- Fidel Castro, University of Tehran, May 10, 2001 quoted in the Agence France Presse
On June 11, 2013 the Center for Strategic and International Studies held an event with Tomás Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group and attorney Robert Muse, who is a legal expert on Cuba sanctions in which both made the case to remove Cuba from the terrorist list.
Bilbao gave a presentation that focused on the political calculations for removing Cuba from the list and about the political obstacles that have prevented this and strategies to achieve the policy goals of the Cuba Study Group (although Bilbao distanced the Cuba Study Group from his presentation stating that these were his own views).
Unfortunately, the event only presented one side of the argument and Muse based his rebuttal on the U.S. State Department's report which offer, according to him, “3 purported reasons” that are weak. (Wikileaks offers more details about the relationship between the Cuban government and these terrorist groups given safe harbor in the island.) The attorney went on to conclude that it was an "arbitrary and capricious act to keep Cuba on the list." The only item in the State Department report that he conceded had some substance is the harboring of fugitives and specifically raised Joanne Chesimard (a.k.a Assata Shakur), who had been designated a terrorist by the FBI, which Muse then went on to dispute. However, the crux of the argument for keeping or removing Cuba from the list of terror sponsors was succinctly explained by Robert Muse as follows:
“The list. Cuba on the terror sponsoring list. Arises from a statute, a 1979 statute that gives the Secretary of State the authority to determine that a country has repeatedly provided support for international terrorism and. International terrorism is defined under other statutes to be, to involve acts involving the citizens of the territory of more than one country.”The State Department's report on Cuba is underwhelming and leaves a lot out and is reminiscent of another report. In 1997 the Defense Intelligence Agency prepared a report that Secretary of Defense William Cohen sent to Congress that claimed that "Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S." and that "Cuba has little motivation to engage in military activity beyond defense of its territory and political system." The report also acknowledged that "Cuba has a limited capability to engage in some military and intelligence activities which would be detrimental to U.S. interests." Reading the full report at the time (as the State Department report now) was shocking because it didn't accord with what was available in the press. Years later, it turned out that the threat assessment had been prepared by a top Defense Intelligence Analyst, Ana Belen Montes ,who in reality had been working as a spy for Cuban intelligence for 15 years. She was arrested days after September 11, 2001 out of fear that the information she was providing to the Cubans would wind up in the hands of Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
For the sake of brevity, below are three fundamental reasons why Cuba should be kept on the list of state sponsors of terrorism:
First, the Cuban government has a long history of sponsoring terrorism beginning in the 1960s with the Tricontinental meetings where terrorism was viewed as a legitimate tactic. The University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies in 2004 published a chronology of Cuban government involvement in terrorism covering between 1959 and 2003. For example, their report lists how in 1970 the Cuban government published the "Mini Manual for Revolutionaries" in the official Latin American Solidarity Organization (LASO) publication Tricontinental, written by Brazilian urban terrorist Carlos Marighella, which gives precise instructions in terror tactics, kidnappings, etc. and translated into numerous languages which were distributed worldwide by the Cuban dictatorship. There is a chapter on terrorism:
Terrorism is an action, usually involving the placement of an explosive or firebomb of great destructive power, which is capable of effecting irreparable loss against the enemy. Terrorism requires that the urban guerrilla should have adequate theoretical and practical knowledge of how to make explosives. The terrorist act, apart from the apparent ease with which it can be carried out, is no different from other guerrilla acts and actions whose success depends on planning and determination. It is an action which the urban guerrilla must execute with the greatest calmness and determination. Although terrorism generally involves an explosion, there are cases in which it may be carried out through executions or the systematic burning of installations, properties, plantations, etc. It is essential to point out the importance of fires and the construction of incendiary devices such as gasoline bombs in the technique of guerrilla terrorism. Another thing is the importance of the material the urban guerrilla can persuade the people to expropriate in the moments of hunger and scarcity brought about by the greed of the big commercial interests. Terrorism is a weapon the revolutionary can never relinquish.Incidentally an online copy of the above mentioned text is displayed on the website of fugitive Assata Shakur who fled to Cuba in 1984 for the murder of a police officer and has been given political asylum by the Cuban government.
Second, the Cuban government had sent instructions to its WASP network agents to engage in acts of terrorism on U.S. soil during the Clinton Administration. The Cuban "WASP" spies arrested in 1998 used coded material on computer disks to communicate with other members of the spy network. Below are two excerpts from the 1,300 pages taken from those diskettes translated and used during the spy trial that demonstrate the criminal nature of the Cuban regime's operation in South Florida. In the first excerpt it declares that their primary objective was "penetrating and obtaining information on the naval station located in that city." In the next excerpt intelligence operatives communicated about "burning down the warehouse" and sabotaging Brothers to the Rescue equipment. Also requested that they attempt to identify who would be flying at certain times.
The seriousness of these planned action items would be confirmed by the February 24, 1996 shoot down where two MiGs hunted Brothers to the Rescue planes in international airspace and used air to air missiles to destroy two of the planes killing two pilots and two passengers based on intelligence supplied by the WASP network. International organizations recognized that Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales were murdered by agents of the Cuban government on February 24, 1996 in international airspace. The first of the participants in the conspiracy to be held accountable for his actions was Gerardo Hernandez who was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder.
Taking the above into account the April 7, 2002 statement by Richard Nuccio, President Clinton's former special adviser on Cuba referenced by attorney Robert L. Muse is extremely troubling:
"Frankly, I don't know anyone in or outside of government who believes in private that Cuba belongs on the terrorist list. People who defend it know it is a political calculation. It keeps a certain part of the voting public in Florida happy, and it doesn't cost anything."Third, as recently as 2012 there were reports in the media of Cuban, Iranian and Venezuelan officials meeting in Mexico to discuss cyber attacks on U.S. soil allegedly seeking information about nuclear power plants in the United States. Supposedly the FBI had opened an investigation into the matter, but there is no mention of this in the State Department's 2012 report.
Cuban intelligence having been trained and prepared by the East German intelligence service known as the STASI have been highly successful in penetrating the U.S. government and at high levels. Ana Belen Montes was a high ranking analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military version of the CIA, who drafted the report that provided an assessment of the threat that Cuba poises to the United States. She also had access to intelligence on Latin America that she passed along to her Cuban handlers that led to the death of at least one American on March 31, 1987 and his name was Gregory A. Fronius. The FBI arrested her on September 20, 2001 before they could identify and capture her Cuban handlers because in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks they feared that the intelligence that she would provide Cuba could end up in the hands of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Montes had been a spy for the Cuban government since 1984. She had drawn attention to herself during the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shootdown and that prompted the investigation that led to her downfall.
Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn spent thirty years spying against the United States for Fidel Castro. Kendall Myers was a high-ranking analyst for the U.S. State Department with top-secret clearance who had been recruited in 1978 by Cuban intelligence. His wife would pass her husband's acquired information on to their Cuban contacts. Kendall Myers was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison and his wife got a shorter sentence. The CIA's first defector was Philip Agee who died in Cuba in 2008 at the age of 72. He had defected to Cuba in 1973 and made public the identity of 250 alleged CIA officers and agents. It was the Cubans and not the KGB who had successfully recruited him.
The facts say it should be on the list. What about the politics?
Cuba, like North Korea, is a sponsor of terrorism and both are brutal totalitarian communist dictatorships ruled by small circles of strong men. On the merits both should be on the list. However, in Washington D.C. the facts can take a back seat to political and strategic interests. Nevertheless, taking all of this into account Tomás Bilbao's claim that taking Cuba off the list of terror sponsors would be in the national security interests of the United States doesn't add up. It makes about as much sense as the Bush Administration taking North Korea off the list in 2008 which did not slow down its drive to obtain and test nuclear weapons and today finds that government threatening to rain down nuclear weapons on American cities.