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Alan Gross and the Cuban Five

The Tale of a “Trusting Fool”

by SAUL LANDAU

What did Cuba do to the United States to merit 53 years of castigation?

In 1960, those dirty Caribbean Commies joined the “evil” side in the Cold War – the Soviets, one recalls, offered substantial aid, not threats. But in 1991 the USSR disappeared.

So what? Even without the Soviet façade the obsession remained: overthrow the Cuban government with tactics short of war, and some far worse than lies.

In the 1990s, under the FBI’s nose, in south Florida, Cuban exiles organized and financed terrorist acts in Cuba. They paid Salvadoran hirelings to plant bombs in Havana tourist spots.

In the 1990s Cuba sent agents to infiltrate south Florida terrorist groups. The infiltrators’ information got recycled to the FBI. But in 1998, the FBI busted the Cuban agents, and an intimidated Miami jury convicted them. A judge sentenced the Cuban Five to draconian terms.

By 2001, as Florida Republicans began erasing likely Democratic voters from the registration polls, “democracy” emerged as the official line to replace the Cold War against Cuba.  Mandated by Congress (Helms-Burton), USAID — not the CIA — set out on its Cuba ”regime change” plan.

One AID clandestine operation to subvert Cuba led to the 2009 arrest of Alan Gross, a US citizen contracted by a company that had won a USAID job to help overthrow the Cuban government. This plan called for setting up safe Internet technology for small dissident Jewish groups so they could communicate without Cuban State Security tracking or penetration. God forbid Cuba should learn the secret Matzo ball recipe!

A Cuban State Security agent, however, had located Gross early in his endeavor and other agents followed him as he distributed sophisticated equipment. They noted the people he met, the equipment he delivered and, on his fifth trip, arrested him. Gross got tried and convicted of actions subversive to the Cuban state. In 2010, he received 15 years.

Cries of “innocent,” arose from the State Department and mainstream Jewish groups. “He was only helping Cuban Jews get better Internet access.” For this “humanitarian gesture” he would receive a fee from a government contract of almost $600,000?

In December 2011, Fulton Armstrong, a former Senate staffer and National Security official, published an op-ed that revealed both the stupidity and illegality of Gross’ mission.

“When a covert action run by the CIA goes bad and a clandestine officer gets arrested, the U.S. government works up a strategy for negotiating his release. When a covert operator working for USAID gets arrested, Washington turns up the rhetoric, throws more money at the compromised program, and refuses to talk…to divulge even basic information about the programs.”

The programs, concluded Armstrong, “did not involve our Intelligence Community, but the secrecy surrounding them, the clandestine tradecraft (including the use of advanced encryption technologies) and the deliberate concealment of the U.S. hand, had all the markings of an intelligence covert operation.”

The Gross case has dramatized, Armstrong concluded, USAID’s role “as a covert warrior to undermine anti-U.S. regimes worldwide.” And, he added, “The regime-change focus of the programs is explicit.”

Surprise! Armstrong’s revelations could have been published only in Sanskrit because afterward neither State officials nor mainstream Jewish community leaders changed a note in their “Alan is innocent” arias.

In February, AP reporter Desmond Butler offered more details of the Gross case based on leaked “trip reports” Gross had filed. “Piece by piece, in backpacks and carry-on bags, American aid contractor Alan Gross made sure laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking equipment were secreted into Cuba. The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was the last one: a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually impossible to track.”

Butler continued. “Gross said at his trial in Cuba that he was a “trusting fool” who was duped. But his trip reports indicate that he knew his activities were illegal in Cuba and that he worried about the danger, including possible expulsion.

One report quoted a community leader. Gross “made it abundantly clear that we are all ‘playing with fire’.” On another occasion Gross said: “This is very risky business in no uncertain terms.”

Over the past weeks, State Department officials and Gross’ lawyer, ignoring Armstrong’s and Butler’s published pieces, have re-sung the “innocence aria” and complained that Cuba mistreats the ailing Alan.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland claimed she was “extremely concerned” over the state of the “innocent” Gross’ health. “He has degenerative arthritis that has worsened because he is not allowed to walk in his cell.”

Gross’ attorney, Peter J. Kahn, claimed his client was “having difficulty walking and has developed a mass behind his right shoulder blade.”

Cuba sent Gross’ medical records, claimed he was in good health and regretted “the distortions that are being spread” about his health.”

Washington insists that until Cuba frees Gross no bilateral progress is possible. Stalemate! 

The US government has thrown Alan Gross under the proverbial bus. Because, as Armstrong points out, Gross was not a CIA official the US government uses his imprisonment as propaganda against “inhumane” Cuba.

To counter this, we could push to “Free The Six,” Alan and the Cuban Five. Cuba has indicated its willingness to negotiate such reciprocal humanitarian gestures.

To convince Obama, Gross’ family could demonstrate for his freedom at the White House. After all, Alan was carrying out US policy.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP is available on dvd from cinemalibrestore.com. He’s an Institute for Policy Studies Fellow.