By The Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) --
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
the group's main target was the Miami-based U.S. Southern
Command, which runs American military operations in Latin America and
``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.
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
five of the suspects carry life sentences. Charges against
the other five have maximum sentences of 15 years
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 other.
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 comrades.
``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 States.
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
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
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 to
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.
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.
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.
affidavit summary said the suspects tried to manipulate the
media, there was no elaboration on how that happened.