcing the new scheduled service noted the airline has operated chartered service between the two countries for a quarter century.

But in his letter, also signed by Rep. John Katko, Chairman of the House Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Subcommittee, Hudson takes issue with the lack of security measures in place at Cuban airports designed to protect passengers and airplanes flying to the United States.

We have grave concerns about the risk to America’s security if the protocols and infrastructure at these airports in Cuba cannot be adequately reviewed.  As it has been noted by the House Homeland Transportation Security Subcommittee, we still cannot verify if Cuba has the adequate body scanners and explosive detection systems in place,” the letter reads. “We additionally are unable to determine whether they have the technology to screen for fraudulent passports and identification, whether or how Cuban aviation workers are screened, and if United States Federal Air Marshals will be allowed to fly missions to Cuba on commercial flights. These questions must be answered in order to provide certainty to the American public that their security will not be jeopardized by these new flights.”

The letter also notes Cuba’s place on a list of state sponsors of terrorism until about a year ago.

Intel Chair: This Traitor Belongs in Jail, Not Free in Cuba

Thursday, July 14, 2016
By House Intelligence Committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), in The Wall Street Journal:

This Traitor Belongs in Jail, Not Free in Cuba

Montes spied on her own country for Castro, doing much damage, yet Obama may soon liberate her.

The Obama administration is reportedly in secret negotiations with Cuba that would result in the release from federal prison of one of the most damaging American spies in U.S. history. Such an extraordinary gesture would be preposterous for many reasons.

Ana Belén Montes, who is serving a 25-year sentence as part of a 2002 plea deal, was a U.S. Justice Department official with a top-secret security clearance when she was approached by Cuban intelligence agents in 1984. At the time the Cuban regime ran a pervasive spying program against the U.S., as it still does today, though then it often acted in conjunction with the Soviet Union. A devoted sympathizer of radical Latin American regimes, Ms. Montes quickly agreed to spy for Havana, thus beginning a 16-year-long betrayal of the U.S.

As prosecutors later showed, Ms. Montes took a secret trip to Cuba to meet with her new spymasters, then sought government positions with greater access to classified information that would be useful to the Castro regime. In 1985 she began working for the Defense Intelligence Agency, which specializes in military intelligence. Ms. Montes quickly rose through DIA ranks, eventually becoming the agency’s leading Cuba analyst. She was granted access to top-secret classified information that she would memorize at work and type up at home, later passing the information to her Cuban handlers.

As I conveyed in a July 12 letter to President Obama, it is difficult to overstate the damage caused by Ms. Montes’s treachery. In May 2012, Michelle Van Cleave, the former head of U.S. counterintelligence who oversaw completion of the damage assessment on Ms. Montes, told Congress that her activities likely “contributed to the death and injury of American and pro-American forces in Latin America,” and that she compromised other, broader intelligence programs.

Nevertheless, press reports indicate that the Obama administration is considering releasing Ms. Montes to the Castro regime as part of a prisoner swap for American fugitives from justice now sheltered in Cuba.

This exchange would be part of the administration’s campaign to normalize ties with Cuba, which has included restoring diplomatic relations, loosening sanctions and removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Hopes that the Castro regime would reciprocate by granting basic freedoms to the Cuban people and releasing political prisoners have gone unfulfilled.

The abundant incentives that President Obama offered to get Iran last year to sign a nuclear deal have already shown how far this administration will go to curry favor with hostile powers. As we saw in 2014 with the trade of five dangerous Taliban prisoners for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl—now arraigned on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in Afghanistan—this president has odd ideas about what constitutes a beneficial prisoner swap. Even so, releasing Ms. Montes cannot be tolerated.

In the past, the U.S. has deported or traded captured foreign spies, but it is extremely rare to trade American citizens who have betrayed their country. Doing so would be especially egregious in these circumstances. The American government should not pay the Castro regime a bribe, in the form of a released American spy, in hopes of advancing normalization.

Ms. Montes’ release would send a dangerous message that convicted spies may be able to secure a deal through the foreign government that employed them. Potential traitors to this country should know that betraying America will bring harsh penalties, without exception or the potential for a get-out-of-jail-free card.

“Prison is one of the last places I would have ever chosen to be in, but some things in life are worth going to prison for,” an unrepentant Ms. Montes wrote to a relative, the Washington Post reported in 2013. If releasing American traitors from prison is the cost of “normalizing” relations with Cuba, then clearly that price is too high.

Adding to U.S. Security Concerns, Cuba Outsources Air Traffic Control to Russia

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
This week, the Chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Transportation Security, U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-NY), filed bipartisan legislation to ban commercial flights to Cuba until various key security and infrastructure-related conditions are met.

To understand the security concerns -- click here.

To understand the infrastructure concerns -- click here.

Chairman Katko was part of the bipartisan delegation, led by full committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), that was recently denied visas by the Castro regime to independently assess these concerns.

Now, to add a whole new layer of gravity, Cuba has decided to outsource its air traffic control system to none other than -- Russia.

The Obama Administration is being made a fool of -- but even worse, it's sacrificing U.S. security for the President's misguided legacy.

From PanAm Post:

Cuba Picks Russian Air Traffic Control ahead of US Flights

Cuban Firm Aviaimport Closed Deal with Russian Giant Azimut to Modernize the Island's Airports

The largest Russian manufacturer of electronic devices for civil aviation will be in charge of creating a new air traffic control system for Cuba.

The news comes days after the Cuban government refused visas to US congressmen who were traveling to the island to inspect and certify the conditions of airports before regular flights between Cuba and the United States can resume.

The Russian company Azimut signed a contract with the Cuban state company Aviaimport to transfer technology, information, and research in civil aeronautics for air traffic control on the island.

The deal includes the delivery of the source-code and the execution of tests. Likewise, the Russian company will offer training for the Cuban employees who will be in charge of the system’s operation.

The agreement between the state-owned firm and Azimut will last until June 2017 and the system is expected to be implemented in 10 international airports in Cuba.

Currently, Cuban airports use an ORACLE-based system, acquired from Canada in 2000, which officials deem outdated.

It’s worth noting that six airlines were authorized by the US government to operate 155 weekly flights for almost 20,000 passengers between five US cities and nine Cuban destinations.

The US Department of Transportation ruled that American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines can start the necessary procedures with Cuban authorities to start operating routes within the next months.

Quote of the Day: Cubans Are Now More Alone Than Ever

The people of Cuba are now more alone than ever, behind the curtain of foreign investors and American tourists.
-- Sirley Avila Leon, former Cuban National Assembly delegate-turned-dissident, who had her limb severed in a machete attack as a result, in Congressional testimony before the Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, 7/13/16

Dr. Biscet to Congress: Obama's Cuba Policy Undermines American Values

From McClatchy News:

Cuban human rights leader: Obama policy undermines American values

One of Cuba’s best-known human rights activists and a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom said Wednesday that the Obama administration’s efforts to restore relations with the Cuban government had undermined American values.

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who spent more than nine years as a political prisoner in Cuba until 2011, told U.S. lawmakers that oppression in Cuba continues and the U.S. policies divide the Cuban and American people.

“Congresspersons, don’t allow the creed of the nation, the Bill of Rights, to continue to be violated. Don’t tolerate the separation of the American and Cuban people,” Biscet pleaded. “Yours free, and mine enslaved.”

Biscet was awarded the United States’ highest civilian honor in 2007 in absentia while he was in prison during George W. Bush’s presidency. Biscet was the featured witness at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the human rights situation in Cuba.

Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, called the hearing to highlight ongoing human rights violations and to press the Obama administration to make the issue a higher priority before making any further changes to U.S. policy.

“Our fear that the administration has not been pushing sufficiently for the release of political prisoners and other human rights concerns has only grown,” he said.

The hearing was scheduled on the 22nd anniversary of the deaths of 32 people who drowned when a tugboat with 63 aboard capsized north of Havana while they were trying to flee the island. Survivors say Cuban government ships rammed the tugboat.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks human rights and political repression in Cuba, reported more than 8,600 politically motivated detentions in 2015, a 315 percent increase from five years ago. In the first two months of this year, there had already been more than 2,500 arrests.

House Transportation Security Chair Leads Effort to Halt Cuba Flights

From Syracuse.com:

Rep. John Katko leads GOP effort to ground U.S. air travel with Cuba

U.S. Rep. John Katko on Tuesday led a House Republican initiative to halt all scheduled commercial air travel between the U.S. and Cuba, just ahead of plans to resume daily flights between the two countries.

Katko, R-Camillus, introduced a bill that would shut down all but charter air service with Cuba until the Transportation Security Administration certifies that Cuban airports provide adequate security screening of passengers.

The legislation comes less than a month after the Cuban government did not act on a visa request for Katko and a delegation of House Homeland Security Committee members to inspect Cuban airports.

Katko, who chairs a House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security, has repeatedly voiced concerns that Cuban airports do not have security measures and equipment in place to meet U.S. standards.

His "Cuban Airport Security Act" would prohibit scheduled passenger air transportation between the U.S. and Cuba until the TSA completes a study of security measures and equipment at Cuban airports.

The report would have to include details about the type of equipment used at Cuban airport screening checkpoints, and an analysis of the equipment's capabilities and weaknesses.

The legislation requires a U.S. assessment of the ability of known or suspected terrorists to use Cuba as a gateway to the United States.

Katko's bill also mandates that the U.S. and Cuba agree to allow federal air marshals to fly on regularly scheduled flights between the two nations.

The legislation comes less than a week after the U.S. Department of Transportation gave eight U.S. airlines tentative approval to operate daily direct flights to José Martí International Airport in Havana. American Airlines would operate five of those daily flights, with four from Miami and one from Charlotte, N.C.

The new air service is expected to begin in early September, about a year after the U.S. and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations. The U.S. relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba in March, allowing Americans to visit family members or make humanitarian visits.

House Homeland Security Committee tries to look at Cuban airport security before full commercial air travel resumes with U.S.

Katko said Tuesday that Homeland Security officials have noted an increase in the number of Cuban passports that have been showing up in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He is concerned that terror suspects could travel to the U.S. through a Cuban airport, bypassing lax security.

"It may turn out there is nothing to worry about, but we don't know," Katko said in a briefing with reporters. "So that's the concern that we have."

His bill is co-sponsored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C. and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.

A Massacre That Will Never Be Forgotten

Today is the 22nd anniversary of this brutal massacre by the Castro dictatorship:

"In the early morning hours of July 13, 1994, three boats belonging to the Cuban State and equipped with water hoses attacked an old tugboat that was fleeing Cuba with 72 people on board. The incident occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast, outside the port of Havana. The Cuban State boats attacked the tugboat with their prows, while at the same time spraying everyone on the deck of the boat, including women and children, with pressurized water. The pleas to stop the attack were in vain, and the old boat-named the '13 of March' - sank, with a toll of 41 deaths, including ten children."

-- Ted Koppel, ABC's Nightline.

The victims:

Abreu Ruíz, Angel René. Age: 3.
Alcalde Puig, Rosa María. Age: 47.
Almanza Romero, Pilar. Age: 31.
Alvarez Guerra, Lissett María. Age: 24.
Anaya Carrasco, Yaltamira. Age: 22.
Balmaseda Castillo, Jorge Gregorio. Age: 24.
Borges Alvarez, Giselle. Age: 4.
Borges Briel, Lázaro Enrique. Age: 34.
Carrasco Sanabria, Martha Mirilla. Age: 45.
Cayol, Manuel. Age: 56.
Enríquez Carrazana, Luliana. Age: 22.
Fernández Rodríguez, María Miralis. Age: 27.
Feu González Rigoberto. Age: 31
García Suárez, Joel. Age: 20.
Góngora, Leonardo Notario. Age: 28.
González Raices, Amado. Age: 50.
Guerra Martínez, Augusto Guillermo. Age: 45.
Gutiérrez García, Juan Mario. Age: 10.
Levrígido Flores, Jorge Arquímedes. Age: 28.
Leyva Tacoronte, Caridad. Age: 5.
Loureiro, Ernesto Alfonso. Age: 25
Marrero Alamo, Reynaldo Joaquín. Age: 48.
Martínez Enriquez, Hellen. Age: 5 Months.
Méndez Tacoronte, Mayulis. Age: 17.
Muñoz García, Odalys. Age: 21.
Nicle Anaya, José Carlos. Age: 3.
Pérez Tacoronte, Yousell Eugenio. Age: 11.
Perodín Almanza, Yasser. Age: 11.
Prieto Hernández, Fidencio Ramel. Age: 51.
Rodríguez Fernández, Xicdy. Age: 2.
Rodríguez Suárez, Omar. Age: 33.
Ruíz Blanco, Julia Caridad. Age: 35.
Sanabria Leal, Miladys. Age: 19.
Suárez Esquivel, Eduardo. Age: 38.
Suárez Esquivel, Estrella. Age: 48.
Suárez Plasencia, Eliécer. Age: 12.
Tacoronte Vega, Martha Caridad. Age: 35
And 4 more that still remain unidentified.

They will never be forgotten.

Lawmakers Plan Bill to Stop Flights to Cuba Over Security

From CQ Roll Call:

Lawmakers Plan Bill to Stop Flights to Cuba Over Security

The chairman of a House transportation security panel said Tuesday he would like to halt American air travel to Cuba after the island nation's government failed to give a congressional delegation visas for a trip there to assess aviation security capabilities.

The Obama administration should not grant airlines the authority to operate flights to Cuba until the Communist nation can show its aviation security system is up to snuff, Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Transportation Security Subcommittee said Tuesday. He appeared at a news conference with Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.,

Katko and Hudson said they would introduce legislation Tuesday to suspend commercial flights to and from Cuba until the Transportation Security Administration reports on the adequacy of the Cuban aviation security system – two months before the first commercial non-stop flights in more than 50 years are scheduled to depart to the country. And aide to Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told CQ that the lawmaker would co-sponsor the bill.

The Department of Transportation said last week that it had preliminarily chosen eight airlines to operate 20 daily flights to Havana from 10 U.S. cities. The flights could begin later this year. The department said in June that it had approved flights to nine Cuban cities outside Havana.

Katko said his bill would require the TSA to report to the House Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, detailing the equipment the Cuban government uses to scan baggage and passengers, bomb-sniffing dog programs at each of 10 airports offering flights to the U.S., security of the airports’ perimeters, the Cuban training program for airport security screening and other issues.

The bill would also require that Cuba allow TSA greater access to airports that host U.S. flights and allow U.S. air marshals on flights between the two countries. It would also move the responsibility for approving transportation security measures from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security.

“We’re sprinting to the starting line without knowing how the race is going to finish, and that’s not a good idea,” Katko said. “How do you conduct oversight from afar?”

The Department of Transportation and the TSA didn't return calls seeking comment. TSA representative Larry Mizell testified to the Homeland Security Committee in May, saying that Cuba met U.S. requirements for foreign airports that have flights departing to the U.S.

“They maintain the required aviation security posture at all [last point of departure] airports, despite challenges posed by limited access to equipment and training,” he said then.

The lawmakers said they were most worried about Middle Eastern terrorists, such as those affiliated with Islamic State, using Cuba and its possibly weak security as an entry point into the United States.

Asked if the bill could become law in time to affect the approved routes, Katko said he was concerned about scheduling. Congress is scheduled to adjourn Friday for seven weeks and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan reaffirmed a commitment to regular spending bills Tuesday, leaving little time for Katko’s bill.

“That’s what scares the heck out of me,” he said.

The bill could be brought up under suspension of the rules, Hudson said. It could also become a policy rider in a spending bill, Katko said.

The Senate Commerce Committee has no current plans to introduce a companion bill, said Lauren Hammond, a spokesman for the committee, though she said such a measure “could happen.”

Last month, Katko, Hudson and other members of the Homeland Security Committee canceled a trip to Cuba to inspect the county’s aviation security infrastructure after that government did not approve their visas.

Katko said Tuesday that stoked his apprehension about flights to and from the island.

House Approves Bill That Strengthens Cuba Sanctions

From The Miami Herald:

House approves bill with clauses that strengthen Cuba sanctions

The strengthened restrictions are included in the text of a budget bill approved last week after two amendments to remove restrictions on agricultural exports and travel to Cuba were withdrawn by their sponsors.

The budget bill for 2017 financial services and general government spending has been approved in the House of Representatives with several clauses that strengthen sanctions on Cuba.

The clauses limit "people to people" exchange trips, prohibit the use of funds for trafficking in confiscated property, restrict financial transactions with entities tied to the Cuban military and forbid the granting of trademark rights and intellectual property with businesses or properties confiscated by the Cuban government.

The strengthened restrictions are included in the text of the budget bill that was approved last week after two amendments to remove restrictions on agricultural exports and travel to Cuba were withdrawn by their sponsors — Representatives Rick Crawford and Mark Sanford, respectively.

As U.S. Agribusiness Lobbies for Credit, Castro Admits Debt Delinquency

Monday, July 11, 2016
Just last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and agribusiness interests launched a full-scale (and failed) lobbying campaign to try to secure credit for agricultural sales to the Castro regime.

Ironically, last Friday -- the day after these efforts were defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives -- Cuban dictator Raul Castro gave an economic update to his puppet National Assembly, where he admitted the regime's deadbeat status.

In Raul's own words:

"I should recognize that there have been some delays in current payments to creditors. As such, I want to thank our creditors for their confidence and understanding of the transitional situation we face and to ratify the commitment of the government to recoup these matured debts."

You can't make this stuff up.

However, don't expect the U.S. Chamber and agribusiness interests to act responsibly or to care about Castro's delinquencies.

After all, they always have U.S. taxpayers to bail them out.

Quote of the Day: On Cuba's Spy Trafficking

The barter and sale of U.S. secrets is now one of the central engines of the Cuban economy.
-- Chris Simmons, former U.S. counter-intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, CNN's "Declassified", 7/10/16

Rubio: CNN's Cuban Spy Documentary Proves Ana Montes Should Remain in U.S. Prison

Rubio: CNN's Cuban Spy Documentary A Reminder That Ana Belen Montes Belongs In U.S. Prison

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio issued the following statement after last night's airing of CNN's Original Series “Declassified” documentary on convicted Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes, who reports earlier this year indicated has been discussed by the U.S. government and Cuban regime as part of a potential prisoner exchange:‎

In recent months, there have been reports about a potential prisoner exchange between the U.S. and the Castro regime involving convicted Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes. After watching last night's CNN documentary on Ana Belen Montes, I hope those who are contemplating making the mistake of releasing her, including anyone in the White House, realize how absurd an idea it is because of how her espionage against the U.S. endangered American lives, and that they drop this altogether."

Last month, Rubio announced his opposition to the possibility of releasing Montes in exchange for Joanne Chesimard, who killed a New Jersey police officer and has been harbored by Cuba for decades.

Ana Montes: The Most Dangerous Spy You've Never Heard Of

Sunday, July 10, 2016
From CNN:

The most dangerous U.S. spy you've never heard of

She put American combat troops in harm's way, betrayed her own people and handed over so many secrets that experts say the U.S. may never know the full extent of the damage.

Ana Montes was the Queen of Cuba, an American who from 1985 to the September 11, 2001 attacks handed over U.S. military secrets to Havana while working as a top analyst for the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency.

But despite her crimes, Montes remains largely unknown.

You might not think Cuba could do much harm to a superpower like the U.S., said retired DIA official Chris Simmons, appearing on CNN's "Declassified."

But you'd be wrong.

The threat increases, he said, when Havana goes on to sell those U.S. military secrets to nations like China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.

Montes' anger about U.S. foreign policy complicated her relationships and drew the attention of Cubans who enticed her to turn her back on friends, family and her own country.

The fascinating spycraft that surfaced from her case offers a rare glimpse into the invisible world of espionage, where some experts believe there could be as many as 100,000 foreign agents working inside the U.S.

The two Anas

Montes grew up like millions of other girls during the Cold War, in a large, middle-class family, the oldest of four children.

Born to Puerto Rican parents on a U.S. Army base in Germany in 1957, Montes' father served his country as an Army doctor. By the time Montes entered high school, her father had left the military and settled the family about an hour north of Washington, D.C., in Towson, Maryland.

She attended the University of Virginia, and in 1977 and 1978, she spent a liberating year studying in Spain. There, she met a Puerto Rican student named Ana Colon.

The two Anas quickly became friends -- bonding through their Puerto Rican roots -- not politics. "I had no political awareness whatsoever," said Colon, now a Washington-area elementary school teacher.

But Montes, at age 20, was quite the opposite.

"She was already very much against the United States" because of the "abuse the United States had done" by manipulating governments in Central and South American nations, said Colon.

"And it didn't help that everybody we would hang out with also was against the United States," she added.

At the end of their year abroad, the two Anas kept in touch by writing letters.

How she was recruited

By 1984, Montes had finished at UVA and was working a clerical job at the Justice Department in Washington and studying for a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

She often found herself railing against President Ronald Reagan's support for rebels fighting pro-communist regimes in Central America.

"She felt that the U.S. didn't have the right to impose its will on other countries," said FBI Special Agent Pete Lapp, the man who eventually led the investigation against Montes, and ultimately arrested her.

Someone at Johns Hopkins noticed Montes' passionate views about Cuba and soon she was introduced to recruiters and agreeing to help the Cuban cause.

At about the same time, Montes applied for a job at the Defense Intelligence Agency, where workers handle U.S. military secrets on a daily basis. When she started there in 1985, the FBI says she was already a fully recruited Cuban spy.

In March 1985, Montes made her first clandestine espionage trip to Cuba via Madrid and Prague, according to a now-declassified top secret Defense Department report.

When she got back, Montes ran into her college friend Ana Colon. Apparently Montes felt comfortable enough with Colon to discuss the secret trip.

"She talked about how repressed the people were and about visiting military bases," Colon said. "Later on, through the FBI, I found out that that trip was when she had been trained to be a spy."

After Montes settled into her job at the DIA, her letters to Colon stopped, Colon said. "She cut me off, and I had no idea what had happened." Years later, the FBI theorized that Montes cut off communication with Colon because she knew too much about Montes' Cuban activities.

How she stole information

At the DIA, Montes chose an espionage technique that helped her evade detection for 16 years. One reason she kept her secret for so long was the fact that she never took any documents or electronic files home from work, the FBI said.

Instead, Montes memorized details from sensitive documents and then — when she got home — typed them from memory onto her laptop.

Next, Montes would copy her typed information onto encrypted discs. Then she'd receive coded instructions via shortwave radio about where to hand over the discs to her Cuban contacts.

All the while she quickly rose through the ranks. Montes was considered a model employee and in 1997 she was awarded a certificate of distinction. Her stellar reputation earned her the nickname the Queen of Cuba among her DIA co-workers.

How she got caught

One night in 1996 Montes was called to consult at the Pentagon during an ongoing international incident. Montes broke protocol by failing to remain on duty until dismissed. DIA counterintelligence officer Scott Carmichael wondered why.

Carmichael reviewed her personnel file. He noted Montes' sparkling record. But he decided to bring Montes in for questioning anyway. At the end of their meeting Carmichael came away feeling like Montes was hiding something — although he had no idea what. He had to let it go.

Four years later, Carmichael heard the FBI was looking for a mole — an unidentified spy inside the DIA who was working for Cuba.

The suspect had traveled to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at a specific time. When he looked up a list of DIA employees who visited Gitmo during those dates, a familiar name popped up — Ana Montes.

"The moment I saw her name, I knew," Carmichael said.

After that, Carmichael and FBI agent Lapp teamed up to prove that the DIA's Queen of Cuba was really a spy.

Thanks to "very sensitive" intelligence, it was known that the unidentified DIA mole had bought a specific brand, make and model of computer at a specific time in 1996 from an unknown store in Alexandria, Virginia.

Lapp was able to find the store's original record that linked that computer to Montes.

That's how the FBI knew for sure Montes was the spy they were looking for.

Tradecraft

Next, the FBI wanted to catch Montes in the act of spying.

So, they tapped her phones.

They staked her out.

They followed her.

They noticed her patterns.

They figured out that Montes was walking to various pay phones around Washington and stopping to making calls.

When they traced the digits she was calling, the numbers led to pagers in New York City.

"We knew those particular numbers were associated with Cuban espionage," Simmons said. "She was sending signals. That told us she was still active."

Searching Montes' home while she was out of town, FBI agents found a shortwave radio that her Cuban handlers used to send her messages.

Next, the FBI concocted a plan to distract Montes at work so they could search her purse.

Inside, they found a piece of paper that listed the code system Montes used to communicate with the Cubans via the pay phones and pagers.

Now the FBI could decipher the messages Montes was sending to her handlers.

Now they knew what she was thinking.

9/11 changes the plan

The 9/11 attacks shortened the Montes investigation, ending any hope of catching Montes' Cuban handlers. She'd been chosen for a team that would analyze bombed targets after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan -- which would have given her access to Pentagon war plans. The time had come to arrest the Queen of Cuba.

On September 21, 2001, Montes was called into a DIA conference room and Lapp placed her under arrest, putting an end to the career of one of the most potentially damaging spies in recent U.S. history.

Looking back on the entire investigation, a Defense Department counterintelligence official was quoted in one report saying, "The only reason we caught her is because we got lucky."

Acts of betrayal

Montes and her lawyers struck a plea bargain with prosecutors, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit espionage. In exchange, Montes got a 25-year prison sentence and five years probation, and she avoided the publicity of a trial.

She agreed to tell the FBI and other authorities details about her spying activities from the time she began in 1985 to the day she was arrested. Those grueling five or six-hour debriefing sessions took place three days a week for about seven months.

Some of the most damaging information Montes admitted giving to Cuba, the FBI said, were the identities of four American undercover intelligence officers working there.

Simmons said she passed Cuba information about the location of U.S. Special Forces in El Salvador in the 1980s. "I'm convinced she willfully and intentionally took every action she could to get Americans killed in combat," he said. "It should make us all enraged."

Why she did it

Clearly Montes wasn't in it for the money.

Unlike the FBI's Robert Hanssen -- who got $600,000 from the KGB — or the CIA's Aldrich Ames -- who got $2.5 million from Moscow -- Montes took no money for the secrets she gave to the Cubans, the FBI said, except payment for some expenses.

When she appeared in court to plead guilty, Montes offered a hint of an explanation.

"I believe our government's policy towards Cuba is cruel and unfair," Montes told the judge. "I felt morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it."

"For her to say that she had no alternative but to become a spy? I think that's bulls*** -- I'm sorry," Colon said.

"She had the energy of Joan of Arc. She could have done amazing things in a legal way. But she chose to do things illegally, unnecessarily, from my point of view," said Colon. "In this country you can work against the United States from many organizations. She didn't have to do what she did."

Queen of Cuba

Now 59, the Queen of Cuba has lost her crown. Her new palace is Federal Medical Center Carswell, in Fort Worth, Texas.

According to its website, FMC Carswell is a women's prison with security levels ranging from minimum to maximum for inmates with special medical and mental health needs. It's not known if Montes has health issues that would require her to be placed there. She's scheduled for release on July 1, 2023.

Colon said they exchanged a couple of letters after Montes went to prison. But Montes remained defiant and unapologetic, Colon said.

"You're OK in her world if you support what she did -- and I don't," Colon said. "When she presents her cause, I challenge it, and she doesn't like that."

Although Colon said they haven't communicated in years, it's clear their friendship is still much more important to her than politics -- just like when they first met back in the '70s.

"This experience has been very traumatic for me. Ana was my sister," she said.

"If she would reach out to me, I would be right there for her."

Jeff Flake: Wrong on Mugabe, Wrong on Castro

From GotNews:

Same GOP Senator Who Backs Obama’s Cuba Policy Praised Socialist Dictator Robert Mugabe

A GOP senator who backs increased trade with the Cuban dictatorship once praised the policies of socialist dictator Robert Mugabe.

Jeff Flake of Arizona favors ending the embargo with Cuba but his 1987 BYU master’s thesis raises profound questions about his judgment backing the socialist dictator.

Might he be wrong about what will happen with Cuba?

The entire premise of Flake’s thesis, “Zimbabwe: Rhetoric vs. Reality,” is that Mugabe really isn’t a Socialist and is “on the side of the West.”

After a visit to the country with exposure to the amount of private enterprise and limited government interference in the economy, as well as recognizing the viable existence of a second party, one would clearly see that Zimbabwe is more on the side of the West,” Flake wrote.

Flake doubted that Mugabe really was a socialist. “What is the reason for Mugabe’s continuing lip service to socialism? Perhaps Mugabe never believed in following the socialist path at all,” he wrote. “Mugabe may have come to the conclusion that the socialist model of development is bankrupt in the African context.”

Flake continued arguing that “despite the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, Zimbabwe has not moved towards a high degree of socialism under Mugabe.”

Flake was wrong. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe became one of the few countries in the world to accept aid from North Korea and its white farmers have largely fled the country thanks to repeated collectivization schemes.

(Read Flake’s pro-Robert Mugabe thesis here.)

Nevertheless Flake draws on that African political experience to guide his views on US-Cuba relations, according to a profile piece on Flake in Politico. He served as a Mormon missionary in South Africa and helped draft the Namibian constitution as executive director of the Foundation for Democracy.

Flake was the only GOP senator to applaud Obama’s stance on Cuba at the State of the Union address on Tuesday (though U.S. Senator Rand Paul is said to be a supporter of the policy).

Flake has only once discussed his views on Robert Mugabe. “When I was a graduate student and Senate intern in the late 1980s, I wrote a master’s thesis that proved to be a rather shallow attempt to explain Robert Mugabe’s hold on the Zimbabwean electorate nearly a decade removed from independence,” he wrote in 2013. “Twenty-five years later, that hold on the electorate has long since been exposed as brute force and chicanery.”

Why should we believe he’ll be right about Cuba?

Cuban Adjustment Act is Not Cause of Current Exodus

Two important views from Cuba.

Excerpt from independent journalist, Mirian Celaya, in 14ymedio:

Some analysts, while deploring the preferential treatment of US authorities towards Cubans arriving in their territory, have indicated that the fears among Cubans that the Act will be repealed after the restoration of relations between the governments of the US and Cuba is the main source of such a constant and increasing exodus [...]

The Adjustment Act has thus been turned into the alleged determining cause—and, therefore, the obstacle to eliminate in solving the problem of migration from Cuba—when the real causes for the Cuban exodus are the hopelessness, the absence of opportunities, the generalized poverty and the failure of the “revolutionary project” of Castro-communism.

In fact, the government’s economic program stemming from the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba under the guise of the documents Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Development Plan and National Economic Development and Social Plan until 2030, are, all by themselves, a stronger incentive for the national stampede than a hundred Adjustment Laws.

Excerpt from democratic socialist, Pedro Campos, in 14ymedio:

[T]he Cuban Adjustment Act is not the main cause of this wave. The main culprit is the populist-authoritarian system, the Statist-wage model, which has exhausted all its possibilities and is advancing irretrievably to its final phase, impoverishing its population more and more and shutting down every prospect of development and prosperity for the majority, given its refusal to democratize the political system and the economy [...]

The Cuban people are tired of dealing with so many absurd regulations over their lives and their way of organizing their subsistence and reproduction, always mediated by an all-powerful state, one that makes all decisions, abrogating all the rights of citizens, expropriating all their businesses and factories, large, medium and small, and paying them nothing for the value of their labor, curtailing all their chances for development and imposing on them who they must work for and what their income will be.

The repression against the opposition movement is abusive, because they systematically violate all the freedoms and civil and political rights of citizens. The people cannot choose other leaders. As democratic socialists we have taken a position of not seeking confrontation but rather seeking understanding, and also have been repressed in various ways.