The New York Times
September 14, 1998
10 Accused of Spying for Cuba

          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
          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

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

          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 other.

          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 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.

          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.