BY PABLO BACHELET | Miami Herald
Cuba has extended its intelligence-gathering capabilities beyond the United States and Latin America to places where vital U.S. interests are at stake—like Iran, Turkey, India and Pakistan—a former top U.S. counterintelligence official told lawmakers Thursday.
Chris Simmons, a former counterintelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said a series of intelligence setbacks for Cuba between 1995 and 2003—such as the dismantling of a network of spies in Miami, the closure of an intelligence center in Canada and the arrest of former DIA Cuba analyst Ana Montes in 2001—forced Cuba to tighten its intelligence operations.
Today Cuba puts trusted top intelligence operatives in charge of key embassy postings and operates more with allies like Iran and Venezuela, Simmons said in a briefing organized by Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Cuba’s intelligence apparatus, considered one of the world’s most formidable, numbers more than 11,500 agents, he said, of whom about 3,500 are focused on international operations.
Cuba has resorted to employing more of what he called ‘‘ambassador-spies’’—top intelligence chiefs who have become diplomatic envoys.
Before, Cuba placed such persons in the United States and with a few of Cuba’s closest allies, like the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
‘‘We’ve seen a change in how they use ambassador-spies,’’ Simmons said, to ensure that their intelligence centers ``never again get closed.’‘
Such top intelligence officers are also being dispatched to places where the United States has active military operations, he said.
‘‘They feel compelled to work against every major U.S. military operation for their own interest and because it is vital to their allies,’’ he told the lawmakers. He said the information is then shared with U.S. rivals like Russia.
He said Cuba has established four new ‘‘regional intelligence centers’’—in Iran, India, Pakistan and Turkey.
Simmons, who worked on Cuba for the DIA for a dozen years, has founded the Cuban Intelligence Research Center, based in Leesburg, Va.
Ties with Iran’s current authorities have always been close, but the cooperation has become tighter, especially after 2006. The two countries work together on jamming TV and radio broadcasts and on dual-use biotechnology.
Cuba has dispatched a career intelligence officer, Juan Carretero Ibáñez, to India. He was an important intelligence operative in Chile during the 1970s regime of President Salvador Allende and headed a Cuban propaganda outfit, the Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
IN PAKISTAN AGAIN
Cuba closed its Pakistan embassy in 1990 but reopened it in April 2006 and appointed ‘‘ambassador-spy’’ Gustavo Machín Gómez. Machín was one of the 14 diplomats expelled from the United States in 2003 on accusations of spying.
Cuba’s ambassador to Turkey is Ernesto Gómez Abascal, who Simmons said was either an intelligence officer or a collaborator and is a former ambassador to Iraq when it was led by Saddam Hussein. Simmons said Cuba shared information on U.S. military activities with the Hussein government.