The Miami Herald
September 15, 1998
Crackdown may signal new tactics

             By JUAN O. TAMAYO
             Herald Staff Writer

             The arrests of 10 accused Cuban spies may signal a Washington decision to get
             tough on Havana agents who can easily infiltrate Miami exile groups and provoke
             incidents, exiles and intelligence experts say.

             Exactly why the FBI arrested the 10 over the weekend remained unclear Monday.
             One official in Washington said the agents moved in because some of the ring
             members planned to leave the country. FBI officials in Miami declined to

             But the roundup was the first in memory against alleged Cuban spies in Miami,
             despite the fact that FBI officials and Cuban exile leaders have long maintained
             that 200 to 300 Cuban agents operate in South Florida.

             ``I find it strange because the FBI usually doesn't jail those kinds of people. It just
             watches them, said Francisco Avila, who in 1992 confessed to being a double
             agent for the FBI and Cuban intelligence for 12 years.

             FBI officials have argued in the past that it's better to simply monitor the known
             Cuban agents than to arrest them -- and have Cuba replace them later with new
             agents who would be harder to track down.

             Little Havana was rife with speculation Monday that the crackdown was
             Washington's way of balancing the scales of justice against the seven Cuban exiles
             charged in Puerto Rico last month with trying to murder Fidel Castro.

             ``Absolutely not! said Lula Rodriguez, deputy assistant secretary of state for public
             affairs. ``We have said time and time again the United States is committed to
             investigate and, if warranted by the evidence, prosecute violations of the law -- be
             it violations of laws on espionage or terrorism.

             Cuba's concerted effort

             But Cuban exiles were more concerned with what the criminal complaint filed by
             the FBI on Monday showed: a concerted effort by Havana to penetrate exile
             groups, sow dissent among them and provoke clashes between the exiles and
             Washington and Havana.

             One of the 10, Linda Hernandez, tried to join the Alpha 66 paramilitary group and
             had a book autographed by its leader, Andres Nazario Sargen. Nazario said he
             did not recognize her name and doubted that she ever got very close to the group.

             Another alleged spy, Rene Gonzalez, tried to infiltrate Brothers to the Rescue and
             offered to provide information to the FBI on the group's leader, Jose Basulto,
             according to an FBI affidavit filed in support of the arrests.

             A third accused spy, Alejandro Alonzo, infiltrated the Democracia Movement and
             was ``tasked to report on the paramilitary PUND group, the National Cuban
             Commission and the Cuban American Pilots Organization, the affidavit said.

             While the affidavit gave few details, the descriptions of the spies' alleged activities
             showed a Havana government intent on provoking problems for exile groups and

             Groups manipulated

             Among the spies' duties, according to the affidavit: ``Duplicitous participation in
             and manipulation of anti-Castro organizations; and attempted manipulation of
             United States political institutions and government entities through disinformation
             and pretended cooperation.

             The spy ring's alleged master, Manuel Viramontes, was personally in charge of
             agents assigned to inflitrate exile groups but left the infiltration of U.S. military
             targets up to two deputies, the affidavit added.

             Viramontes' focus was on ``the activities of Cuban exile groups in Miami and
             tactics to disrupt those groups by, among other things, [creating] animosity
             between specified groups and attempting to discredit certain individual leaders.

             Also: ``The manipulation of the media, political institutions and public opinion,
             including among other means, by suggested anonymous or misidentified telephone
             calls and letters to media and political figures.

             `Spark an action'

             In one message from Viramontes to Rene Gonzalez, the FBI said, the ring's leader
             said it might be ``of interest to us in an emergency to spark an action by the North
             American government against these people.

             Cuban intelligence infiltrations of Cuban exile groups in Miami are hardly new.

             Alpha 6 alone has suffered more than a dozen known infiltrations since its founding
             in the early 1960s -- the last and most embarrassing in 1992, when Avila, then
             Alpha's military chief, revealed he had been working since 1980 for both the FBI
             and Havana.

             He was expelled from Alpha after his confession and lives in Miami.

             On Monday, Avila recalled that his Cuban supervisors at the Cuban mission to the
             United Nations had once given him $12,000 to buy a boat later offered to Alpha
             66 for armed raids on Cuba.

             ``Cuba is very good at self-aggression, said Avila. ``If they want you to attack
             they will clear out their Navy so you can go in.