By Sue Anne Pressley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 1998; Page A01
MIAMI, Sept. 14—Ten people allegedly operating as a spy ring for
President Fidel Castro's Cuban government have been arrested and
accused of collecting information on U.S. military installations and
anti-Castro groups in Florida, federal officials announced today.
The arrests, carried out Saturday, ended the most extensive espionage
effort involving Cuban agents ever uncovered here, U.S. Attorney Thomas
E. Scott said. He described the activities of the eight men and two women
as an attempt "to strike at the very heart of our national security system."
Congressional sources told the Associated Press that the arrests were
timed to thwart a planned operation by Cuban agents. But officials at a
news conference here said they were not aware of any such plan. They
would not comment on why the arrests came at this time or on what sort of
damaging information, if any, might have been collected by the Cubans
Among other things, the group of clandestine agents allegedly infiltrated
several anti-Castro organizations in Miami-Dade County, including
Brothers to the Rescue and the Democracy Movement. But officials did
not link the espionage charges to the February 1996 incident in which two
small private planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue were shot down
by Cuban warplanes off the Cuban coast -- an incident that touched off an
However, the officials charged that those arrested attempted to penetrate
several U.S. military bases in the area, including U.S. Southern Command
Headquarters in Miami, MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa and the
Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West. Although Miami's anti-Castro
exile groups have been infiltrated by Cuban intelligence agents in the past,
the alleged attempts to spy on U.S. military installations were depicted as
"This case represents an unprecedented law enforcement effort in the
prevention of espionage in south Florida," Scott said. "To say the least . . .
[the alleged spy] operation was sophisticated."
Search warrants at several south Florida locations yielded disguises,
radios, antennae, maps, computer equipment, money and other items.
Included were many computer diskettes in which the alleged spies referred
to themselves as "comrades" and exchanged coded messages.
The foreign counterintelligence squad of the FBI's Miami office had been
investigating the group since 1995, said Hector M. Pesquera, special agent
in charge of the FBI here. "This is a significant blow to the Cuban
government," Pesquera said, adding that Castro's espionage efforts here
are "now in a complete state of disarray."
Pesquera said that activities at the military bases were "never
The alleged spy ring included Cuban nationals posing as U.S. citizens and
Cuban Americans, officials said. Depending on their level of leadership, the
suspects could, if convicted, receive maximum sentences of life in prison
and fines of $750,000.
Federal officials identified three of the 10 arrested as senior agents
group, who communicated directly with the Cuban government about their
activities and received instructions from Cuban officials.
They are Manuel Viramontes (aka "Giro"), 31, a Cuban national and
captain in the Cuban military who has been in the United States since 1992
and had a North Miami Beach address; Ruben Campa (aka "Vicky"), 33,
who federal officials said was temporarily recalled to Cuba last fall; and
Luis Medina (aka "Allan"), 30, a Hollywood, Fla., resident who is an
officer in the Cuban equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency, the
General Directorate of Intelligence.
According to U.S. District Court documents released today, Medina had
operated in the Tampa area from as early as 1992, reporting information to
Cuba about operations at MacDill. He was later transferred to Miami
"specifically to lead the effort to infiltrate the U.S. Southern Command,"
court papers said, referring to the unified command of Army, Navy, Air
Force and Special Operations units that supports U.S. interests in the
Another alleged agent, according to court documents, was Antonio
Guerrero Jr., 39, a civilian employee of the public works division at Boca
Chica, who had been ordered to report any "unusual exercises, maneuvers,
and other activity related to combat readiness" there.
FBI officials concluded Guerrero had "reported detailed information
regarding the daily activities at the air station, including . . . the types of
aircraft being deployed there; precise physical descriptions of . . . a
structure on the air station which he suspects of being prepared for
top-secret activity; [and] the use of supposed 'electronic warfare' aircraft."
Alejandro Alonso, 39, allegedly was assigned to report information about
the Miami-based exile group Democracy Movement, and, as a boat pilot,
participated in flotillas in demonstrations against the Cuban government. A
married couple, Nilo and Linda Hernandez, ages 44 and 41 respectively,
allegedly were assigned, among other tasks, "to undertake a long-term
surveillance mission of two Cuban agents who were thought to be at risk of
defection to U.S. authorities," according to court papers.
And Rene Gonzalez, 42, allegedly was assigned to report on anti-Castro
groups. With Democracy Movement, he served for the past three years as
undersecretary of the air groups, according to the organization's president,
Ramon Saul Sanchez.
Sanchez said in an interview that Gonzalez was a skilled pilot who saved
Sanchez's life when he made an emergency landing near Homestead, Fla.,
as the group was protesting the pope's visit to Cuba earlier this year. "We
are shocked because of the way he used to conduct himself," said
Sanchez, who stressed that Gonzalez was "not involved in critical
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