‘Ego and resentment’: what led former US diplomat to spy for Cuba?

‘Ego and resentment’: what led former US diplomat to spy for Cuba?

Nothing in Manuel Rocha’s decorous manner recommended treachery.

Erudite if considerably outspokenly conservative in his public political stances, he was revered amongst fellow diplomats as a considerate peer who gained added credibility by operating an electronic mail record server circulating thought-provoking articles about his specialist discipline of Latin America and different areas.

Beneath the floor, nonetheless, deep-seated emotions of resentment coalesced with a fastidiously hid sympathy for the underdog to allegedly drive Rocha to spy for communist Cuba for greater than 4 many years.

Greater than half-a-lifetime of betrayal caught up with 73-year-old Rocha this week when US prosecutors filed a grievance with a federal court docket in Miami charging him with a number of counts of being a undercover agent for Cuban intelligence.

“We allege that for over 40 years, Victor Manuel Rocha served as an agent of the Cuban authorities and sought out and obtained positions inside the USA authorities that would supply him with entry to private info and the power to have an effect on US international coverage,” stated the US legal professional common, Merrick Garland.

US authorities assert that Rocha, who was born in Colombia earlier than his household emigrated to New York when he was a toddler – was a Cuban agent from or earlier than the time he joined the state division in 1981 and continued his clandestine actions after leaving the diplomatic service in 2002. Rocha has not but entered a plea.

Court docket papers alleged that Rocha engaged in ‘clandestine exercise’ on Cuba’s behalf for many years, together with by assembly with Cuban intelligence operatives. {Photograph}: Division of Justice/AP

The allegations have shocked the US intelligence group, which has instigated an pressing harm evaluation to find what secrets and techniques may need been handed by a person who held a sequence of delicate posts. These included ambassador to Bolivia, cost d’affaires to Buenos Aires and – embarrassingly – deputy head of the US curiosity part in Havana, Washington’s de facto embassy in Cuba.

“It’s enormous,” stated Jim Popkin, creator of a e book on Ana Montes, a former Defence Intelligence Company analyst who spent 20 years in jail after being unmasked as a Cuban spy, earlier than being freed this yr.

“It’s unprecedented to have an envoy accused of espionage.

“He served within the White Home nationwide safety council, the place a part of his portfolio concerned Cuba – and that’s a significant downside. However to have served within the US pursuits part in Havana when it’s acknowledged that he was working for the opposite aspect is a nightmare state of affairs.

“He would have had entry to and recognized the standing and names of operatives working in Havana on behalf of the US. That’s a really harmful proposition.”

Rocha’s 1995-1997 Havana posting coincided with a interval when Cuba’s then-leader, the late Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, had been believed to concern the prospect of a US invasion or assassination plot throughout Invoice Clinton’s presidency. This adopted tensions attributable to Cuba’s capturing down of two small civilian planes by a Cuban-American group, Brothers to the Rescue, in 1996.

Expenses had been introduced towards Rocha after a sequence of cloak and dagger-type conferences with an undercover FBI officer posing as an agent for the Cuban common intelligence directorate (DGI).

A 20-page prison grievance lodged with the court docket describes Rocha partaking in surveillance-detecting methods typical of Cuban espionage tradecraft en path to an preliminary assembly with the undercover officer in November 2022.

The assembly had been organized on a WhatsApp message after the FBI discovered that Rocha was a undercover agent, based on the grievance, which supplies no particulars on how the bureau obtained the knowledge.

Through the assembly, Rocha talked overtly of his work as a DGI agent and described how he “created the legend of a rightwing individual”, primarily based on coaching he acquired in find out how to trend a man-made persona to hide his covert actions.

In a subsequent encounter, final February, he referred to the US as “the enemy” and expressed satisfaction in his work on behalf of the “revolution” and in beating its enemies.

“For me, what has been finished has strengthened the revolution. It has strengthened it immensely,” he informed the undercover officer. “They underestimated what we might do to them. We did greater than they thought. What we have now finished … it’s monumental … Greater than a grand slam.”

In a single extraordinary passage, Rocha – belying his genteel picture amongst fellow diplomats – espoused uncooked macho delight in his achievements after his confederate stated the DGI needed to know if he was nonetheless a “compañero” (comrade).

“I’m indignant. I’m pissed off,” he stated. “It’s like questioning my manhood … It’s such as you need me to drop them … and present you if I nonetheless have testicles. I’ve them. I’ve them.”

Manuel Rocha expressing his anger in a still image from video contained in a US Department of Justice indictment
‘I’m pissed off’: Manuel Rocha expressing his anger in a nonetheless picture from video contained in a US Division of Justice indictment. {Photograph}: US District Court docket/Reuters

Fulton Armstrong, senior fellow of the Latin American programme at American College in Washington and a former CIA analyst, stated the disclosures had created shock waves amongst those that knew Rocha.

“It’s at all times very surprising to be on the receiving finish of a betrayal,” stated Armstrong, like Rocha, a former employees member of the US pursuits part in Havana, who knew him and Montes.

“A giant a part of the shock is how effectively he hid it for 40 years. Then there’s the non-public aspect, the place you say, shit, what may I’ve informed him that he might have handed to the Cubans that I didn’t need the Cubans to know.

“On the nationwide safety council, in Cuba, when he was in Argentina, after which ambassador in Bolivia, he had entry to very delicate intelligence info, together with alerts intelligence info.”

The accusations would allow right-wingers to query present US coverage in Latin America, Armstrong warned, notably in direction of Cuba, with which President Barack Obama’s administration restored long-severed diplomatic ties in 2015.

“They will say, ‘look these insurance policies are influenced by the Cubans as a result of they’ve recruited our ambassadors’,” he stated.

Past that, the affair represents an undoubted coup for Cuba’s intelligence companies, which observers say stay extremely motivated to spy on the US though the chilly warfare context for hostilities ended many years in the past.

“What a triumph for them to put somebody within the US state division, see them rise in rank and ultimately turn out to be a US ambassador,” stated Popkin. “For those who have a look at Rocha’s profession, just about each publish was in a location that will have been useful for Cuba. They will need to have been tickled pink watching how profitable he was.”

Armstrong stated Cuban tradecraft was so refined that Rocha and Montes knew and labored with one another professionally as US officers in Washington with out understanding the opposite was covertly spying for Cuba.

“Think about that you’re the handler for these two very well-placed sources of data they usually don’t know every of them is working clandestinely for a similar boss. That’s fairly cool … The covert communications with Manuel had been sensible.”

Whereas acknowledging Cuban approach, nonetheless, Armstrong insisted the important thing issue was the motivation of Rocha – which he outlined as “ego, grudge and resentment”.

“They didn’t recruit him, I feel he volunteered,” stated Armstrong, who recommended that Rocha – who grew up in Harlem earlier than finding out at prep college in Connecticut after which Yale – could by no means have felt accepted among the many US institution elite.

“He’s a very, actually vibrant man, goes on to the state division however by no means felt he was pretty handled – you then have a look at US Latin America coverage and there are plenty of parts that parallel those self same issues.”

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