BY PABLO BACHELET | Miami Herald
The nation’s new spy chief is replacing Norman Bailey as the intelligence community’s point man on Cuba and Venezuela just three months after Bailey took the job, The Miami Herald has learned.
Bailey’s departure came as Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told a Senate panel that Fidel Castro’s domination over Cuba would end this year and that his brother Raul was consolidating his position in power.
There was no immediate word on how Bailey’s departure will affect U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis on Cuba at a sensitive time, when the ailing leader Fidel Castro, 80, has been ‘‘temporarily’’ replaced by his brother Raul.
Bailey told friends about the decision in an e-mail Sunday, a copy of which was obtained by The Miami Herald. It said McConnell was overhauling of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and eliminating the three country ‘‘mission managers’’ who supervise intelligence gathering in critical countries like North Korea and Iran.
Intelligence officials denied Bailey’s version, saying that the Cuba and Venezuela position will be retained and that several candidates already were being considered for the post.
‘‘It’s not unusual for changes in leadership to be followed by changes in personnel,’’ said a senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with government rules. He gave no specific reason for Bailey’s dismissal.
‘‘But mission managers will continue to be a critical component of the ODNI to ensure the best intelligence community collaboration against many of our top priorities, including Cuba and Venezuela,’’ the official added.
Bailey told The Miami Herald he would not comment on McConnell’s decision.
A former Reagan administration official and a Cold War expert, Bailey was appointed in late November by McConnell’s predecessor, John Negroponte, who was sworn in Tuesday as deputy secretary of state.
The intelligence agency coordinates the work of the nation’s 16 intelligence gathering agencies. The Bush administration created the Cuba-Venezuela position last year after Castro fell ill. U.S. officials have accused leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of undermining democracy in his oil-rich nation and trying to destabilize Latin America.
The Cuban government insists Fidel Castro’s hand over of power to Ra�l after a still undetermined intestinal surgery was temporary and that Fidel was recovering.
McConnell, speaking Tuesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Fidel Castro’s era is nearing an end but that Raul is bolstering his position.
‘‘Significant positive change immediately following Castro’s death is unlikely,’’ McConnell said. ``The long period of transition following Fidel’s operation in July of 2006 have given his brother Raul the opportunity to solidify his position as Fidel’s successor.’’