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
Gonzalez has been linked more recently to the group Democracy
Movement, which sails flotillas in the Florida Straits to protest Cuba
"This is the tip of the iceberg," said Jose Basulto, founder of Brothers
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