U.S.: Defection forces shakeup of Cuba's spies
Miami News Reporter
The recent defection of a Cuban intelligence chief has sparked a shakeup of Cuban personnel and agents operating in the United States, according to U.S. intelligence sources in Washington and Miami.
The defection last month of Jesús Raúl Pérez Méndez, an operations chief of Cuban intelligence, has prompted a shuffle of personnel at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and Cuba's mission to the United Nations in New York, an intelligence source in Miami said.
The Washington source said the shakeup of Cuban officials and agents in the U.S. probably would involve up to a dozen people.
"They are already moving personnel from the section in Washington in order to avoid the embarrassment of having them expelled," said the source in Miami.
Pérez Méndez has already provided the FBI and CIA with information "on the network of DGI agents who operate in Miami and Key West," the Miami source said. "He is talking about the narcotics traffic with Cuba. He has access to a group (of smugglers) who worked with him."
The Miami source offered details of the defection and its consequences, along with indications of intramural rivalry between the CIA and the FBI over who deserves the credit for the Pérez Méndez defection.
Though the defection was widely reported to have occurred in New York, the Miami source said it happened here -- and that it spread uncertainty among Cuban intelligence agents in other parts of the United States, including Florida.
"Right now, they have a lot of confusion," he said. "From what we know from our contacts, they are going to change personnel."
He said the departing agents are not assigned to Florida, "but there are many who have gone (to Cuba) to get instructions."
Defections and movements of intelligence personnel are classified matters that are not divulged as a matter of U.S. policy. The State Department, the FBI in Washington and Miami, the CIA and a spokesman for the U.S. delegation to the United Nations refused comment on Pérez Méndez and the changing of the Cuban guard in the U.S.
The Miami source described Pérez Méndez, 37, as one of Cuba's chiefs of intelligence operations. Several media have reported Pérez Méndez to have been a captain in Cuba's General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI) and a high-level official in the Cuban Institute of Friendship With the People, know by its Spanish acronym, ICAP.
"This man was mostly in charge of Cubans off the island, controlling what was done abroad" by state-side groups that sympathize with the Cuban government, the Miami source said.
Pérez Méndez, he added, was involved with smoothing the way through Cuban waters for drug smugglers, who, according to congressional testimony, have used Cuban docking facilities, gunboat escorts, and mechanics to repair boats.
"Right now, the interviewing (of Pérez Méndez) is being done by the CIA," the Miami source said.
He said the CIA had contacted Pérez Méndez about eight months ago while he was in the United States after he expressed a desire to stay in this country permanently.
U.S. agents "first tried to get the individual to work (as a double agent), but it didn't happen," apparently because Pérez Méndez did not want to risk it, the Miami source said.
The focus was then changed to getting him to defect, but Pérez Méndez was unable to let U.S. officials know when he would be traveling to this country on official business.
The chance arose July 14 when Pérez Méndez was working on the security detail for the Cuban salsa group Orquesta Aragón, which performed July 11 and 16 at two New York City nightspots.
When he arrived at Miami International Airport, Pérez Méndez told Customs agents of his desire to defect. They immediately called the FBI, which took him into custody, the Miami source said.
The FBI's spokesman in Miami Chris Mazzella, would not confirm or deny the scenario.
Although the FBI and CIA work jointly with defectors, the CIA did not find out about the Pérez Méndez defection until Cuban officials in Washington advised a double agent to be careful about subsequent contacts with Pérez Méndez, the Miami intelligence source said.
The double agent then told the CIA that Pérez Méndez had defected.