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How to Recruit a Spy

Toby Westerman

U.S. universities are important recruiting grounds for foreign spies, according to a former intelligence operative who has defected to the United States. He has issued a report giving a rare glimpse into the intelligence operations of one of America's most determined espionage foes.

Jose Cohen Valdes, a past Cuban intelligence officer employed in several areas of information acquisition and analysis in Havana, has documented his nation's penetration of U.S. universities in a report which has yet to be translated into English. Jose Cohen's original report can be accessed online here.

The national security of the United States is for sale, and every American is in danger as a result, according to a counter-intelligence expert who was central to the interrogation and conviction of a spy considered to be one of the gravest threats to national security ever apprehended in the United States.

Accused spies Walter Myers and his wife

Prof. Myers and his wife - recently accused of spying for Cuba for 30 years
The recent arrest of former State Department official Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, on charges of spying for Cuba for the past 30 years gives further immediacy to Jose Cohen's report.

Spies are recruited not only to gather information, but to become agents of influence - individuals who can shape U.S. policy to assist a foreign nation and work against the best interests of the United States. Cuba has one of the world's most effective espionage organizations in the world, and the tropical gulag remains on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terror.

Havana has been tied to virtually every major terrorist organization, from Hamas to Colombia's FARC communist guerrilla army. Havana is also aligned to nuclear-tipped North Korea and the neo-Marxist regime of Hugo Chavez. China and Russia consider Cuba a valuable ally.

Cubans learn espionage from Soviet spy masters

The Cubans learned the value and techniques of penetrating U.S. universities from Soviet intelligence services, Jose Cohen stated.

The Soviets were excellent instructors in recruiting agents from prestigious schools, given their decades of experience. One of the Soviets most notable successes came in the 1930s when the NKVD (a predecessor of the KGB) recruited four young Cambridge students. A fifth individual who studied at Cambridge was later recruited by the Soviet espionage and worked with the other four. This group was known as the "Cambridge Spy Ring."

The actions of this spy ring cost the lives of American and British intelligence officers and soldiers. The ring was finally broken in the early 1960s. Its best known member, Harold "Kim" Philby, was close to becoming the director of British intelligence. A similar ring is thought to have existed at Oxford, but nothing definite has been uncovered.

The degree of Soviet involvement in U.S. universities remains unknown, but the effects of Soviet espionage within American academia may well be with us to the present day.

How to recruit a spy

Today the Cuban regime considers the infiltration of the U.S. university system a "top priority," and seeks to recruit students who will "occupy positions of importance in the private sector and in the government," Jose Cohen writes.

Havana systematically studies and analyzes all accessible information about U.S. universities, the political and social tendencies of professors and students, study programs, individual courses, and any other pertinent data. Harvard University, Yale University, New York University, Hunter College, Columbia University, American University, Georgetown University, the University of Pennsylvania, University of California at Berkeley, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are all specifically mentioned in Jose Cohen's report.

With their homework done, Cuban intelligence operatives are able to approach targeted individuals and have some knowledge of their likes, dislikes and political tendencies even before the first words of greeting are exchanged. Jose Cohen notes that the same approach used for academics is also used to recruit journalists, senators, businessmen and diplomats.

From the first meeting, the intelligence officer cultivates any pro-socialist or anti-American sentiments, and takes advantage of any useful sympathies or humanitarian impulses, as well as academic or financial ambitions of the targeted individual.

If the results of the initial encounter are promising, other meetings will be planned. Depending upon circumstances, the targeted individual will be approached again at a mutually agreed upon place and time, or another Cuban intelligence agent will arrange another "chance" encounter at an event the target would probably attend or at an establishment the target is known to frequent.

The relationship is cultivated as a friendship based upon mutual interests while Cuban intelligence studies the target, his or her spouse, children and friends. The target's weaknesses are noted, including homosexuality and drug use, and the level of ideological commitment is analyzed.

If the target is found to have potential, the category used to define the individual changes. With the recommendation of top intelligence officers in the U.S. and the approval of analysts in Havana, the target moves from a person studied to a "person of interest," Jose Cohen states.

Throughout the study of the targeted individual, consideration of the degree of the individual's ideological commitment is of paramount importance for Cuban intelligence. Havana tends not to trust agents who work for money, reasoning that such an individual could change sides if the money were right. If Cuban intelligence considers the target's motivations and ideological characteristics merit further consideration, the individual becomes a "candidate." From this point the "candidate" can cooperate with Cuba on one of three levels.

The lowest is that of a "Useful Link." The "candidate" now becomes a tool for Cuban interests. The "Useful Link" usually has does not have access to secret information and is unaware of his or her tie to Cuban intelligence. The individual, however, is now useful in supplying information to Havana or in forming a pro-Cuban climate in business or government.

The next level of cooperation involves a greater degree of mutual trust. Cuban intelligence refers to this as a "relation of confidence," according to Jose Cohen. At this level, the candidate is aware that he is directly cooperating with the Cuban government or Cuban intelligence. While willing to commit espionage for Havana, the individual at this level has only occasional contact with Cuban intelligence officers. The relationship is informal and lacks any firm expectation or demands. "There is no discipline," Jose Cohen states.

The highest level of relationship with Cuban intelligence is that of agent. Ideologically committed, the agent works closely with Cuban intelligence and completely understands the dynamics of the relationship. To achieve the status of agent, Jose Cohen relates, the candidate must be willing to receive special training, establish a method of continuous and secret communication with Cuban intelligence, and place himself under "a discipline characteristic of the military." The agent is ready to engage in any action demanded by Cuban intelligence to advance Cuban interests or the communist cause, or to damage the United States.

Keeping in touch

One of the preferred methods for agents to receive instructions from Havana is by shortwave radio. U.S. intelligence officers and amateur radio enthusiasts have long noted the daily broadcasts from "numbers stations," which are known to carry information to Cuba's espionage network in the U.S.

A numbers code picked up from a Cuban broadcast

An unbreakable "numbers code" picked up from a Cuban broadcast
The "numbers stations" broadcast a series of numbers through voice or code, which can be deciphered by means of "pads." Because the "pads" change from day to day, it is impossible to break the broadcast codes. In this manner, Havana can send information to its network in the U.S. without fear of interference by American counterintelligence.

Other nations also use "numbers stations," but there are particular "stations" that are specifically associated with Cuba. Not only are signals traced back to Cuba with reasonable reliability, but there have been occasions when Cuban "numbers" have been mixed for brief periods of time with regular Radio Havana international broadcasts.

Counterintelligence at work

While Cuba's intelligence officers are extremely skilled in carrying out their espionage duties, at times mistakes are made, and U.S. counterintelligence does score victories. In 2001, the "Cuban Five," part of the broken Wasp Network, were convicted of a variety of crimes - including murder - against the United States on behalf of the Cuban government. [The Wasp Network engaged in a wide range of activities, including locating vulnerable points of entry into the state of Florida for the importation of arms and explosives, infiltration of the U.S. Southern Command, and the attempted subversion of anti-Communist organizations in the U.S.] The other Wasp Network members either fled to Cuba or cooperated with the federal prosecution.

A Cuban demonstration asks for freedom of the Five spies

A Cuba-based campaign asks freedom for the Cuban Five convicted of espionage
In 2002, Ana Belen Montes, a high level analyst specializing in Cuban affairs for the Defense Intelligence Agency, was convicted of working for Havana and sentenced to 25 years in prison. A Florida International University professor, Carlos Alvarez, and his wife Elsa were arrested in 2006 on charges of spying for Cuba, and subsequently pled guilty. Although Carlos admitted to the FBI that he collaborated with Cuban intelligence, he claimed that he only wanted to "open dialogue" with Havana.

Cuba, of course, is not the only nation using espionage to influence U.S. policy or undermine the security of the United States. China, Russia, and other nations have very active espionage services operating in the U.S.

Because the United States is a favorite target of various intelligence agencies, Americans must be vigilant and ready to contact the proper authorities (usually the FBI) should the occasion arise. Chris Simmons, a retired counterintelligence officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency and founder of the Cuban Intelligence Research Center, told International News Analysis in an exclusive interview that most reports of suspicious behavior - about 85 percent - prove to be benign. Of the remainder, 10 percent reflect negative behavior in regard to their employment, and five percent lead to the opening of counterintelligence cases.

The United States has enemies present within its borders. Some are foreign intelligence officers running agents and other cooperators, some are fanatical terrorists waiting for a chance to strike. Their effectiveness, however, can be greatly diminished by a vigilant, well-informed public motivated by love of God and country.

The enemies of our nation may be selling deception and fear, but we do not have to buy it. How does communist Cuba cooperate with other Marxist states and guerrilla groups? What is the relationship between the growing Latin American communist movement and fundamentalist Islam? Find out what the centralized media is not reporting -- read Lies, Terror, and the Rise of the Neo-Communist Empire: Origins and Direction. Or, go to your favorite online book seller.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted June 20, 2009

Toby Westerman publishes
International News Analysis - Today
An investigative, analytical, and uncompromising weekly analysis of the world situation

Contact T. Westerman at
or P.O. BOX 5182, Rockford, ILL, 61125-0182

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