United Press Syndicate
June 23, 2005

World Events Keep Cuba Off U.S. Radar Screen

Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- With the news out of Iraq, Iran, China, Africa and the Middle East dominating America's attention, our nearby island of Cuba seems suddenly far away. Even though the American base at Guantanamo is actually on Cuban soil, in all the turbulent rhetoric about prisoners there, Cuba itself is almost never mentioned.
Yet, behind the scenes, the Cuban government, led seemingly for eternity by the greatest living Machiavellian plotter, continues playing its conspiratorial back-room games with American intelligence, with the spying potential of the Caribbean drug trade, and with ideological and physical support for the new left arising all over Latin America. Fidel Castro is not a man patient with obscurity.

Take, for instance, a recent case in the highest levels of the American strategic defense establishment. It has received little media coverage, but it personifies, at the least, dangerous slips of security regarding Cuba. At the most, it points to the possibility of further Cuban attempts at espionage in the heart of the American military, following the outrageous case three years ago of Ana Belen Montes, the Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who got a 25-year sentence without parole when she was caught red-handed spying for Fidel.

The man at the center of the ongoing saga is Alberto Coll, a 49-year-old Cuban American who left Cuba when he was 12, whose father was imprisoned as a political prisoner for nine years, and who himself rose to remarkable heights within the American military establishment. He is described by his colleagues as a handsome man with a sharp intelligence, a serious person who was unremittingly critical of Castro -- until recently. His last position was chairman of the Strategic Department at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.; before that he was deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflicts at the Pentagon. No dope, he!

But then Coll did some very strange things for a man in such a sensitive position. In January 2004, he took an unapproved trip to Cuba and then lied about his intentions. First, he told U.S. officials that he was visiting a sick aunt; then he said he was going to see a "girlfriend" whose shoulder he needed to cry on over the tragic death, by car accident, of his 18-year-old daughter.

Because he had a supposedly equally grieving wife and son here, this story left a confused and bitter taste. Since he left Cuba when he was 12, either he was a very precocious boy emotionally, having a girlfriend at that age, or else he encountered a Cuban woman somewhere along the way -- but where and why? Furthermore, his late daughter had been well along with plans to attend Havana University, which is incredible given the complicated laws against Americans even traveling to Cuba, the sensitivity of her father's military positions and the knowledge they involve, and the rampant possibilities of Cuban entrapment of young foreigners for sexual or political purposes.

Finally, this spring, the Alberto Coll case came to court in Providence, and the judge sentenced the defendant to one year of probation and a $5,000 fine -- an extremely lenient sentence considering he could have received as much as five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. A Naval War College spokeswoman told the press that Coll's security clearance was not revoked, but his access to classified information had been suspended for the time being.

The Cuban American community in Miami and elsewhere was not surprisingly filled with whispers and rumors about the case, one being that Coll had actually visited a cousin who was a high official in the Cuban Communist Party. But the American military, still trying to absorb the damage left behind by Ana Belen Montes, has been virtually silent on the case.

No one is saying that Coll is or was any kind of agent. But after his earlier years, when he was known as an intelligent critic of Castro, he recently came to take the same public opinions as Ana Belen Montes and other Cuban sympathizers, including some "straight arrows" in the American Army: l) that there is no Cuban threat to the United States today, 2) that Cuba no longer supports violent revolution throughout Latin America, and 3) that it would be advantageous for the U.S. to exchange intelligence with Cuba.

All of these points have been made by him in his recent speeches -- and all of them are provably wrong. Those of us who write about Latin America have been increasingly alarmed by the new Cuban support, backed by Venezuelan oil money, for the far left in Latin America, which is surely a threat to the United States. And the idea of exchanging intelligence with Fidel? One can only be stunned by the idea.

In my book "Guerrilla Prince, the Untold Story of Fidel Castro," I attest, as indeed do all of his biographers, that the overwhelming and dominating factor in Fidel's life and psyche is his hatred for the United States; the only way he is going to exchange anything with us is in the realm of destruction. This is a good thing to remember, since we still seem to have people even in high positions (whatever they're really doing there) who want to believe in Fidel's fidelity.