by Patrick Smikle
(IPS) MIAMI --
all the ingredients of an espionage
thriller. There is an undercover operation. There are your run of the mill
spies and agent provocateurs complete with code names.
Then there is the dashingly handsome "secret agent" who appears to be working for one side but is really spying for the other, unknown even to his wife. There is sabotage and there is death.
But this is not the work of John Le Carre, Ian Flemming or Robert Ludlum. It is the work of the U.S. Attorney's office and the text of an indictment handed down by a Federal grand jury in Miami May 11.
First the undercover operation.
indictment alleges that the Feb. 24, 1996 shooting down of two unarmed
American civilian planes by the Cuban Air Force was the culmination of an
elaborate plot, "Operacion Escorpion" (Operation Scorpion), hatched in
Havana by the "Superior Headquarters" of the Cuban Directorate of
Intelligence (DI), orchestrated by a top agent known only as 'MX' and
executed by DI agents in Miami.
The operation, says the indictment, was meant to deal with "Brothers to the Rescue" a Miami based Cuban-exile group which had turned from rescuing people trying to flee Cuba on rickety rafts, to harassing the Cuban government.
Its pilots had repeatedly penetrated Cuban air space -- on one occasion, daringly dropping anti-Castro leaflets on Havana.
Acting as provocateurs, the Cuban spies, who had already infiltrated several exile organizations in Miami, including Brothers to the Rescue, were supposed to push Brothers to the Rescue leader, Jose Basulto, a Bay of Pigs veteran given to confrontational behavior, into a showdown.
The framework of the Operation Scorpion was approved by the DI in late January.
Early in February its Miami-based agents were told to make it a priority. They were to collect data on Brothers to the Rescue operational plans and funnel these back to Cuba.
Word then went out to Cuban agents in Miami that they should not fly with Brothers to the Rescue or any other exile organization between Feb. 24 and 27.
On Feb. 24, two of three small unarmed Brothers to the Rescue aircraft were shot down by Cuba Air Force MiGs.
Four Cuban-American men, Carlos Costa, 29, Armando Alejandre, 45, Mario de la Pena, 24, and Pablo Morales, 29, were killed. Jose Basulto, who was piloting the third plane made it safely back to Miami.
The main agents involved with Operation Scorpion, according to the Grand Jury indictment, were Gerardo Hernandez, code-named, "Giro;" (said to be the Supervisor of the DI's South Florida operations) Albert Ruiz, code-named "A-4;" Rene Gonzalez, code-named "Castor;" Luis Medina III, Ruben Campa and Juan Pablo Roque, whose code name was "German."
All but Roque have been in jail since last September. The, five other men and two women, were arrested in Miami and charged with spying for Cuba.
Five of the 12 worked out plea bargain arrangements with Federal prosecutors and will reportedly plead guilty to "acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government," a lesser charge, in return for giving evidence against their alleged fellow spies.
Although official statements speak of "an intensive three year FBI investigation," the general assumption in journalistic circles here is that statements given by these five, led to the grand jury indictment.
Gerardo Hernandez and Juan Pablo Roque have now been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, arising out of the 1996 shoot-down.
But while Hernandez languishes in a Federal jail awaiting trial, Roque remains at large and is presumed to be in Cuba.
And it is his story that has captured the imagination.
as "eloquent, dashing, handsome and an exercise fanatic" former
Cuban Air Force pilot, Juan Pablo Roque, "defected" to the United States in
Settling in Miami he quickly linked up with other former Cuban military men who had defected and set up the Support Center for Cuban Military. That organization used a shortwave radio to broadcast messages to members of the Cuban armed forces urging them not to take up arms against the people in the event of a "democratic uprising" against Fidel Castro's government.
He joined Brothers to the Rescue and took part in several of their air-sea rescue of rafters escaping Cuba.
He wrote a book about his defection from Cuba in which he derided Cuban government officials as "fat communists" and "heavy beer drinkers."
The Defector, which was published by the hardline Cuban American National Foundation, contained photographs of Roque posing with fervently anti-Castro members of Congress Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.
With tales of corruption in the Cuban government and military, he ingratiated himself in State and Federal security circles. He became a paid informant of the FBI, reportedly receiving thousands of dollars for reporting to the Bureau both on alleged drug traffickers and on Brothers to the Rescue.
He even married an American woman.
On Feb. 23, Roque told his wife he was going to deliver a boat. He slipped out of Miami and returned to Cuba, via Mexico according to one account, via The Bahamas, according to another.
On Feb. 24, two of three Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by Cuban fighter aircraft.
Days later Roque appeared on television announcing that he had defected back to his homeland and denouncing Brothers to the Rescue as a terrorist organization.
The FBI has issued a warrant for his arrest. The charge is conspiracy to murder.
Barring other plea bargains or guilty pleas, his alleged co-conspirators go on trial in September.
May 24, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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