The Miami Herald
Friday, August 8, 2008

Spy catcher claims four are agents for Cuba

By ALFONSO CHARDY

A veteran spy catcher's appearance on Spanish-language TV in Miami has added fuel to the decades-long debate about the Castro government's interest in spying in South Florida.

Lt. Col. Chris Simmons, an Army Reserve counterintelligence officer and former Defense Intelligence Agency counterintelligence analyst, named Marifeli Pérez-Stable, Gilberto Abascal, Alberto R. Coll and Gillian Gunn Clissold as agents for the Cuban government.

But Simmons offered no conclusive evidence that any of the four -- who have denied the accusation -- gave classified information to Cuba, received intelligence training or undertook missions for Cuban intelligence.

Simmons said his years of training enable him to make educated determinations on whether someone is an intelligence agent.

''Why deny what we know to be true?'' Simmons told The Miami Herald.

Of the four, Gunn, a former Georgetown University professor, is little known in the local exile community. The other three -- including Pérez-Stable, who writes regularly for The Miami Herald's opinion page -- have been accused in the past of collaborating with Cuban intelligence.

Judy Orihuela, spokeswoman for the Miami office of the FBI, declined to comment. One of the agency's jobs is to catch spies working in the United States.

Simmons' allegations have carried more heft because of his history as a former counterintelligence analyst and his role in helping catch a real-life Cuban agent based in Washington, Ana Belén Montes, the most important Cuban spy captured to date.

Simmons said on television and in an interview with The Herald that he based his conclusions on declassified records, interviews with Cuban intelligence defectors and witnesses he didn't name.

Since Simmons' appearance on TV last week, The Herald has attempted to obtain the records he mentioned to verify his assertions. For example, the newspaper has been seeking documentation related to an investigation of whether Coll lied about his travels to Cuba. A federal court has ordered that the documents be provided to a judge for review by Sept. 1 to determine if they can be released.

Juan Manuel Reyes-Alonso, a former Cuban intelligence officer who talked to Simmons, told The Herald the information he gave Simmons was a general description of how Cuban intelligence operates -- not specifics about any of the four people Simmons named.

MAKING WAVES

Simmons's allegations have roiled a small circle of intellectuals and journalists who monitor Cuba and who regard three of the people he named as respected academics.

Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., called Simmons a ''smear artist'' in a posting on his blog The Cuban Triangle.

A recent book about the capture of Montes, a Cuba analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, credits Simmons with playing a key role in identifying her as an agent. Montes is serving 25 years.

Scott W. Carmichael, the author of True Believer and lead investigator in the Montes case, said he knew generally of Simmons' assertions in Miami, but did not know specifics.

''All I can say is that he knows what he is talking about,'' Carmichael said. "Chris is an expert on Cuban intelligence.''

Simmons, who periodically writes for The Herald's opinion page, has set up a private company, Cuban Intelligence Research Center, in Leesburg, Va., marketing himself as an expert on Cuban intelligence.

He is also writing a book and pitching a movie deal on Cuban spies, in collaboration with Ana Margarita Martínez, who was once married to Juan Pablo Roque -- a Cuban spy who fled to Havana on the eve of the 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes.

On July 31, Simmons went on América TeVe Channel 41's show A Mano Limpia, where he named the four he believes are working or have worked for Cuban intelligence:

Pérez-Stable, vice president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, a Florida International University professor and regular contributor to The Herald's opinion page.

Abascal, an FBI informant and federal witness in cases against Cuban exile militants Luis Posada Carriles and Santiago Alvarez.

Coll, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to lying about a Cuba trip in 2003. Coll was fined $5,000 and resigned from the Naval War College in Rhode Island. He is now at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

Gunn, former associate director for Caribbean Programs at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., and former head of the Cuba Study Group at Georgetown University.

''I'm sick and tired of these McCarthyite tactics,'' Perez-Stable said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. "I supported the Cuban revolution in the 1970s. Over the course of the 1980s, I had a change of heart. I have now been a vocal opponent of the Cuban government for longer than I ever supported the revolution.''

Joe Oglesby, editor of the Herald's editorial page, defended Pérez-Stable.

''This is nothing more than a witch hunt,'' he said. ``This is character assassination and these issues have been raised and dealt with in the past.''

'BASELESS' CLAIM

In a written response, Coll said: "These are baseless and scurrilous allegations without a shred of evidence, presented by someone eager to make a quick buck in Miami by selling his book.''

Gunn compared Simmons to Cuban leader Raúl Castro, saying Castro once publicly denounced her as an agent -- for the U.S. government.

''Anyone who does in-depth work on Cuba and has high level access on both sides is vulnerable to such accusations,'' she said. 'In Cuba, I had to deal with the accusation that I was a CIA agent, and, in fact, if you look at the 1996 Raúl speech denouncing reformist Cuban scholars as 'fifth columnists in service of imperialism,' he strongly suggested I was the link to U.S. intelligence. That was false and this is false.''

Clissold retired from academia in 2003 and for the past five years has been a professional horse trainer and riding instructor in the Virginia countryside.

Abascal could not be reached for comment, but he has denied previous allegations that he is a Cuban agent.