Me, the FBI and the documents… take 33

David M. Hardy
Section Chief
Record Information Dissemination Section
Records Management Division
FBI
Washington, DC

Dear David M. Hardy,

Imagine my excitement when I received your recent letter in which you informed me that those FBI files you had previously said didn’t exist actually did. Four hundred and nine pages, to be exact, of which you were prepared to release 407 of them to me.

Hard copy or CD, you asked?

CD please, I replied.

As you may recall, our ongoing, never-ending correspondence began in May 2010 when I first requested copies of “all reports, correspondence, memos, notes, emails and other records concerning a meeting between a delegation from the FBI and Cuban State Security in Havana in June 1998. My understanding is that the meeting itself took place from June 15-17, but I am also seeking any material relating to preparations for this meeting as well as follow-up from it for the period from May 1, 1998 to September 15, 1998.”

During those meetings, as you know, Cuba claims it handed over documents identifying dozens of U.S.-based individuals and groups involved in countless specific incidents of terrorism against Cuba—documents they have since kindly provided to me.

When I asked for American documents relating to these same meetings, you initially wrote back to say there were no such documents. None. At all.

That struck me as strange, so I wrote back to ask you to check again. You did. Still nothing.

I wrote again. Surely, I suggested, there must at least be a few hotel napkin notes, the odd expense voucher.

Well, you replied finally, yes, indeed, there might be a few scraps of paper. But you couldn’t give them to me because, you see, there are ongoing investigations and releasing this sensitive material might compromise “pending or prospective” judicial proceedings “pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A).”

Odder still. What proceedings? The Cuban Five, as you know, were all convicted in 2001. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of their convictions in 2009. And those meetings in Havana in 1998 weren’t even about the Five, whose criminal case was not yet even a gleam in an FBI agent’s eye at that time.

The meetings were about the nefarious activities that U.S.-based terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles had been plotting and carrying out against Cuba. It is true the U.S. did finally, belatedly, prosecute Posada—not for blowing up that Cuban airplane in 1976, killing all 73 passengers, or for that string of bombings at Havana hotels in 1997 that killed an Italian-Canadian businessman but… wait for it…—for lying on an immigration form in 2005. And he was acquitted! (How did that happen anyway?)

Since then, there’s not been the slightest hint the FBI has any further interest in investigating Posada or any one else named in the Cuban documents.

So what “pending or prospective” cases were you referring to?

Patience and persistence being virtues I have come to depend on in our correspondence, I wrote you again on May 23, 2011.

“I’m sure if you rummage through the material I requested,” I wrote, “you’ll discover at least a few scraps of paper that won’t compromise any ongoing investigations or pending prosecutions. Perhaps there’s an email outlining the background to the decision to send the FBI delegation to Havana in the first place. Or maybe a report—potential indictees’ names redacted—on whether the trip was worth it. How about a few receipts for meals, or a night on the town at the Tropicana? Given that the Cubans claimed one of the exile plots involved setting off explosives at the nightclub, that would certainly have been a legitimate expense.”

FBI letter

Many months later, you wrote again to say that—Abracadabra! Sha-zam! Ka-boom!—“material was located pursuant to your request for information concerning Cuban State Security and FBI meeting in Havana (June 1998). Enclosed is a processed copy of the FBI Headquarters file 95D-HQ-1255131 and FBI Miami Field Office file 2-MM-89519-NC.”

Excitedly, I slipped the CD into my computer. There were two files: “FBI FOIA Relase (sic) Section 1 (1042207).pdf” and “FBI FOIA Release 1150092-003 Section 1 (1042747).pdf.”

The first—a small file containing only 129 kilobytes—consisted of two documents from the FBI lab in Washington, which essentially showed that, on June 18, 1998, an FBI examiner (NAME REDACTED) had examined three explosives samples and four electric detonators provided by the Cubans. By themselves, the report concluded, the items were not very helpful—largely because Dupont, the most likely manufacturer of the detonators, produced 50 million of them a year and they were “exported all over the world.”

Unfortunately, I already had copies of these documents since they’d been introduced as evidence during the trial of Luis Posada in 2010 and were, therefore, public.

But thanks for thinking of me.

Ever hopeful, I opened File #2, which seemed—at 37.2 MB—more promising.

Alas. With the exception of a potentially intriguing two-page memo dated July 16, 1998 and titled REDACTED (except for a couple of tag-on subjects: ACT OF TERRORISM, NEUTRALITY MATTERS-CUBA; 00: MIAMI).

In the memo, the author, NAME REDACTED (visible last letters “r-l-o”), asks “that the following subfiles be opened.” Most of the titles of the subfolders, however, are blanked out with the exceptions of “Laboratory reports,” “FD-302s, inserts” and “Newspaper clippings.”

Ah, yes, newspaper clippings.

The remaining 400 pages of the file you sent me contained nothing except newspaper clippings, some of them quite recent (including from the immigration fraud case against Luis Posada) and therefore outside the scope of what I’d asked from. There were also stories from 1990s from the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Orlando Sun-Sentinel, TIME, AP, CNN, ABC, La Prensa, Ann Louise Bardach’s website, Granma International, the official Cuban news agency, even a Cuban Ministry of the Interior press release.

There were four different copies of the same July 1997 New York Times series in which Luis Posada not only claimed credit for setting off those bombs in Havana hotels and killing Fabio DiCelmo—wrong place, wrong time; “I sleep like a baby”—but also insisted he was funded by the Cuban American National Foundation, the most influential exile lobby group in the United States.

Incredible, don’t you think, that the FBI never managed to connect the dots from the bombs to Posada to the Foundation? Or perhaps they weren’t really looking.

But I digress.

I do appreciate the newspaper clippings—I would have appreciated them more if you’d sent them before I spent close to $1,000 downloading copies from the Miami Herald and other news databases—but this still isn’t what I was looking for.

So… I really hate to do this, but I’m appealing again.

Can you look one more time—open a few drawers if you have to this time—and find all those “reports, correspondence, memos, notes, emails and other records concerning a meeting between a delegation from the FBI and Cuban State Security in Havana in June 1998.”

Yours in patience and persistence,

Stephen Kimber

 

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