Miami Herald

July 3, 1982

Agents seize satellite equipment bought by Cuban U.N. diplomat



Federal agents in Orlando have seized $38,000 worth of satellite monitoring equipment purchased by a top-ranking Cuban diplomat in violation of the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act, a Customs Department spokesman announced Friday.

A Cuban diplomat at the United Nations purchased the equipment from a Florida company by mail, according to Ed Kittredge, a U.S. Customs Department spokesman in Washington.

The equipment was seized Thursday by FBI agents and the U.S. Customs Service in a United Parcel Service warehouse in Orlando.

Federal agencies are checking into the possibility that the equipment might be used for spying, said a State Department official who would talk only if his name was not used.

"It is still premature to say" if the violation of the 20-year embargo on trading with Cuba is serious enough to warrant the expulsion of the diplomat, the official added.

"After the investigation we will see what we do," he said.

The equipment, which is available commercially, can be converted to a sophisticated telecommunications monitor, according to officials at Customs. They added it did not include a receiving "dish," commonly used to pick up television signals from satellites.

Kittredge said the name of the company selling the equipment is not being divulged "because they are cooperating with us."

The incident is the first involving a Cuban diplomat since February of last year, when the Reagan Administration expelled Ricardo Escartin, first secretary in the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

Escartin was accused of engaging in "intelligence gathering activities" and conspiring with American businessmen to violate the embargo on trade with Cuba.

Customs officials said that the Cuban diplomat involved in the latest incident could not be arrested because he is covered by diplomatic immunity.

Officials at the State Department refused to identify the diplomat Friday. Kittredge said they could not identify him because "the State Department told us not to."

An official of Cuba's Interests Section in Washington said the Cuban government had not been officially notified of the incident and thus he could not comment.

A woman who answered the phone at the Cuban mission to the United Nations in New York also declined comment saying, "Here we are not accustomed to make any statements to the press."