San Diego Union

March 5, 1990

FBI suspends agent in spy case


NEW YORK - A decorated Miami FBI counterintelligence agent was suspended and lost his security clearance as a result of a three-year investigation involving allegations of spying for Cuba, a published report said today.

The New York Times reported that many of the agent's colleagues have rallied to his defense, saying he appears to be a victim of retaliation because of his crucial role in a landmark discrimination suit against the FBI by Hispanic employees.

The Times, citing government officials and friends of the 15-year FBI veteran, Fernando Mata, reported that the investigation has sparked a bitter battle within the bureau.

Few details of the investigation were available and an FBI spokesman in Washington would only confirm that Mata, 48, had been placed on indefinite administrative leave, refusing to say why.

"We have nothing to say on the matter," the spokesman, Robert Davenport, told the newspaper.

But the Cuban-American agent's lawyer, Hugo Rodriguez, told the newspaper Mata has been repeatedly questioned by the FBI about the possibility of contacts several years ago with Cuban intelligence agents.

Rodriguez told the Times his client's security clearance was lifted several days after his suspension about a month ago.

Government officials and friends of the agent confirmed the lawyer's statements, and one friend told the newspaper that the FBI claimed to have information Cuban agents approached Mata in a bid to enlist him as a spy, the report said.

Several current and former agent who have worked with Mata called the allegations against him old and unreliable and contended that he was being harassed because he spoke out against the FBI's treatment of Hispanic employees.

"What the bureau is doing to Fernando Mata is unspeakable," Leo Gonzales, an agent who retired last December after 19 years with the FBI, told the Times. "There is no doubt in my mind that Fernando is a patriot and loyal American."

In the 1988 discrimination suit brought by Hispanic agents, a federal judge in Texas ordered the FBI to make sweeping changes in its promotion policies.

Mata, one of 300 plaintiffs, testified against the FBI at the trial and was frequently quoted in news stories about the case.

An FBI official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, rejected suggestions that Mata was a target of harassment by the bureau.

"No matter what you think of the FBI, it's ridiculous to think" that the bureau would raise such a serious matter out of a desire for retaliation, the official told the Times.

Mata has been involved in several major investigations to counter spying by foreign counties, and colleagues say he risked his life in covert FBI assignments abroad, the Times said.