There is an oft told story about an encounter between an American and a Cuban. The American, wanting to extol the virtues of the freedoms he enjoys, proudly proclaims: “I can stand in front of the White House and shout: ‘Down with the president of the United States’ and nothing will happen to me.” The Cuban quickly retorts that he, also, has the same freedom: “I can stand in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution and shout: ‘Down with the president of the United States,’ and nothing will happen to me.” In his book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, author Stephen Kimber writes the literary equivalent of shouting in the Plaza of the Revolution. There is a real story to be told, but regrettably, Kimber does not tell it. Kimber begins by describing his work in the book’s Prologue: “This is not the book I intended to write. That book was to be a novel, a love story set partly in Cuba.” Kimber did write a novel, a piece of historical fiction at best. It is also a love story set partly in Cuba. Kimber falls in love with the Five, blind love, as he finds no fault in their covert activities.
The Five are all members of what is called the Wasp Network. Three are Cuban Directorate of Intelligence (DI) illegal intelligence officers (IO) and two are Cuban agents. All five were arrested on September 12, 1998, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on numerous charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit espionage, failing to register as foreign agents, and other charges. Seven others members of the Wasp Network were arrested but pled guilty to a variety of charges and cooperated with the government. According to Kimber, at one time or another there were twenty-seven members of the network. Following a lengthy trial, the Five were found guilty of all the charges against them and received sentences ranging from two life terms to fifteen years.
One of the twenty-seven members of the Wasp Network Kimber refers to is Lt. Col. Juan Pablo Roque – a Cuban agent that infiltrated the Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue pilots organization tasked with the search-and-rescue of rafters in the Florida Straits – who was primarily responsible for the targeting and 1996 shoot-down of two civilian planes resulting in the death of four pilots. Roque fled to Cuba the day before the incident.
Kimber does not profess to be an unbiased observer chronicling the story of the Five. In his public appearances he confesses to being an advocate for the Five and demonstrating on their behalf, and his writing reflects his prejudices. He tells only one side of the story, that propagated by Fidel Castro’s regime. It is full of lies, misinterpretations, half-truths, and enough facts scattered about to make the story seem plausible to those unfamiliar with it or who do not delve into the truth.
The basic premise of Kimber’s (and Cuba’s) story is that the Wasp Network was established to ferret out, disrupt, and neutralize militant anti-Castro terrorists targeting Cuba and operating from the United States and other countries, principally in Central America. This was necessary because the U.S. took little or no action against the militants and, when they did, their efforts were ineffective. Any additional activity by the Five, such as espionage, was secondary to the anti-terrorist campaign and was warranted in the larger context of defending Cuba.
To defend the Five’s clandestine activities, Kimber writes at length, primarily in chronological order, of alleged offenses committed by various anti-Castro groups and individuals. In researching the book, Kimber claims he “reviewed all 20,000 pages of the trial transcript and sifted through thousands of pages of decrypted communications between Havana and its agents.” Additionally, he interviewed numerous Cuban officials, corresponded with the Five and their families, and had access to documents in Cuba. The Castro regime would not have given Kimber such unfettered access, unless they were confident he would write a sympathetic tome. However, his references often lack specificity and, absent entrée to the Five and the Cuban sources, it would be very difficult to verify much of his reporting.
Given the voluminous amount of documents and interviews, one wonders what help Kimber got from the Cubans in writing this book? It is common for the DI to provide journalists information in exchange for favorable reporting. In an attempt to demonstrate the sincerity and truthfulness of the Cuban government and bolster the argument that Cuba was performing counter-terrorist activity only, Kimber quotes Fidel Castro in a September, 1998, CNN interview shortly after the arrests: “Yes, we have sometimes dispatched Cuban citizens to the United States to infiltrate counter-revolutionary organizations, to inform us about activities that are of great interest to us…. I think we have the right to do this.” It is akin to confessing to a minor transgression to cover a major one.
What Kimber does not quote came later in the same interview: “I think that the bad faith here lies in the attempt to present the problem as a search for information on the armed forces and on the activities of the United States Army….. It is worth saying here that we are not interested in any report on its [U.S.] military forces. I categorically reject – and I have already explained the reasons to you – the accusation that we have tried to look for information on the United States armed forces.”
Despite his protestations to the contrary, three years following Castro’s interview, Ana Belen Montes was arrested and subsequently plead guilty to spying for Communist Cuba. Montes was the senior Cuba analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency and passed volumes of vital defense and security related information to Cuba, much of it classified Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information. Montes began spying for Cuba in 1985 and continued her espionage activities at the behest of Cuba virtually uninterrupted for over fifteen years. This was the type of penetration Cuba would have liked the Wasp Network to accomplish and exemplifies the long-range nature of Cuba’s intelligence operations of which the Five were a part. It was the military, not anti-Castro militants that was the primary target of the network and led to the convictions on conspiracy to commit espionage. Unlike Castro, Kimber admits that the military was a target but minimizes its importance and writes little about it.
In 1997, the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) moved from Panama to Miami, Florida, and became the Wasp Network’s highest priority. In an intercepted message from Cuba one of the illegal IOs is informed: “This is the report given to the Commander in Chief [Castro] ….. of the development of this infiltration job (of SOUTHCOM) which as you already know is the number one priority of our institution [DI].” The writer in Cuba notes: “I emphasized that everything related to SOUTHCOM was of extreme importance and for him [a member of the Network] to keep abreast of every bit of news.” Another message reads: “Even though we have advanced greatly in our SURCO [SOUTHCOM] mission, we still must advance much more and until we are able to infiltrate it our mission will not be completed.” Another message to a pair of agents reads: “We are stepping on more solid ground of penetration (of SOUTHCOM) and I am convinced we will achieve our objectives…. and our total commitment to this supreme task.” Kimber writes: “In the end, the jury had to make sense of three inter-related issues within the larger case against the Five. The first was the government’s contention that the Five – or at least the three specifically charged with ‘conspiracy to gather and transmit national defence information,’ – were actually seeking to steal American military secrets. That they didn’t obtain any was acknowledged by all concerned.” The conspiracy portion of the espionage statute does not require that classified information be obtained; only that an attempt be made to obtain it, and the Cubans were doing their best to infiltrate U.S. military facilities in South Florida to obtain classified information.
The Cubans acknowledged that it may take time and effort to accomplish the penetration of the military, especially SOUTHCOM. In intercepted messages the Cubans write: “It is necessary that our agents realize we are working on long term objectives due to the complexity of the matter; therefore, we should not tire nor feel we are aiming at the impossible.” Another message states: “I need to stress that the process of penetration of SURCO [SOUTHCOM] is going to be difficult and long.” Another Cuban agent sent to the U.S. from Cuba had no contact with his handler for two years in order that the agent acclimate himself to his new environment and build his cover without arousing suspicion. Indeed, it was a long term objective.
In trying to minimize the efforts to garner military information, Kimber describes as an example one of the Five’s members, Antonio Guerrero, infiltration of the Boca Chica Naval Air Station: “The defence [of the Five] pointedly noted too that Tony Guerrero (Antonio Guerrero) hadn’t even gone looking for his initial job at the Boca Chica base.” However, Kimber conveniently neglects to tell the reader that Guerrero was sent to the area of the naval base with the task of penetrating it the best he could. That Guerrero serendipitously obtained a job at the base was fortuitous for the Cubans. What Kimber does not quote are intercepted Cuban messages that demonstrate Guerrero’s projected use: “The idea is for Lorient [the cover name Cuba gave Guerrero] to try to obtain information on the possibility of working at Southern Command,” and another message reads: “If the comrade’s [Guerrero] mission were for one or two more years, I would not have taken the trouble to give these opinions, but as far as I know Lorient’s is for the long term…”
Conveniently, Kimber goes not into other, numerous taskings of the Five. The use of firearms and explosives is prominently mentioned in the intercepted messages. One member of the Network who worked in the Post Office was tasked with answering the question: “What are the indications considered in determining whether a package or letter is suspected of being used for illegal activities or containing an explosive device?” Another message tasks a member of the Network: “How would you suggest that a maritime incursion could be carried out to the U.S. from our country…. for this part it would have two or three crew members with false documentation…. The general idea of all this, which is under your control, is to operate in the area and be able to move persons as well as things, including arms and explosives, between our country and the U.S.” The intercepted messages reveal that almost all of the IOs and agents had explosives and firearms training. This is a rather significant finding.
Kimber makes brief mention of active measures engaged in by the Five, but all those cited by him deal with those Kimber and Cuba claim were involved in terrorist activities. What he does not mention are measures directed against people that had no connection to militancy. One member of the Five is instructed to make an anonymous call to a Cuban exile opposed to Castro: “Remember Letelier, the Chilean, he didn’t even have time to get out of his car,” referring to Orlando Letelier, a Chilean diplomat during the presidency of Salvador Allende, who was assassinated in 1976. The message in a call to another exile is: “Get cold when you travel in your car.” Another consists of “one letter from [an] exile Cuban organization to Alan Simpson [U.S. Senator from Wyoming] threatening him for his opposition to the Cuban Adjustment Act.” Simpson could hardly be considered a terrorist.
Kimber places a great deal of emphasis on a June, 1998, meeting in Cuba between Cuban security personnel and representatives of the U.S. government, including the FBI. According to Kimber: “During their face-to-face sessions, the Cubans presented the Americans with a blizzard of material: photos, audio and video tapes, confessions, wiretap transcripts, bomb-making paraphernalia, even bomb fragments gathered during the investigations into the hotel bombings so the Americans could test it in their own labs to determine if they could connect it to American sources. The spine of the Cuban case against Miami’s exile groups, however, was laid out in three key documents,” and Kimber goes on to describe in detail what each document contained. Kimber wants the reader to believe that the Cubans were cooperating with the Americans and providing them with valuable information that would lead to the arrest of anti-Castro terrorists. Kimber writes: “But the FBI never arrested anyone……. Instead, on Sept 12, 1998, a heavily armed FBI SWAT team arrested the members of the Cuban intelligence network in Miami.” Kimber’s idea of cooperation and the FBI’s are worlds apart. Kimber writes: “Hector Pesquera, the FBI’s agent in charge, told reporters after the trial that he took ‘full exception to the word cooperation’ in describing the meeting between the Bureau and Cuban State Security in Havana.” Almost all, if not all, of the information provided by the Cubans was virtually worthless for investigative purposes. It was either already known by the FBI, widely acknowledged public information, and/or too general in nature. Kimber’s purported cooperation is disingenuous at best. The Cubans wanted to cooperate on their terms only and, when an opportunity arose to provide information, the Cubans demurred.
One of the Five, Rene Gonzalez, was tasked to infiltrate various Cuban exile groups. His participation came to the attention of the FBI, and Gonzalez was interviewed and attempts made for him to assist the FBI in uncovering terrorist activity within the organizations. This is the same category of information Kimber faults the FBI for not pursuing. As divulged in the one of the intercepted messages, Gonzalez, on the advice of his handlers, “thwarted him [the FBI representative] diplomatically.” This did not prevent, however, Gonzalez from providing personality assessment of the FBI representative to the DI for the purposes of assessing the representative’s susceptibility for recruitment. In fact, an ongoing and imperative requirement of all the members of the Wasp Network was the spotting and assessing of potential recruits, just one of the many clandestine activities of the Five that Kimber conveniently fails to mention, all of which are inimical to the U.S.
For all the research Kimber claims he conducted, interestingly, with one exception, he interviewed no one from the prosecutorial side of the Five’s investigation and trial. No one from the U.S. Attorney’s Office who prosecuted the case, no one from the FBI who investigated the case, none of the Network’s members who plead guilty and cooperated, none of the prosecution’s witnesses, no one. The lone exception was an interview of one former FBI Special Agent who was not a central figure in the case. Kimber devotes almost his entire book to alleged anti-Castro activities, and the reader is left to think that the Five engaged in virtually nothing else. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Five’s primary target was the penetration of the military. There were numerous lesser objectives that Kimber does not mention or writes about only in passing.
On a technical note but indicative of Kimber’s lack of detail and inability to ferret out the truth, he describes Cuba’s various DI departments using Arabic numbers, i.e. M-1 is U. S. Department, M-3 is the Analytical Department, M-5 is the Illegals Department, etc. Actually, Cuba designates its various internal DI departments with Roman numerals. M-I is the U.S. Department, M-III is the Analytical Department, M-V is the Illegales Department, etc. The use of Arabic numbers in the DI’s system is used to designate their offices abroad, called Legal Centers. Thus, should Kimber send a message to M-15 thinking it would go to the Technical Operations Department, it instead would go to the Legal Center at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City, whose designation is M-15.
Space here does not allow a detailed refutation of Kimber’s work. The real story of the Cuban Five is a narrative yet to be told and is left to a more impartial, discerning writer than Kimber. Rather than read the book, if one wants to know what Kimber has to say, listen to him shout across Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.
Stuart M. Hoyt, Jr. is a retired FBI Special Agent who was the U.S. Government’s expert witness on Cuban intelligence operations in the 2001 trial of the five members of the Wasp Network. The opinions expressed herein are his own and not those of the FBI.