Monday, April 29, 2013

Shared secrets?

U.S. authorities accuse Marta Rita Veláquez of conspiracy to commit espionage. I wonder if her husband, a Swedish diplomat, gave her state secrets that she passed along to the Cuban government.
The diplomat's name is Anders Kviele. He has held high-level diplomatic posts in Europe. He has been, for instance, Sweden's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which promotes "safe, secure and peaceful" use of nuclear technologies (see IAEA document listing Kviele).
Isn't that a sensitive post? And he's sleeping with an accused spy?
In any case, I sent Kviele an email asking if he would like to comment. I'll post any responses I receive from him.

Sweden drawn into spy web

Arrest warrant for Veláquez
U.S. authorities wrote to accused spy Marta Rita Velázquez in December 2011 to ask if she would be interested in settling the accusations against her, but she "declined the government's invitation to communicate," court records show.
That led the U.S. Attorney's Office on April 24 to ask a federal judge to unseal the 2004 indictment against Velázquez.
Royce C. Lamberth, chief judge in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, granted the motion on April 26, allowing the indictment to be disclosed.
The Feb. 5, 2004, indictment accuses Velázquez, 55, a former U.S. government employee, of a single count of conspiracy to commit espionage. The charge is punishable by up to life in prison or even death under certain circumstances - not that such a punishment would apply in Velázquez's case.
U.S. authorities issued an arrest warrant for Velázquez the day after she was charged, but the indictment was sealed so that she wouldn't find out about the accusations and evade capture.
At the time, Velázquez was living in Guatemala City with her husband, Anders Kviele, a Swedish diplomat. She had worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Guatemala, but quit that job before her indictment.
USAID had stationed her in Guatemala so she could be with Kviele. Since the indictment, prosecutors say, Velázquez has been with her husband on diplomatic missions in Europe and has avoided traveling to any areas that are within U.S. jurisdiction, court records show.
An Oct. 5, 2011, motion to modify the 2004 order sealing the indictment stated:
Defendant Velázquez has become a Swedish citizen, but has not renounced her United States citizenship. She has traveled on a Swedish passport with the privileges extended to families of diplomats.
An April 24, 2013, motion said Velázquez has been trying to avoid arrest for more than a decade.
Defendant Velázquez is well aware that she is subject to arrest if she places herself within the jurisdiction of the United States. She has studiously avoided doing so since at least 2002.
Some Swedish blogs are reporting that Velázquez:
  • Sought Swedish citizenship to make it more difficult for the U.S. government to extradite her.
  • Was denied citizenship in 2002 when she had been in Sweden for only a few months.
  • Was granted citizenship after the Swedish Foreign Ministry in January 2003 "more or less ordered" Sweden's Migration Board to grant citizenship.
The 2011 motion said Velázquez likely knew U.S. authorities sought her capture and was purposely trying to avoid capture. It stated:
To date, the United States has been unable to effect the arrest of defendant Velázquez. Since the time of the Indictment, defendant Velázquez has avoided placing herself within the reach of United States authorities and the government has reason to believe that this is purposeful. Defendant Velázquez is undoubtedly aware that her co-conspirator, convicted Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes, has cooperated with the United States and would have exposed defendant Velázquez’s role in the conspiracy, namely, that defendant Velázquez helped recruit Montes to serve as an agent of the Cuban Intelligence Service as alleged in the Indictment. 
There was, among other things, extensive media coverage of the prosecution of Montes dating to September 2001, which would have informed defendant Velázquez of Montes’s cooperation with the government. 
Given those facts, and the amount of time that has passed since the Indictment was returned, the government believes that it is in the interest of the United States to inform defendant Velázquez of the fact of her Indictment and the nature of the charge against her, and seek to meet with her counsel to seek her cooperation and/or a negotiated disposition of this matter. If defendant Velázquez declines the government’s invitation, the government will take additional steps that it deems necessary to resolve this matter including, if necessary, seeking leave to unseal the Indictment. 
Prior to contacting defendant Velázquez, the government will also need to notify the U.S. Department of State and the Government of Sweden that it is communicating with one of Sweden’s citizens regarding an indicted espionage matter. The government will instruct representatives of the Department of State and the Government of Sweden not to publicly disseminate the fact of the Indictment or the nature of the charge against defendant Velázquez.
Court records show that U.S. District Judge James Robertson on Dec. 17, 2008, granted a motion allowing the government to disclose the sealed indictment to the FBI and to the "United States intelligence community for the purpose of collecting evidence in a related investigation."
It seems plausible that authorities might have showed some lenience toward Velázquez if she had cooperated and assisted with any U.S. investigations into Cuba-related espionage.
Instead it appears she has avoided capture, possibly with the help of her diplomat husband, and now faces dire legal consequences.
The indictment accuses Veláquez of violating the espionage statutes of U.S. Code, specifically, sections (a) and (c) of 18 USC § 794 - Gathering or delivering defense information to aid foreign government.
Sections (a) and (c) is described as follows:
  • (a) Whoever, with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicates, delivers, or transmits, or attempts to communicate, deliver, or transmit, to any foreign government, or to any faction or party or military or naval force within a foreign country, whether recognized or unrecognized by the United States, or to any representative, officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen thereof, either directly or indirectly, any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, note, instrument, appliance, or information relating to the national defense, shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life, except that the sentence of death shall not be imposed unless the jury or, if there is no jury, the court, further finds that the offense resulted in the identification by a foreign power (as defined in section 101(a) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978) of an individual acting as an agent of the United States and consequently in the death of that individual, or directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, early warning systems, or other means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack; war plans; communications intelligence or cryptographic information; or any other major weapons system or major element of defense strategy.
  • (c) If two or more persons conspire to violate this section, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.
The prosecutors who requested that the indictment be made public this month are:
  • Gordon Michael Harvey, of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office,
  • Laura A. Ingersoll, of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

1977 photo of accused spy

Marta Rita Velazquez is at right
On June 3, 1992, Princeton Alumni Weekly published a photo of a woman it identified as Marta Rita Velazquez.
A woman of the same name was accused of conspiracy to commit espionage in an indictment that was unsealed on April 25.
Velazquez and others in the 1977 photo were protesting against apartheid, according to Alumni Weekly.

Tale of a quirky bank robber

Kindle edition now available on Amazon.com.
I met John Stanley by chance in Cuba more than a decade ago. He was a crime consultant and lectured at universities. He had a radio show, “Crime Wise With John Stanley,” which aired every Sunday on KRLD-AM in Dallas.
But in 2003, he snapped, robbing - by his estimate - 34 banks in Texas and five other states. The FBI nicknamed him the “Bubba Tooth Bandit” for his habit of wearing ugly fake teeth with dirty gums.
He was convicted and sent to prison, where he's Inmate No. 16051-077 and has a scheduled release date of May 18, 2062.
Now 69, Stanley went into seclusion after his latest conviction. He has not told his story to anyone - until now.
I interviewed Stanley at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas, where he is serving a 57-year sentence.
You can read about his exploits in the "Bubba Toothed Bandit," now available on Amazon.com.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Indictment details spy accusations

The U.S. government's case against Marta Rita Velázquez is a tale of intrigue and clandestine travel, false passports and secret meetings.
Prosecutors say Velázquez introduced Ana Belén Montes to Cuban agents in 1984 and later helped Montes land a job with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.
Montes went on to become one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history, authorities say. She was arrested in 2001, convicted in 2002 and sent to prison.
In 2003, a grand jury charged Velázquez with one count of conspiracy to commit espionage. The indictment was filed on Feb. 5, 2004, but remained under court seal until Thursday. It's unclear why U.S. authorities unsealed it now, more than nine years after the indictment.
Velázquez is thought to be living in Stockholm, Sweden. I called what I believe to be her mobile phone number. I heard a message in a language I do not understand, and left a message.
A Swedish reporter also called Velázquez's number and said that a woman answered, irritated, and said, "What? Who is it? Oh, OK," and then hung up.
The Swedish TT news agency reported that Velázquez is now a Swedish citizen.
The Washington Post reported that U.S. authorities in December 2011 told Velázquez "she was under suspicion."
The U.S. extradition treaty with Sweden does not include espionage in crimes requiring extradition. See treaty. (H/T Phil Peters).
Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Local, an English-language newspaper in Sweden, reported Friday that Velázquez's husband was an official in Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The paper did not name the husband, but said:
The acts of espionage were carried out while the two were married.
Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Charlotta Ozaki Macías confirmed that the ministry had been aware of the case for years.
"The Foreign Ministry official with a connection to the case is not guilty of criminal activity," she told the TT news agency.
The Swedish man remains in service at the ministry.
Sweden has not received any requests to extradite the woman to the US, according to Per Claréus, press secretary to Justice Minister Beatrice Ask.
He told TT that if the US was to send an extradition request, it would be refused.
The indictment (H/T Capitol Hill Cubans) alleges that Velázquez carried out the following overt acts:
  • September 1983: Traveled secretly to Mexico City, intending to meet Cuban agents, but they evidently did not show up.
  • Spring of 1984: Took Montes to dinner and told her she "had friends who could help Montes in Montes' expressed wish to assist the people of Nicaragua."
  • July 31, 1984: Wrote Montes a letter stating, "It has been a great satisfaction for me to have had you as a friend and comrade (compañera) during this time we've spent as students. I hope our relationship continues outside the academic sphere."
  • Fall of 1984: Invited Montes to travel with her from Washington, D.C., to New York "ostensibly to meet a friend who could provide Montes with an opportunity to assist the Nicaraguan people."
  • Dec. 16, 1984: Went with Montes by train to New York and met with a Cuban intelligence official who worked at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations and was identified in the indictment only as "M." Velázquez later told Montes that "M" told Velázquez that Montes "would be one of the best."
  • Early 1985: Gave Montes and typewriter and instructed her to write a detailed biography, including a description of the Justice Department job she had at the time. The two again traveled to New York to meet with "M."
  • March 1985: Traveled with Montes to Spain on a purported vacation. Met with a Cuban man who supplied false passports. Traveled clandestinely from Madrid to Prague using the false passports. Met with two Cuban men, including an agent referred to only as "F." Picked up clothes at an apartment, then traveled with Montes and "F" to Cuba.
  • U.S.: Velázquez wanted to practice taking a lie detector test.
  • April 1985: Met with a Cuban agent referred to only as "A." The agent explained that no one met her in Mexico City in 1983 because Mexican authorities on Sept. 1, 1983, had arrested, detained and interrogated two Cuban officials who had been trying to meet with Cuban exiles from Miami. Velázquez and Montes "received Cuban Intelligence Service training, including instruction in receiving encrypted High Frequency radio broadcast messages of the Cuban Intelligence Service." Velázquez asked Cuban agents to give them "practice" polygraph exams "so that they would be able to pass polygraphs they might have to take in connection with future United States government employment." Cuban agents gave Velázquez a code name: Barbara. Velázquez and Montes traveled back to Spain, via Prague, posing for a photo in Madrid so they'd have evidence of their "vacation."
  • 1988: "Provoked a dispute with Montes and publicly broke off their relationship."
  • June 15, 1992: "Traveled to Panama to clandestinely meet with Cuban Intelligence Service officers and/or agents."
  • Mid-1996: "Received encryption/decryption software from the Cuban Intelligence Service, and used it for her clandestine communications with the Cuban Intelligence Service."
  • June 2002: Quit from her U.S. government job after Montes pled guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. Since then, Velázquez has lived continuously outside the U.S.
Federal Medical Center, Carswell
FBI agents arrested Montes on Sept. 21, 2001.  (See FBI affidavit explaining case against her). She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and is now serving a prison term at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, a Texas facility that provides specialized medical and mental health services to female inmates. Her scheduled release date is July 1, 2023.
Velázquez, like Montes, is from Puerto Rico. She was born in the town of Ponce and grew up in the United States. Her degrees include:

  • A bachelor's degree in political science and Latin American studies from Princeton University.
  • A law degree from Georgetown University.
  • A master's degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, or SAIS.
The Daily Princetonian reported that Velázquez helped organize the Third World Center Cultural Festival at the school. The Dec. 13, 1976, issue of the Princetonian quoted her as saying:
We are all part of oppressed nationalities throughout the world. Here at the university, which is very conservative and white-male-oriented, if we can put together a performance as successful as this one was, it's almost unbelievable.
Velázquez: "We are all...oppressed..."
While at SAIS from 1982 to 1983, Velázquez was a legal intern at the U.S. Agency for International Development. The indictment says she:
  • Worked for the Department of Transportation from 1984 to March 1989, and had a SECRET security clearance. Unauthorized release of SECRET information could reasonably be expected to cause "serious" damage.
  • Became an attorney adviser for USAID in March 1989, and had a TOP SECRET security clearance. Unauthorized release of TOP SECRET information could reasonably be expected to cause "grave" damage. Her responsibilities at USAID included Central America.
  • Was posted at the U.S. Embassy in Managua from June 1990 to September 1994.
  • Worked for USAID in Washington from September 1994 to May 1998.
  • Was on leave without pay from May 1998 to June 2000 and lived with her husband in Sweden.
  • Returned to USAID in June 2000 and worked at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. She was director of the agency's Regional Office of Trade and Economic Analysis.
  • Left USAID in June 2002, but continued to live in Guatemala.
The indictment says Velázquez began spying for Cuba as early as 1983. It states:
From at least in or about 1983 and continuing until the present, within the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendant, Marta Rita Velázquez, also known as Marta Rita Kviele, also known as "Barbara", unlawfully combined, conspired, confederated, and agreed together with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to communicate, deliver and transmit, directly and indirectly, to the government of the Republic of Cuba and to representatives, officers, agents and employees thereof, documents, writings, and information relating to the national defense, with the intent and reason to believe that they would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of the Republic of Cuba, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 794(a).
Montes, right, at a party in Madrid. Photo: Washington Post
The indictment also gives background information about the Cuban Intelligence Service and explains the accusations against Montes. It states:
The Cuban Intelligence Service has long had an aggressive program aimed at spotting and assessing persons within the United States academic community who may be suitable for recruitment to serve a variety of roles on behalf of Cuba's interests. The most important role is that of agent - that is, a person who is not an employee of a hostile intelligence service (such as the Cuban Intelligence Service) but who is aware that he or she is working for that service and who is willing to engage in clandestine operational activity, including intelligence gathering, for that service.

An agent-in-place is a recruited agent who occupies a position in which he or she has authorize access to current intelligence information, and who acts under the direction of a hostile intelligence service so as to obtain such information for that intelligence service. In order to protect recruited agents, and maintain operational security, intelligence services often limit discernible contact between agents; this practice is called compartmentalization.

The Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City, and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., are the principal establishments to which Cuban government officials having diplomatic immunity - including Cuban Intelligence Service officers - are assigned in the United States.

FBI: Belén used this "cheat sheet" to help her encrypt and decrypt messages.
The Cuban Intelligence Service often communicates clandestinely with its officers and agents operating outside Cuba by broadcasting encrypted radio messages at certain high frequencies; such clandestine communications were used by Ana Belén Montes and by some of the defendants convicted in June 2001 in the Southern District of Florida, in the case of United States v. Gerardo Hernandez, et al., 98-721-CR-Lenard, of committing espionage on behalf of Cuba and acting as unregistered agents of Cuba.
Ana Belén Montes is a United States citizen who was employed by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DAI) in Washington, D.C., as an intelligence analyst from September 1985 until September 2001; beginning in 1992, she specialized in Cuban matters. Between 1982 and 1984, Montes had been a part-time graduate student at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., together with defendant Velázquez. On September 21, 2001, Montes was arrested in the District of Columbia on charges of committing espionage against the United States on behalf of Cuba, in United States v. Ana Belén Montes, Criminal No. 02-131 (RMU). In a public proceeding on March 19, 2002, she pled guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and she stated that she agreed to cooperate with the United States government in its continuing investigation into Cuban espionage activities against the United States.
Ana Belén Montes receives an award. Photo: DIA
On April 18, the Washington Post published a fascinating story about Montes. Jim Popkin, a former NBC News reporter and senior investigative producer, wrote the piece. It was entitled, "Ana Montes did much harm spying for Cuba. Chances are, you haven’t heard of her." The story said:
Like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen before her, Ana Montes blindsided the intelligence community with brazen acts of treason. By day, she was a buttoned-down GS-14 in a Defense Intelligence Agency cubicle. By night, she was on the clock for Fidel Castro, listening to coded messages over shortwave radio, passing encrypted files to handlers in crowded restaurants and slipping undetected into Cuba wearing a wig and clutching a phony passport.
Montes spied for 17 years, patiently, methodically. She passed along so many secrets about her colleagues — and the advanced eavesdropping platforms that American spooks had covertly installed in Cuba — that intelligence experts consider her among the most harmful spies in recent memory. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

FBI suspect at home in Stockholm?

Possible residence of Marta Rita Velazquez, 55, accused Thursday of conspiracy to commit espionage. See FBI press release.









Spy charges against former USAID employee

FBI's Washington Field Office. Photo: FBI
Department of Justice press release:

Unsealed Indictment Charges Former U.S. Federal Employee with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage for Cuba

April 25, 2013

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 514-2007/ (202) 514-1888

WASHINGTON — A one-count indictment was unsealed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Marta Rita Velazquez, 55, with conspiracy to commit espionage, announced John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; and Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

The charges against Velazquez stem from, among other things, her alleged role in introducing Ana Belen Montes, now 55, to the Cuban Intelligence Service (CuIS) in 1984; in facilitating Montes’s recruitment by the CuIS; and in helping Montes later gain employment at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Montes served as an intelligence analyst at DIA from September 1985 until she was arrested for espionage by FBI agents on September 21, 2001. On March 19, 2002, Montes pleaded guilty in the District of Columbia to conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of Cuba. Montes is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.

The indictment against Velazquez, who is also known as “Marta Rita Kviele” and as “Barbara,” was originally returned by a grand jury in the District of Columbia on February 5, 2004. It has remained under court seal until today. Velazquez has continuously remained outside the United States since 2002. She is currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. If convicted of the charges against her, Velazquez faces a potential sentence of up to life in prison.

According to the indictment, Velazquez was born in Puerto Rico in 1957. She graduated from Princeton University in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and Latin American studies. Velazquez later obtained a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1982 and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., in 1984.

Velazquez later served as an attorney advisor at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and, in 1989, she joined the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as a legal officer with responsibilities encompassing Central America. During her tenure at USAID, Velazquez held a top secret security clearance and was posted to the U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua and Guatemala. In June 2002, Velazquez resigned from USAID following press reports that Montes had pleaded guilty to espionage and was cooperating with the U.S. government. Velazquez has remained outside the United States since 2002.

The indictment alleges that, beginning in or about 1983, Velazquez conspired with others to transmit to the Cuban government and its agents documents and information relating to the U.S. national defense, with the intent that they would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of the Cuban government.

As part of the conspiracy, Velazquez allegedly helped the CuIS spot, assess, and recruit U.S. citizens who occupied sensitive national security positions or had the potential of occupying such positions in the future to serve as Cuban agents. For example, the indictment alleges that, while Velazquez was a student with Montes at SAIS in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s, Velazquez fostered a strong, personal friendship with Montes, with both sharing similar views of U.S. policies in Nicaragua at the time.

In December 1984, the indictment alleges, Velazquez introduced Montes in New York City to a Cuban intelligence officer who identified himself as an official of the Cuban Mission to the United States. The intelligence officer then recruited Montes. In 1985, after Montes’ recruitment, Velazquez personally accompanied Montes on a clandestine trip to Cuba for Montes to receive spy craft training from CuIS.

Later in 1985, Velazquez allegedly helped Montes obtain employment as an intelligence analyst at the DIA, where Montes had access to classified national defense information and served as an agent of the CuIS until her arrest in 2001. During her tenure at the DIA, Montes disclosed the identities of U.S. intelligence officers and provided other classified national defense information to the CuIS.

During this timeframe, Velazquez allegedly continued to serve the CuIS, receiving instructions from the CuIS through encrypted, high-frequency broadcasts from her handlers and through meetings with handlers outside the United States.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the DIA. It is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Clifford Rones of the Counterespionage Section in the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney G. Michael Harvey of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

The charges contained in an indictment are merely allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

USAID may slash Cuba program (updated)

The U.S. Agency for International Development plans to cut its budget for democracy programs in Cuba by 25 percent.
Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday called it "a terrible precedent, a terrible idea" and urged the agency to reconsider.
The planned reduction* is "way out of proportion...for a program of this small scale," said Rubio, speaking Wednesday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. (See video).
Rubio blamed Secretary of State John Kerry for the cut. He did not mention Kerry by name, but recalled that Kerry, as senator and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, once froze funding for democracy programs in Cuba.
Rubio said Kerry and other lawmakers "held up this program with endless questions about it."
Kerry now oversees both the State Department and USAID and is in a position to adjust the budget for the democracy programs. Said Rubio:
 I don't think it's a coincidence that this was reduced. I just hope that this will be reversed. I think it's a terrible precedent. It's a terrible idea.
Rubio also urged that USAID's Cuba money be spent on democracy promotion, "not the creation of grassroots community organizations that specialize in, you know, better sewage treatment programs or what have you. This is about democracy."
Rubio is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, which heard testimony from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.
Shah told Rubio:
On Cuba, your point is well taken.
Sen. Bob Menéndez, who chairs the committee, said he didn't agree with "the totality of cuts" to USAID's budget proposed for fiscal 2014.
Menéndez said the agency was cutting its Cuba program at a time when arrests of dissidents and activists are rising on the island. He cited attacks on members of Ladies in White and the "assassination" of dissident leader Oswaldo Payá. He said:
I just don't get it.
Ménendez also complained that the U.S. government doesn't react until there's a major problem in a region and then "we'll spend a fortune."
That's what happened in Central America, the senator said.
It just doesn't make a lot of sense.
Shah replied that the agency has had to make "tough trade-offs in a budget we certainly wish was larger."
Ménendez interrupted Shah, telling him that he's heard the same story before from USAID. He complained that when the agency makes cuts, programs targeting Latin America and the Caribbean always suffer. The senator said:
I just think it's foolish at the end of the day.
* While watching a video of the committee hearing, I didn't hear anyone say how much money may be cut from the Cuba programs, just that a 25 percent cut was planned.
The State Department's Executive Budget Summary for Function 150 & Other International Programs (see document) lists $15 million for Cuba programs in fiscal 2014. That is a 25 percent drop over fiscal 2012. Perhaps that is where Rubio got the 25 percent figure.
Cuba program budget figures show $20 million in fiscal 2012.
An asterisk linked to the sequester is shown for fiscal 2013, then $15 million for fiscal 2014.
The State Department's fiscal 2014 budget does not list a fiscal 2013 figure for the Cuba programs. That number is evidently affected by automatic budget cuts, also known as the sequester (for more on that, see Public Law 112–175).

Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.

USAID budget request: $20 billion

The U.S. Agency for International is asking for a budget of $20.4 billion for fiscal 2014, which begins on Oct. 1, 2013. That's 6 percent below what the agency spent in fiscal 2012.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah on Wednesday told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
In this tough budget environment, USAID is committed to maximizing the value of every dollar. We have made tough choices so that we are working where we will have greatest impact, and shifting personnel and funding resources towards programs that will achieve the most meaningful results.
Across the world, we are strengthening democracy, human rights, and governance, with a special emphasis on marginalized populations, including women and youth. Support for democratic and economic transitions enables the rise of capable new players who can help solve regional challenges and advance U.S. national security.
Since January 2011, the State Department and USAID have allocated more than $1.8 billion to support democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa and respond to emerging crisis needs in the region.
Shah didn't mention Cuba in a seven-page statement posted online.

Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Unnamed contractors snag nearly $1 million

Click to enlarge
The Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami has awarded nearly $1 million to unnamed foreign contractors since 2005, federal records show. This includes $412,735 that went to artists, writers and performers. Two-thirds of that money has been awarded since 2011.
Records don't identify the contractors, so I hesitate to read too much into the data. That said, it appears likely that the OCB over the past three years has boosted the amount of money it is funneling to independent journalists, writers and bloggers in Cuba. (Download Excel file showing budget figures).
The OCB oversees the operations of Radio and TV Martí. Its spending for artists, writers and performers listed as "foreign contractors" includes:
  • $42,190 in 2011
  • $171,155 in 2012
  • $63,980 so far in 2013
That totals $277,325 in less than years. Such spending from 2005 to 2008 was $135,410. That included:
  • $1,300 in 2005
  • $3,900 in 2006
  • $4,775 in 2007
  • $125,435 in 2008
No amounts are listed for the calendar years of 2009 and 2010. I don't know why. Perhaps some spending was not reported until later years.
The OCB awarded $947,833.70 to unnamed foreign contractors from Oct. 1, 2005, through April 18, 2013, contract records show. That included:
  • $3,400 for motion picture and video production,
  • $8,750 for television broadcasting,
  • $412,735 for "independent artists, writers and performers,"
  • $415,345 for "all other professional, scientific and technical services,"
  • $107,603.70 for unspecified purchase orders, generally described as other professional services, communications services and information training.
Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Havana façades

 I wonder if any balconies have collapsed while someone is on them.



Thursday, April 18, 2013

Did El Nuevo Herald bring down David Rivera?

Manny Garcia
In the latest issue of Investigative Reporters & Editors, El Nuevo Herald takes credit for Republican David Rivera's loss to Democrat Joe Garcia in the November 2012 congressional race.
The newspaper was the first to report on accusations that Rivera had secretly financed political unknown Justin Lamar Sternad's bid to defeat Garcia in the Democratic primary.
The FBI launched a criminal investigation and eventually arrested Sternad and accused him of conspiracy to commit election fraud.
El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Manny Garcia writes:
As a result of our reporting, Rivera lost his congressional seat.
David Rivera, left, and Joe Garcia
It was a great scoop, but Rivera had many other troubles. For instance, he was charged in October 2012 with 11 counts of violating ethics laws.
Would Rivera have defeated Garcia if the Sternad affair hadn't been discovered? Was Garcia's campaign so weak that he would have failed if not for El Nuevo Herald's story? Just wondering...

P.S. Below is a message that a reader sent in response to this post. I don't know anything about Florida politics. I'll leave this message for others to consider:

I read your blog post "Did el Nuevo Herald bring down David Rivera?" The Herald had their marching orders. Joe Garcia and his Chief of Staff Jefferey Garcia had their agenda.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Flashback: Invasion of the love-sick crabs

A visitor inspects the engine of a downed aircraft at Playa Girón Museum in Matanzas Province.
Foes of Fidel Castro launched the Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17, 1961. Forty years later, a different kind of invasion disrupted a 40th anniversary reunion that brought together combatants from both sides of the conflict.
Swarms of crabs clogged the main road leading to the site of the reunion, stranding journalists and others traveling to the event.
The humans eventually prevailed and the event went off as planned. See photos here.

Quote of the Week

"I don’t know if it was a miracle or something else, but I felt I had momentarily left this world. The honk of the car horn pulled me back to life. I don’t care whether it was luck, good fortune, a blessing. Whatever it was, I am grateful."

- Rosa Martinez, after the engine fell from the motorcycle she was riding and she crashed to the pavement.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Senator in a cage

Honorable Sen. Lion
During Yoani Sánchez's U.S. visit, scholar Ted Henken reminded her that Sen. Marco Rubio has criticized American tourists who "visit Cuba as if it were a zoo."
Sánchez later told Rubio:
...she actually liked his metaphor but that he should imagine himself inside the cage with the other animals. Wouldn't he prefer that someone on the outside come and help unlock the cage, instead of abandoning him inside?

Monday, April 15, 2013

One lady, two letters and a boy

Yolanda Huerga and her son Gabriel.

Journalist Manuel Vázquez Portal on Sunday posted a photo called "Three ladies, two cats and a window." It brought back memories of the Black Spring crackdown.
Vázquez was among the 75 dissidents, journalists and others who were arrested during that spring of 2003. While he was in jail, his wife Yolanda Huerga helped found the Ladies in White and fought for his release.
I shot these photos while Huerga and her son, Gabriel, at the home of Laura Pollán, who led Ladies in White until her death in October 2011.
Gabriel's drawing and a letter from his father.

Manuel Vázquez's Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba identification card.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

U.S. withholds democracy "trade secrets"

Redacted contract proposal
The State Department paid the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe more than $2 million to promote democracy in Cuba from 2007 to 2011, but refuses to give full details of the group's work on the island.
The non-profit IDEE has carried out democracy programs in Cuba on and off for nearly 20 years. On Oct. 8, 2011, I filed a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request for information about one of those programs, entitled "Democracy in Cuba."
Scope of work redacted
The State Department said it found 15 documents related to my request. It released all or part of 14 documents and withheld one document entirely.
Most of the documents are routine contract forms and letters and give little information about the Cuba program. One of the few documents with any details is heavily redacted. (See 10-page contract proposal). The State Department refused to release information on:
  • The project proposal and scope of work
  • Project activities
  • Timeline
  • Short-term goals
  • Long-term goals
  • Evaluation
  • Follow-up activities
The State Department withheld such details citing FOIA's Exemption 4, which protects "trade secrets and confidential business information."
The Institute for Democracy is more forthcoming than the State Department and offers details of its Cuba work on its website. That makes me wonder whether all the government secrecy is necessary.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dissident: Fight for freedom is inside Cuba


José Daniel Ferrer is a dissident leader in eastern Cuba. He helped collect signatures for the Varela Project, which was aimed at pressuring for political change from within the socialist system.
He was arrested during the March 2003 crackdown known as the Black Spring. Cuban authorities convicted him and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
Ferrer was among the last dissidents to be freed in 2011 and refused a deal to settle in Spain. He told Reuters:
I want to see a free people, and the best place to fight is here inside.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Quote of the Week

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. Photo: Tampa Bay Times
"There are still very significant human rights challenges in Cuba. It is still, to many extents, a repressive regime that does not allow citizens to enjoy all of the human rights that we all enjoy. But after 50 years of an embargo and isolation... it's time to try something new and refresh our relationship."
- U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

Bay News 9, a cable TV channel in St. Petersburg, said Castor is only second member of Congress from Florida to visit Cuba since 1959.

I'd recognize that face anywhere

Yoani Sanchez's Facebook profile photo looks familiar somehow...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rags and riches on Cuba money trail

USAID headquarters at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.
Since 2009, USAID and State Department funds for democracy programs in Cuba have ranged from $15 million to $20 million per year. In October 2010, I asked USAID:
How much of the money from, say, $15 million reaches the hands of dissidents, pro-democracy activists and other aid targets in Cuba?
USAID replied:
The vast majority of this money is intended for individuals on the ground in Cuba. Our objective is to maximize the amount of support that benefits Cubans on the island.
"Vast majority" is hard to define. I'd like to think that USAID meant 70 or 80 percent, but let's say it's 51 percent. Does that much support reach Cuba?
To find the answer, I dug up the most recent tax records for USAID's current seven partners. Five are based in or around Washington, D.C. Two are in South Florida. All are in various stages of three-year grants ending in 2014 or 2015.
I quickly found that it's hard to estimate how much support reaches Cuba because USAID grantees:
  • Report too few details to fully understand how they spend their money.
  • Have different ways of reporting and describing revenues and expenses.
  • Sometimes intermingle private and government money.
So I hesitate to read too much into their balance sheets. But a few things are clear:
Beltway riches
  • The Florida NGOs run by Cuban exiles disclosed more detail in their spending reports than their Washington, D.C., counterparts.
  • The Florida organizations also spent less money. One Cuban exile who manages a USAID democracy program earned less than $40,000 per year. Such contractors likely funnel a larger share of their support to Cuba than their Beltway cousins.
  • Many questions remain about democracy program spending. Beltway NGOs are particularly stingy with details, which is ironic since some spend tax dollars to promote openness and accountability outside the United States.
  • Some NGO chiefs earn huge salaries. The president of International Relief and Development makes more than Barack Obama. His wife also works at IRD. The couple's total take in 2011: $1,040,171.
  • Taxpayers foot the bill for most of these salaries, yet NGO bosses don't face the same scrutiny as public officials.
See below for additional details on 2011 expenses that USAID's current partners reported in 2012.

International Relief and Development, 1621 N. Kent Street, 4th floor, Arlington, Va.
Arthur B. Keys Jr.
USAID Cuba grant: $3.5 million for September 2011 to September 2014
Description: "Actively assist vulnerable population in over 40 countries with social, political/technical challenges."
President and CEO: Arthur B. Keys Jr.

Notable expenses: IRD doesn't provide a breakdown of its Cuba expenses. In fact, I couldn't find Cuba in the tax record, although it may be hiding in this document.

The IRD reported receiving $44,062,038 for "Democracy, Governance and Community Development." Perhaps its Cuba program is buried in there somewhere. To be fair, large NGOs can't report the same level of detail in spending reports as smaller organizations because their operations are so vast. (See IRD's Form 990 for 2011).

Salaries and other compensation: $82,075,235.
  • Keys' reported compensation from the IRD and related organizations was $676,916.
  • Keys' wife is Jasna Basarick-Keys, the company's program operations chief. Her reported compensation from IRD and related organizations was $363,255.
  • Basarick-Keys has a family relationship with Mladen Basarick, the IRD's director of global technology, who received a salary of $193,121.
  • IRD also reported that it paid Keys family member Natasa Rukaa $88,009 in salary and benefits. 
Jasna Basarick-Keys. Photo: IRD

Total expenses in 2011: The IRD reported expenses of $461,072,641. Of that, it awarded $161,397,286 in subcontracts, making it difficult to follow the money. In 2011, taxpayers supplied 99.99 percent of the IRD's budget.

International Republican Institute, 1225 Eye Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington, D.C.
Lorne W. Craner
USAID Cuba grant: $3 million for September 2012 to September 2015
Description: "Advance freedom and democracy worldwide developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, good governance and the rule of law."
President: Lorne W. Craner.

Notable expenses: IRI reported spending $1,172,028 for "democracy assistance" and $256,260 for "grant-making" in Central America and the Caribbean. That is likely where its Cuba program resides. Records show the $256,260 was distributed outside the U.S. (See IRI's Form 990 for 2011).

Salaries and other compensation: $17,275,587.
  • Craner's reported salary and other compensation was $263,672.
Total expenses in 2011: IRI reported expenses of $75,386,218. It received $74,868,770 in government grants. In 2010, taxpayers supplied 99.97 percent of the organization's budget.

National Democratic Institute, 455 Massachusetts Ave, NW, 8th Floor Washington, D.C.
Kenneth D. Wollack
USAID Cuba grant: $2.3 million for September 2011 to September 2014
Description: "A non-profit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government."
President: Kenneth D. Wollack.

Notable expenses: NDI spending in Central America and the Caribbean included:
  • $4,999,051 for "democracy support"
  • $1,502,585 for grants
  • $253,538 for "democratic leadership development"
  • $39,801 for "fostering young political leaders"
  • $15,419 for "fostering the development of young democratic leaders"
  • $11,056 for "fostering communication between citizens and political leaders"
  • $12,335 for "development of political debates"
At least some of that money likely targeted Cuba. (See NDI's Form 990 for 2011).

Salaries and other compensation: $62,441,837.
Wollack's reported salary and other compensation was $288,303.

Total expenses in 2011: NDI reported expenses of $148,838,304. It received $147,371,548 in government grants. In 2010, taxpayers supplied 99.97 percent of the organization's budget.

Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, 1312 S.W. 27th Ave., Miami, FL.
Description: "Established to empower Cuban Civil Society in its struggle to build a free and democratic Cuba." The Cuban American National Foundation, or CANF, created the FHRC in 1992. The FHRC has been a separate organization for more than a decade, according to the Miami Herald, but shares the same address as the CANF.
President: José Antonio Costa
USAID Cuba grant: $3.4 million for September 2011 to September 2014

Notable expenses:
  • "Preparation of various publications both in video and in written form for training and awareness purposes to empower Cuban civil society": $231,767.
  • "Technology equipment" for "Cuban civil society": $125,403.
Records do not describe the equipment. It is shown as $83,542 for "events & other" and $41,861 for "other projects."
The organization's website says the foundation supplies Cubans with "computers, DVD players (and instructional DVDs), cell phones, and other related communication equipment." (See FHRC's Form 990 for 2011).

Foundation board member Jorge Mas Santos with Barack Obama.
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America
Salaries and other compensation: $156,899
This included:
  • Compensation of current officers, directors, trustees, key employees: $56,750.
  • Other salaries and wages: $47,397.
  • Other employee benefits: $14,423.
  • Payroll taxes: $38,429.
None of the paid employees were named. The organization's president, José Antonio Costa, and other officers listed their salary as zero.
Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez is a Foundation for Human Rights board member.
Assorted other expenses: $98,827.
This included:
  • Accounting: $4,975.
  • Fees for services, non-employees: $21,827.
  • Advertising and promotion: $221.
  • Office expenses: $16,552.
  • Information technology: $14,853.
  • Insurance: $6,595.
  • Miscellaneous: $4,071.
  • All other expenses: $7,061.
Conferences and/or travel: $22,672.

Total expenses in 2011: $612,896.

Kudos for community involvement:
The foundation reports that fundraising events brought in $232,467. That shows that the organization doesn't entirely depend on the government and has community support.

Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia, 1000 Ponce De Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, FL.
Frank Hernandez-Trujillo
Description: "Mission is to provide humanitarian aid to the families of political prisoners and civil societies in their efforts to enhance Cuba's transition to democracy."
Executive Director: Frank Hernandez-Trujillo
USAID Cuba grant: $3 million for September 2012 to September 2015

Notable expenses:
  • "During 2011, GAD sent approximately 36,000 pounds of food and over-the-counter medication supplies to the families of political prisoners and civil societies in Cuba": $430,976. (see Form 990 for 2011).
Salaries and other compensation: $38,754.
The organization's president, Frank Hernandez-Trujillo, earned a salary of $36,000.

Assorted other expenses: $79,464.
This included:
  • Accounting: $12,788.
  • Other (fees for services, non-employees): $36,000.
  • Office expenses: $1,142.
  • Information technology: $2,422.
  • Occupancy (office): $12,600.
  • Depreciation: $692.
  • Telephone: $11,439.
  • Auto mileage: $1,100.
  • Bank charges: $31.
  • License and permits: $978.
  • All other expenses: $272.
Conferences and/or travel: $2,922.

Total expenses in 2011: $552,116.

New America Foundation, 1899 L Street, N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C.
USAID Cuba grant: $4.3 million for September 2012 to September 2015
Description: "To bring exceptionally promising new voices and new ideas to the fore of our nation's public discourse through fellowships and issue-specific programs and sponsoring a wide range of research, writing, conferences and events on the most important issues of our time."
President: Steve Coll

Notable expenses: The foundation spent $3,507,513 on technology policy programs. This includes money for its Open Technology Institute, which is developing tools to allow democracy activists in Cuba and other nations to build independent wireless networks. (See "Cuba likely target for mesh network").

Salaries and other compensation: $9,405,397.
  • Coll's reported salary and other compensation was $363,201. (See NAF's Form 990 for 2011).
Total expenses in 2011: $15,424,254. In 2011, taxpayers supplied 74.38 percent of the organization's budget.

Pan-American Development Foundation, 1889 F Street N.W., 2nd Floor Washington D.C.
John Sanbrailo
USAID Cuba grant: $3.9 million for September 2011 to September 2014
Description: "To increase opportunities for the disadvantaged in Latin America and the Caribbean."
President: John Sanbrailo

Notable expenses: PADF spending in Central America and the Caribbean included:

  • $1,297,039 for "strengthening communities and civil society"
  • $702,599 in grants to foreign organizations and individuals.
Cuba-related expenses may be included there. (See PADF's Form 990 for 2011).

Salaries and other compensation: $9,027,653.
  • Sanbrailo's salary and other compensation was $222,059.
Total expenses in 2011: PADF reported spending $50,758,645. In 2010, taxpayers supplied 96.72 percent of the organization's budget.

Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.