Spies in Miami?
Castro sent 300 of them, defector testifies
By JIM McGEE
WASHINGTON - An estimated 300 Cuban intelligence agents entered South Florida during and since the Mariel boatlift, a congressional subcommittee was told Friday.
If that is true, said a former Cuban spy testifying before the subcommittee, the agents are probably here to "distract" the FBI.
"One of the objectives is to distract the counterintelligence services of the United States," said former Cuban spy Gerardo Peraza, 42, -who quit the Cuban intelligence service in 1971 and defected to the United States.
There "is no possibility of detecting the true agents. The FBI doesn't have time to detect the real agents," Peraza said through an interpreter.
The comment came after subcommittee chairman Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R., Ala.), a conservative Republican, said congressional investigators have been told "there are now 300 [Cuban intelligence[ officers and agents in the Miami area alone" who have arrived during and since Mariel.
Subcommittee investigators said their information about Florida came from the FBI and local law enforcement agencies. FBI officials declined to comment for The Herald on Peraza's testimony.
Peraza said Cuba's intelligence agency, the General Directorate for Intelligence (DGI), relied on the Soviet Union for training and equipment.
"The Soviet Union utilizes Cuba because of its great possibilities in the intelligence field against the U.S.," Peraza said, " . . . and the great possibilities of penetrating the U.S."
Later in the hearings, which focused on Peraza's experiences, Denton's staff produced a photograph of Russian-made hand grenades that he said have been linked to three Miami-area bombings. The Russian grenades were apparently stolen from a shipment of arms from Cuba to El Salvador, a Florida investigator said.
Staff investigators showed the photograph of the smooth, hand-held cylinders and said they interviewed a jailed informant who claimed the grenades were intended "to blow things up" in Miami.
"We went down there [to Miami] to talk to a guy in prison," said a member of the subcommittee staff who asked not to be named. "This guy was given the hand grenades . . . they were sent over [from Cuba] to be used by him.
"This guy was specifically told to blow things up. He was told by a guy who thought he was, or believed to be, a [Cuban agent] to do this."
State and federal law enforcement officials confirmed Friday afternoon that Russian-made devices have been used in Miami bombings.
The most recent incident occurred last Monday when an explosion rocked the neighborhood at NW 27th Ave and 16th Terrace.
"We know where they came from," said Sergio Pinon, and investigator with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "We know how they got to the U.S. from Cuba."
Peraza, speaking in Spanish, said he left Cuba 12 years ago in protest of a requirement that intelligence officers join the Communist Party and because the Cuban agency had been placed under the control of Soviet intelligence.
He said the USSR, in taking command of the agency, was interested primarily in "the penetration of United States intelligence."
In introducing the swarthy, heavy-set former spy, Denton said he was placed in charge of the signals bureau in the DGI in 1967 to monitor counterrevolutionary activities among Cuban exiles. Denton said he was later assigned to the Cuban embassy in London with the cover title of second secretary.
Throughout his testimony, Peraza stressed that the United States was uppermost in the minds of Cuban and Soviet intelligence leaders.
Even when the DGI would try to recruit British officials, he said, the goal was to hurt America.
"It was to utilize these people in one way or another to penetrate the U.S.," Peraza said. " . . . All the other countries where they work, it is [directed] at the U.S."
Peraza said he made the decision to defect after watching Cuban intelligence become more and more a KGB operation.
He told of attending Russian training centers for spies - where he studied beside recruits from other Third World nations.
"We [the Cuban trainees] were the apple of their eyes," he said of his Soviet trainers. "The preferred ones. We had more access to information."
Peraza also said Cuba began establishing training centers - which were essentially schools for terrorism.
"Thousands of terrorists have gone through that school for special training," he said.
Shifting his focus to New York and Washington, Peraza said most of the Cuban diplomats are trained intelligence agents. He said the general orders are to gather political, economic and military information about the U.S.
He said a leftist student group in Florida, the Venceremos Brigade, performed a similar function.
"Venceremos" is Spanish for "We shall win." The pro-Castro youth brigade was made up of American college students who made annual "solidarity" visits to Cuba to cut sugar cane and work the construction industry in the 1970s.
"The Venceremos Brigade helped by sending the telephone books [of Florida communities] and [other] information, including [data] on the U.S. Senate," Peraza said.
For one period, he said, there was "and extraordinary emphasis placed on several senators of the U.S. … with some success."
He did not name the senators.
Near the end of the morning session, Sen. John East (R., N.C.) asked a final question.
"You see the Soviet-DGI connection as alive and well in the United States?"
"Yes," the ex-spy said.