Havana. June 14, 2007...
FABIAN ESCALANTE, EX-CHIEF OF CUBAN INTELLIGENCE
Posada knows too much
BY JEAN-GUY ALLARD—Granma International staff writer—
After heading the Cuban counterintelligence services, Escalante was appointed chief of the State Security Department, precisely in January of that fateful year of 1976 when Bosch and Posada executed the series of attacks that culminated in the assassination in Washington of the former Chilean foreign minister, Orlando Letelier and the destruction of the Cuban passenger plane that left 73 people dead.
On that subject, Escalante related some unknown facts of that period. “By chance, and that came out later, at the same time as Bosch and various of his accomplices arrived in Santiago in December 1974 to place themselves at Pinochet’s disposition and become his paid terrorists, the Cuban security services began an important operation against the CIA in various Latin American countries, in search of information related to these activities, known to be underway.
“Bosch was going to offer himself to Pinochet along with this group of terrorists of Cuban origin who would become killers within Operation Condor. He met up with General Manuel Contreras, made contact with the U.S. agent Michael Townley and, a few months later, organized the kidnapping of two Cuban officials in Argentina, who were brutally murdered.
“The Security services organized an operation to discover what the terrorist plans being prepared were. Of course, we didn’t know of the existence of Operation Condor, but we already knew its instruments. I reiterate that we had no idea of its dimensions, but we did know of the danger and resources that the main organizers had at their disposal.
GENESIS OF THE TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS
The concept of autonomous organization was coined in 1963 and was approved by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Escalante recalled.
“Basically, this concept established that the CIA was creating organizations of Cuban counterrevolutionaries to operate outside of U.S. territory. The CIA assigned them case officers to attend to them, fix their objectives for actions, subsidize them in terms of money and war materials and¼ discovered the result of their actions in the newspapers.
“And, precisely then, in 1974, we found out that these organizations had been reactivated, that operational concept which developed into the genesis of the terrorist organizations.
Did you know about Bosch’s stay in Chile?
We didn’t know that Bosch was in Santiago de Chile. We didn’t know that. But we did know that these groups where Bosch was, with Alvin Ross, the Guillermo and Ignacio Novo Sampoll brothers; with Luis Posada Carriles and Ricardo ‘El Mono’ Morales Navarrete in Venezuela; Antonio Veciana Blanch in Bolivia, were being prepared to unleash an operation against Cuba. An operation that, in 1976, Orlando Bosch himself called ‘the war around the world.’
We had information and we were working on that. But we didn’t have all the information and the details.
Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to discover the plans as a whole. They were highly secret plans. But even so, we began to prepare and activate all the agents infiltrated into the CIA networks to seek out this information.
Paradoxically, on the same date that Bosch was embarking on his activities in Santiago de Chile, selecting his collaborators and safe houses to place them at the service of the Condor mechanism, at that very moment, very close to them, the Cuban services initiated their penetration of the CIA networks which, in the end, made it possible to dismantle some of the conspiracies planned.
I remember that one byproduct of that operation was the exposé and unmasking of the then CIA station head in Lima, Peru, which was an important operative base for the agency in the region. As a result of these actions, the CIA had no alternative but to withdraw it and locate it in another country.
By 1975 we had achieved a significant penetration and I am referring to the CIA networks directed to working against Cuba and a number of the terrorist groups acting against our homeland from Miami, where they had had a powerful operational base up until 1969.
In those years there was intense fighting in the shadows. Information is obtained to act upon. There were a series of plans that were dismantled and others that regrettably were not. I am referring to placing bombs in aircraft, attempts on the lives of officials and diplomats working abroad, terrorist attacks on companies trading with Cuba in various countries of the region.
To what point did you manage to locate each of the many groups active at that time?
We were searching on many fronts at the same time, in many countries. Those people moved around a lot; they were in Mexico, in Central America, in Venezuela, where Posada Carriles was virtually deputy chief of the DISIP (Venezuelan Intelligence Police) and Ricardo Morales Navarrete was chief of the Counterintelligence Department. They had a strong base there.
They were also in Bolivia, where Antonio Veciana Blanch was. They had created structures – with the assassination of Che; that is to say at the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s – and moreover, drug trafficking networks, because the common trait of all these people is that in addition to their actions against Cuba, they are linked to the whole business of drug trafficking, of contraband. That was their way of making more money. It has to be said that the war on Cuba, the country where they were born, became for them a way of making money, lots of money.
Information that emerged from investigations by the U.S. Congress on CIA conspiracies to assassinate Fidel, reveals that Antonio Veciana received a payment of $360,000 from his CIA case officer in 1976. Why that payment, when one would suppose that all the operations in which he took part were punctually funded? Is it because they were trying to buy his silence on an extremely delicate matter?
What other million-dollar sums have been paid to Bosch, Posada and their other associates in all these years of terror? And the Cuban-American National Foundation hadn’t yet been created.
And then 76 arrived, with its succession of attacks. How did you confront those events?
The year of 76 was a very hard year for us. We prepared ourselves, dismantled a good number of these terrorist projects. There were frustrated actions, known in advance by the Cuban Intelligence Services and which thus remained unknown. However, regrettably, there were many others, those known publicly, that we couldn’t dismantle and all those terrorist actions of 76 were going to culminate in the explosion of the Cuban passenger plane.
In that year the wave of terror carefully planned by the CIA – at that time directed by George Bush Senior, was unleashed. Pinochet ordered the assassination of Generals Prats of Chile and Juan José Torres of Bolivia; the Cuban embassy in Lisbon was blown up; a number of Cuban diplomats and officials were killed in countries in the region; former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier’s car was blown up right in the middle of Washington; and finally, a Cuban civilian aircraft was brought down in full flight by two bombs. These are plots that these people were carrying out as part of Operation Condor.
What was known in Cuba at that time about Luis Posada Carriles?
In ‘76, we had very fragmented information on Posada. Orlando Bosch , Antonio Veciana, the Novo Sampoll brothers, Nazario Sargén, Jorge Mas Canosa and many other organization leaders were the ones who were planning and had contact with the CIA and thus gave us the opportunity of directly discovering when and where they planned to act and, for that reason, were among the priorities then.
Posada was never the leader of anything. Posada is a hired assassin, a paid terrorist. He is a killer, an assassin like those in U.S. movies, who would murder anymore without a trace of emotion, just for money, out of self-interest.
But he is a very, very dangerous witness.
I remember that in 1971 information emerged in relation to a conspiracy to assassinate Fidel during his visit to Chile in which Posada was involved. Afterwards, years later, the details came out. The conspiracy was really diabolical. Its first phase consisted of using a film camera to conceal a revolver with which two of Posada’s henchmen, accredited as Venezuelan journalists, were to shoot the Cuban leader during his initial press conference on reaching Santiago de Chile. To that end, Antonio Veciana and his Alpha 66 group had smuggled in arms and explosives to have available other options of assassinating the Commander in Chief, in the event of the first attempt failing.
A Plan B was carefully prepared by Posada Carriles, then chief of operations of the Venezuelan political police. As it happened, a correspondent of the Soviet TASS news agency who was also a KGB officer was in Caracas. Posada arranged things to photograph his two agents while they were talking with the Russian, so that after the assassination of the Comandante, a media campaign would be unleashed showing the photos and accusing the Soviets of being the perpetrators of the crime, given the “existing political contradictions.” Posada and Veciana had fixed things with Eduardo Sepúlveda, colonel of the Chilean Mounted Police, responsible for security in the location where Fidel would give his press conference, so that instead of detaining the assassins, he would eliminate them and thus avert any indiscretion.
Where were you when the Cubana passenger plane exploded?
I was on an official visit to the USSR. That was a terrible day. With the time difference, I heard about it late at night on the 6th (October) or in the early hours of the next day. There were two or three of us Cubans there together¼ it was a terrible night because we realized that we had not done everything that we should have done. My impression was¼ of much pain, a feeling of great impotence. I returned immediately.
Our government immediately sent a team of technicians and investigators to Barbados. Within a few days, thanks to the investigations made and the statements of Hernán Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, caught in Trinidad and Tobago, we discovered almost all the details, and the masterminds, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada.
Recently declassified documents demonstrate that the CIA, the FBI and the U.S. embassy in Venezuela knew about it¼ And nobody did anything at all to avert that monstrous crime.
Did you penetrate the CORU at any point?
The CORU no, but the organizations comprising it, yes. Sometimes I have thought that if the Cuban services had available to them the ultramodern communications equipment that the CIA had then, more conspiracies would definitely have been avoided. In that period, they were working with so-called rapid fire communications equipment, which transmitted messages in 15 to 16 seconds. Speed of communications was the main problem that we had: gathering information and bringing it in for analysis. Because information is valuable when you can compare it with other information, when it is analyzed and meditated upon.
In those years, information took many days to arrive. I remember the case of an informant who, with important information in his hands, stole a speedboat in Miami and came here to Cuba to deliver it. At that time, correspondence both into and out of Cuba had to go through a center that the CIA had set up in Mexico City, where it was carefully revised.
From the end of ‘76, in ‘77 and in ‘78, these acts of terrorism gradually disappeared as a result of the actions of the Cuban Intelligence and Counterintelligence Services and the important – I would say decisive – political measures taken in terms of Cuban emigration which, as it turned out, became a neutralizing element of the first order.
What happened with the CIA and its autonomous organizations?
In the end I think they got out of control. The case of Bin Laden is one example. There is an interesting book by U.S. writer David Wise, The Invisible Government, on that theme. Organizations like the CIA or Mossad in Israel, and others in other regions of the world have acquired unlimited power, because they have information on their own presidents that they can manipulate or dress up and moreover, they have the capacity to act without controls to obtain secret results. Remember the Iran-Contra scandal where the U.S. Security Council was involved in a huge drug trafficking operation to fund the dirty war against Sandinista Nicaragua.
Just imagine, the Central Intelligence Agency in the 60s, with bases spread throughout the world, handling operations as delicate as the U-2 spy planes with ultramodern radars, with a large operations base in Miami with a $100-million budget (equivalent to $1 billion now) with 55 phantom enterprises that were producing uncontrolled profits. Where did all that money that produced the war on Cuba go?
There’s a fabulous U.S. film from the ‘70s called precisely Three Days of the Condor, with Robert Redford, which relates how a CIA unit dedicated to studying detective novels for errors or poor interpretation, comes across an ultra-secret covert operation in progress. The decision taken by the bosses is to eliminate all the employees, who are nothing more than novel readers and a number of characters attack the house where the unit is located and liquidate everyone, minus Redford, who had gone out to get food. That’s where the film starts, with Redford fleeing and pursued by all his bosses. The anecdote reflects how far things can get in that dark and shady underworld.
Isn’t that what happened to Posada in Guatemala?
I think drug trafficking was an issue there. Because, remember, Posada “escaped” in 85 from a Venezuelan prison and was received in El Salvador by Félix Rodríguez Mendigutía, who made him CIA operations chief at Ilopango airport and responsible for the supply flights for the Nicaraguan Contras.
At that time, there was a man in Honduras, Mario Delamico of Cuban origin, closely linked to the CIA and the Honduran army, who was in contact with other mercenaries including a number of Cubans located in Costa Rica. They had various enterprises and were to take charge of receiving and distributing the flights loaded with arms sent by Posada and sending back Colombian drugs on the same planes for transportation to the United States.
This was the business handled by Luis Posada Carriles, directly subordinated to Félix Rodríguez, the assassin of Comandante Ernesto Guevara.
I don’t know what happened in Guatemala. But after the capture in Nicaraguan territory of the U.S. pilot Eugenio Hassenfus, when he was dropping weapons to the Contras, Posada had to dismantle his camp in El Salvador.
What he did afterwards, one would have to ask him, but I, for one, don’t know. It is said that when he went to Guatemala City, some hired killers – probably around drugs – wanted to kill him. That’s all the information we have. But now I ask myself: What money would he have been left with? What could he have done? Who would he have wanted to get out of the way?
What are your thoughts on the legal proceedings against Posada Carriles since his arrival in the United States? Where is all that going?
Well¼ to an official pardon. There’s not the slightest doubt of that. There is something underlying this, not only the case of Luis Posada Carriles. but all the current U.S. policy and it is its brutality and prepotency.
Before they were more professional, more skilful. Before there were more intelligent people. If there’s one thing I’m sure about, it is that this lot today are not intelligent.
Before there was a Robert Kennedy and a Richard Helms who thought up the autonomous operations to remove the mess from American soil and validate the U.S. doctrine of plausible negotiation. In other words, always having the elements to deny U.S. participation in a specific event.
Nowadays, these people are more ignorant, as ignorant as the U.S. president himself. It was evident that the United States couldn’t allow Posada to be tried.
First there was the situation in Panama, where they no alternative but to try him, because he was caught red-handed. And it became obvious that when Mireya Moscoso left power that she would pardon him because she was part of all that. She was a U.S. agent.
Then he went to ground in El Salvador, was in Yucatan and entered the United States on the orders of his bosses. Posada would never have done that without an express order. His handlers told him: ‘come over here, we’re doing to do the same for you as we did with Orlando Bosch.’
But they didn’t take into account the action of people in solidarity, of independent journalism and then came the condemnations and things became evident. The pressure by Cuba has been very decisive, so decisive that they probably wouldn’t have done what they had to do without the Cuban exposé, the combative marches, the roundtables, the open tribunals, international solidarity, all of which, in my view, are pressure mechanisms that have been essential in terms of forcing the United States to do everything that it has done, attempting to have Posada go on trial as an illegal immigrant.
But they have assured that they are still investigating the case Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has just affirmed that That’s a fact, isn’t it?
All of that is a lie. A white lie to satisfy some “democrats,” for whom there has been no other remedy than to condemn Posada’s release and who need an argument to be able to say: “you see, the United States is going to do something.” No, the United States is not going to do anything at all.
Luis Posada Carriles could die at any time. I repeat: he will always be a very dangerous witness. And he knows too much.