When spies become diplomats
When spies become diplomats
Posted on Tue, Mar. 11, 2008
By CHRIS SIMMONS
Since the earliest days of the Castro regime, the Cuban government has
used diplomatic cover for its spies. Among them are Félix Wilson and
José Imperatori, both of whom served at the Cuban Interests Section in
Washington, D.C. Historically, this practice is generally reserved for
either the United States or for sympathetic regimes and close allies.
However, the choice of René Mujica Cantelar as Cuba's ambassador to the
United Kingdom highlights a disturbing new trend. London is a close U.S.
ally and, more important for Havana, a primary U.S. ally in the global
war on terror. During extensive discussions during the past months, two
former Cuban intelligence officers who are now in the United States
identified Mujica as a deep-cover spy in Cuba's foreign-intelligence
service, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI).
Mujica spent his earlier years in U.S. posts. He served at the Cuban
Interests Section in 1977-1986 and then at the Cuban Mission to the
United Nations (CMUN) in 1990-93. Juan Antonio Rodríguez Menier — who
served with the DI's predecessor, the Directorate General of
Intelligence (DGI), for 28 years — noted that both of Mujica's U.S.
postings carried the rank of first secretary. Historically, the DI uses
senior diplomatic positions only for its higher-ranking officers.
Additionally, Mujica is apparently highly trusted by Raúl Castro, given
that his CMUN assignment followed a devastating 1989 restructuring and
downsizing of the DGI into the DI.
In the wake of the 1989 arrest and execution of Division Gen. Arnaldo
Ochoa, Castro and the Ministry of the Armed Forces took control of the
Interior Ministry (MININT). Army Corps Gen. Abelardo Colome Ibarra
became the interior minister and conducted a massive purge. Armed forces
officers loyal to Castro replaced hundreds of MININT/DGI officers who
were jailed, fired or retired.
After a few years back at DI headquarters, Mujica was transferred to
Europe, where he spent six years as ambassador to Brussels (1996-2002)
and another three as deputy director of the Europe Division. There, he
worked for better E.U.-Cuban relations and recommended the E.U. rethink
its position on Cuba. Mujica sees signs of warming European-Cuban
relations but fears that E.U. enlargement may slow rapprochement since
some new pro-American members tend to take a hard-line position.
Since his posting to London, Mujica is focused on stronger bilateral
relations with the United Kingdom. He is a strong and vocal critic of
Bush administration measures intended to hasten the end of the Castro
brothers' rule, including tightened restrictions on family visits and
remittances from Cuban Americans — funds now critical to the regime's
According to former DI officer Juan Reyes-Alonso, Mujica's diplomat
postings were intended to improve his cover for intelligence missions.
Now, he enjoys the best of both worlds. As a deep-cover DI officer, he
does not meet with regular DI assets like traditional intelligence
officers at an embassy. This has kept him ''off the radar'' of foreign
counterintelligence services and their surveillance teams. As a result,
he is living the dream of DI officers and diplomats — he has little
direct supervision and enjoys considerable freedom of movement.
Mujica's presence marks an unsettling pattern in Havana's use of spies
as ambassadors. Its increasing tendency to target U.S. neighbors, close
allies and nations that serve as bases for U.S. operations in the War on
Terror is a concern. In these situations, the presence of an
ambassador-spy guarantees that the DI will always have the necessary
diplomatic protections to accomplish its mission. Regrettably, America's
allies have done little or nothing in the face of this new intelligence
Chris Simmons is a career counterintelligence officer and an expert on