Their men in higher ed: Working the nexus between government and professoriate
The arrest of Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, demonstrates the extent to which the Cuban Intelligence Service has penetrated and manipulated American academic institutions.
Mr. Myers is accused of acting in 1977 at the behest of Cuba's Directorate General of Intelligence in attaining employment with the State Department and received top-secret security clearance. He worked as instructor and chairman for West European Studies at the department's Foreign Service Institute.
Mr. Myers received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. The same institution in 1988 awarded a master's degree to Ana Belen Montes, the key Pentagon intelligence analyst on Cuba, who in 2002 pleaded guilty to working for Cuban intelligence and received a 25-year prison sentence. According to Cuban intelligence defectors, Cuban intelligence has targeted American colleges and universities for nearly half a century.
The FBI debriefed Cuba's DGI Capt. Jesus Perez Mendez after his defection in 1983. In a publicly available transcript, Mr. Perez Mendez identifies U.S. university professors and administrators known to be "activists" in pro-Castro groups. Mr. Perez Mendez revealed that, in reality, they were Cuban agents working under the supervision of Jesus Arboleya Cervera, a DGI officer and diplomat in the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City.
According to the defector, Florida International University political science professor Marifeli Perez-Stable assumed the spy duties of DGI agent Lourdes Casal, a Rutgers University psychology professor, who died in Havana in 1980. So extensive were Ms. Perez-Stable's intelligence responsibilities that the DGI prepared annual plans for her.
A decade later, Antonio de la Cova, a Latino-studies professor at Indiana University Bloomington, published "Academic Espionage: U.S. Taxpayer Funding of a Pro-Castro Study." This thoroughly researched and exhaustively detailed paper described how the State Department gave $500,000 to Florida International University (FIU) for a study on U.S.-Cuba relations. FIU is one of about 15 universities Cuba intelligence focuses on as recruiting grounds. Heading FIU's "Cuba in Transition" study was sociology professor Lisandro Perez. He was assisted by 16 mostly Cuban-American professors, including Ms. Perez-Stable and Trinity Washington University professor Gillian Gunn, who during the previous 20 years had been active in the pro-Castro groups exposed by Mr. Perez Mendez.
On June 6, 2005, Alberto Coll, the Havana-born chairman of the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., was sentenced to one year probation after pleading guilty to lying about the purpose of his trip to Cuba the previous year. Mr. Coll, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, had his security clearance rescinded and was fined $5,000.
Mr. Coll was suspected of espionage, but his earlier service as a source in Navy Intelligence debriefings proved to be a major liability in court proceedings. His confession remains sealed to this day. Government officials told Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz that Cuban intelligence "recruited Coll ... in part by using a female agent to seduce him."
Seven months later, the FBI arrested FIU psychology professor Carlos M. Alvarez and his wife, Elsa, an FIU counselor, and like the Myers couple, charged them with failing to register with the federal government as foreign agents.
Six months earlier, Alvarez admitted to FBI agents the espionage activities he and his wife carried out for three decades. These included a written report about the personal finances and private life of his friend Modesto A. Maidique, the president of FIU. Another report detailed a meeting between various FIU professors and Michael Eagan, the director of the Investigations Office of the Department of State.
A transcript from two days of Alvarez's interrogation, totaling 676 pages, has been declassified and is now available online. In it, the professor admits that Cuban intelligence requested information about his students, especially one who was an FBI agent, and academic colleagues sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution for co-opting them. Alvarez acknowledged participating in academic activities with Coll. Alvarez and his wife pleaded guilty in 2007 and received five-year and three-year prison sentences, respectively.
The following year, Lt. Col. Chris Simmons, a gifted spy catcher in the Army Reserve, who was instrumental in the Montes and Coll cases, appeared on Miami Spanish-language radio and TV programs and denounced academics Ms. Perez-Stable, Mr. Perez, Ms. Gunn, Mr. Coll, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Julia E. Sweig and others as having links to the CuIS. All the accused academics have denied the charges but have refrained from taking legal action.
More than 25 Cuban intelligence officers and agents have defected or emigrated to the United States and allied nations. Most of their debriefings describing covert agents and their espionage activities remain needlessly classified. The Department of Homeland Security should detain and interrogate these suspects and charge them as appropriate. Allowing these spies to survive, just because the government does not want to move resources from higher-priority targets, is a travesty of justice.
Armando Valladares is president of the Valladares Project, an international nonprofit organization that advocates children's rights. A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, he was a political prisoner in Cuba for 22 years. He wrote the best-selling memoir "Against All Hope."