By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Herald Staff Writer
A Cuban spy ring's puzzling interest in U.S. military targets -- and its
ineffectiveness in carrying out its mission -- may lie in the Cuban military's takeover
of a civilian spy agency following a 1989 scandal and communism's fall, intelligence
``This is not the way they used to operate, said one U.S. diplomat who
with Cuban intelligence in Latin America and the Middle East. ``These guys act
more like soldiers thrown into the deep end of the pool.
Paying the rent late and losing a computer containing codes, as the Miami
apparently did, are not exactly hallmarks of Cuba's foreign intelligence agency, the
General Intelligence Directorate, better known as DGI.
Based in a drab Ministry of Interior building on the corner of 13th and
I streets in
Havana's central Vedado neighborhood, the DGI and its counterintelligence twin
were long considered among the best in the world.
At one point in the 1980s, every single agent the CIA believed it had in
turned out to be a double agent working for Havana. And DGI was not far behind,
deploying or recruiting scores of agents around the world.
But DGI fell from grace after several Interior Ministry generals were implicated
the drug scandal that led to the execution of army Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and three
other army and Interior Ministry officers in 1989.
Almost at the same time, the collapse of the Soviet Bloc affected Cuba's
source of strategic information on the U.S. military, said one senior Armed Forces
Ministry official who defected in 1993.
President Fidel Castro fired DGI chief Gen. Luis Barreiro in 1989 and replaced
him with Gen. Jesus Bermudez Cutino, then intelligence chief at the Armed Forces
Now about 63 years old, Bermudez swiftly renamed DGI as the Intelligence
Directorate, or DI, fired many of its top operatives and stuffed his ranks with
military officers, the Armed Forces Ministry official said.
``Operatives with decades of experience were put on the street and replaced
soldiers who had no subtlety, one of the purged Interior Ministry colonels still living
in Cuba told The Herald in 1995.
Bermudez is said to have brought back some of the old DGI hands in recent
after a series of gaffes -- including Miami Channel 23's filming of a Cuban spy
meeting with one of his Miami agents in New York in 1992.
`Obsessed with Miami'
The old DGI's main target in the United States was always Cuban exile groups
viewed by Havana as dominating U.S. policy toward President Fidel Castro and,
at times, launching armed attacks against his government.
``They were obsessed with Miami. They wanted to know everything, what kind
cigars people smoke, what cars they drive, said Francisco Avila, a Miamian who
worked 12 years for the FBI and the DGI. It was Avila who took the Channel 23
cameras to the New York meeting.
But the leaders of the 10 accused Cuban spies in Miami were tasked with
on the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in the Florida Keys, the U.S. Southern
Command in West Dade and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, according to FBI
documents in the case.
Some also were under orders to infiltrate and disrupt Cuban exile groups
Brothers to the Rescue, the Democracy Movement, the Alpha 66 and PUND
paramilitary groups and even the Latin American Chamber of Commerce.
The ring seemed to have been singularly unsuccessful. Its members managed
a low-level penetration of Boca Chica and the Democracy Movement but appear
to have failed to obtain any classified U.S. documents.
``These guys seem to be nothing, just walking proof of the Armed Forces
Ministry's hegemony over the Cuban intelligence apparatus these days, said the
``The military mentality still prevails in DI, said the Armed Forces Ministry
defector. ``And the military has this constant obsession . . . that Cuba is a place
besieged by the United States, in danger of being invaded or attacked at almost
``The United States may not be at war with Cuba, but Cuba is at war with
United States, or at least it sees itself as being at war or potentially at war with the
United States every day, he added.
Whatever the reason for the spy ring's military targets, FBI and Justice
officials have yet to explain what made it so important as to become the first
Cuban spy gang rolled up in Miami in some four decades.
``Maybe it's far more simple than we can imagine, said one retired FBI
counterintelligence official. ``Maybe it's as simple as a matter of `a spy's gotta