USA Today
September 15, 1998
Feds arrest 10 on Cuba-spying charge

                 MIAMI - Ten people were charged Monday in what prosecutors said
                 is the largest Cuban spy ring ever uncovered in the United States since
                 Fidel Castro came to power nearly 40 years ago.

                 The eight men and two women tried to penetrate U.S. military bases,
                 infiltrate anti-Castro groups and manipulate U.S. media and political
                 groups, federal investigators said Monday.

                 The FBI said one of the group's targets was the Miami-based U.S.
                 Southern Command, which runs American military operations in Latin
                 America and the Caribbean.

                 "In scope and in depth, this case, it is really unparalleled in recent
                 years," said U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Scott. "This spy ring was cast by
                 the Cuban government to strike at the very heart of our national security
                 system and our very democratic process."

                 The Cuban foreign ministry in Havana had no comment.

                 The suspects were held without bond and face charges of espionage
                 and acting as unregistered agents of the Cuban government.
                 Prosecutors said the investigation is continuing, but would not say if
                 more arrests were anticipated.

                 Charges against five of the suspects carry life sentences. Charges
                 against the other five have maximum sentences of 15 years

                 One of the suspects, Linda Hernandez, was said to be part of a
                 husband-wife spy team. Both she and her husband are members of the
                 Cuban military and longtime operatives, the FBI said. Her lawyer,
                 Vincent Farina, said his client is a housewife, not a spy.

                 "She had nothing to do with this whatsover," Farina said.

                 According to an FBI affidavit filed in support of the arrests, surveillance
                 dating back to 1995 indicated all 10 members operated with code
                 names and had escape plans and alibis.

                 FBI agent Raul Fernandez said in the affidavit that the spy group was
                 led by Manuel Viramontes, a Cuban military captain, and used
                 computers with coded material on disk to communicate with each

                 Viramontes had an apartment in Miami and it was there that the disks
                 were found, investigators said.

                 The disks provided a detailed overview of spy operations reminiscent
                 of Cold War-era espionage, including references to agents as

                 "To say the least, folks, this operation was sophisticated," Scott said.

                 Two of those arrested were identified as U.S. citizens and one as a
                 resident alien. The citizenship of the others was not released, but the
                 FBI said some were agents who slipped in and out of the United

                 Congressional sources said the arrests made without incident Saturday
                 were timed to avert an operation planned by the suspects. They
                 provided no further details.

                 Part of the operation focused on infiltrating six exile groups, according
                 to the FBI.

                 Among those arrested was Rene Gonzalez, who was formerly affiliated
                 with the Miami-based Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue. The
                 group is known for flying mercy flights over the 90 miles of open water
                 between Florida and Cuba, searching for rafters fleeing the communist
                 island nation.

                 Gonzalez has been linked more recently to the group Democracy
                 Movement, which sails flotillas in the Florida Straits to protest Cuba
                 government actions.

                 "This is the tip of the iceberg," said Jose Basulto, founder of Brothers to
                 the Rescue.

                 Four Brothers fliers, including three Americans, were killed in February
                 1996 when their two planes were shot down by a Cuban MiG fighter
                 jet over international waters.

                 Soon afterward, federal officials acknowledged they were looking into
                 whether Cuban spies played any part in the aerial attack, which was not
                 mentioned in the FBI affidavit.

                 The affidavit said two of the suspects set up a surveillance of the
                 Southern Command, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and the Boca
                 Chica Naval Air Station in Key West.

                 The two allegedly produced detailed reports, complete with photos, on
                 the Southern Command and were assigned to report any "unusual
                 exercises, maneuvers, and other activity related to combat readiness at
                 the Naval air station."

                 One of the suspects was said to have reported on daily activities at
                 Boca Chica, including types of aircraft being deployed and descriptions
                 of a facility suspected of being prepared for top secret activity.

                 Although the affidavit summary said the suspects tried to manipulate the
                 media, there was no elaboration on how that happened.

                 By The Associated Press