An open letter to the FBI about a certain meeting that took place in Havana in June 1998 and why they now claim to have no records of it…
Dear David M. Hardy,
Thanks for your letter of January 25, 2011, in which you inform me that “a new search of the indices of our Central records System was conducted for records concerning the subject of your request. Through this search we determined there are no records responsive to your request.”
No records? You’re kidding, right? Seriously? No records?
I know you must get a lot of Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (FOIPA) requests (which is probably why it seems to take so long for you to tell me you have nothing to tell me), so let me remind you of the “subject” of my request.
On May 5, 2010, I submitted a request for:
“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.”
You responded a few months later to say that you had given my request a bureaucratic identification number (see, you do keep records)—FOI/PA #1150092—but that you had scoured the entire dead file room on my behalf and come up with nothing. Nada. Sorry.
You didn’t say you wouldn’t give me the documents. You said there were no documents.
But if I was so inclined, you kindly added, I could ask again.
So I did. Nicely.
On October 5, 2010, I wrote you again, repeating my original request and adding some additional information I hoped would provide bread-crumb clues on your path past the departmental dust bunnies to the files I sought.
- The records I am seeking relate to meetings in Havana in connection with an FBI investigation into a series of bombings that had occurred at hotels and resorts in Cuba during the mid-1990s. My understanding is that Cuban authorities claimed they had evidence of American involvement in the bomb plots and that the purpose of the meetings was for the Cubans to share information they had gathered.
- According to evidence presented at the trial of the Cuban Five (Transcript 10925-6), in the year prior to the meeting in Havana, “the United States sent five separate diplomatic notes to the Government of Cuba requesting a meeting concerning the evidence that the government of Cuba had regarding those bombings” and that the FBI “had requested such a meeting for over a year” prior to June 1998.
- Also according to evidence presented at the trial of the Cuban Five (Transcript P10871), two of the Americans involved in the meetings in Havana in June 1998 were described as FBI agents Agustin Rodriguez and Luis Rodriguez.
- The transcript (P10871) also indicates that there was at least one follow-up meeting in Washington in 1999 to discuss the FBI’s analysis of material presented to them during the June 1998 meeting in Havana.
I had hoped that this finder’s aid might assist you in locating the documents but, alas, your letter of January 25 dashed my hopes once again.
Your new search had come up with the old result. Nothing.
What am I to make of this?
Are your telling me the meeting didn’t happen? Or that the meeting happened but no one wrote a single word about it before, during or after?
Let’s start with the first possibility. There was no meeting.
So far as I can tell, the first official mention of the meeting occurred in March 1999 when Cuban State Security Col. Adalberto Rabiero testified about it during the Havana trial of a Salvadoran mercenary accused of planting some of the bombs.
Rabeiro testified that information linking the hotel bombings to Luis Posada and the Cuban American National Foundation had been turned over to ”a team of specialists”—that, I believe, would be you folks in the FBI—who had been “sent by important U.S. officials” to Havana.
Commie propaganda? Disinformation?
Apparently not. On March 24, 1999, the Miami Herald followed up with a news story that began: “FBI agents have been examining evidence provided by Cuba officials linking exiles to terror attacks, but Havana has been avoiding a follow-up meeting with the investigators since December, U.S. officials say.”
A follow-up meeting. Meaning there must have been a meeting.
And there’s more. I’m attaching this title page from a 65-page document—INFORME SOBRE LAS ACTIVIADES TERRORISTAS CONTRA CUBA—that Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior says it prepared and gave to your officials at those meetings. Look at the bottom of the page. June 1998…
Ring any bells?
I also have a copy of another 52-page document—ANEXOS OPERATIVOS—Cuban authorities say they handed over at the same time. It includes names, then-current addresses, alternate addresses, phone numbers, car licence plate numbers, etc., etc., for various and sundry alleged anti-Castro terrorists, most of whom were living in the United States… just in case you ever wanted to find them.
Am I getting warmer?
I also have an actual FBI document—see, you do have documents!—filed in the ongoing, never-ending Luis Posada immigration fraud case in El Paso, Texas. It’s from a report prepared by one Thomas J. Mohnal (I believe he was another member of the FBI delegation in Havana, so you might ask him if he made other notes as well) concerning what he says was “a field examination of four (4) electric detonators… conducted in Havana, Cuba… on June 17, 1998.” On the third page, there’s another reference to a “communication received June 18, 1998.”
I’d tell you the Case ID# but it’s blacked out on the copy I have. I’m sure you can find it—and see what other documents might be in attached.
So… I think it’s fair to say there was a meeting between Cuban State Security officials and a delegation from the FBI in Havana in June 1998.
Which brings us to the second possibility: for whatever reasons, no one committed to paper anything, anywhere, anytime about these meetings. Before, during, or after.
I don’t know about the internal workings of the FBI, of course, but I can’t imagine any government agency anywhere that doesn’t run on paper.
If FBI officials went to Havana in June 1998—and I think we’ve established they did—then they must have left a trail, at the very least, of requisitions and receipts.
If they didn’t swim from the Florida Keys to Havana, then there should be a written record somewhere of how they got there.
If they were in Havana for three days, they must have stayed somewhere. My money’s on the Hotel Nacional. It’s near the United States Interests Section and is known to be popular with visiting American officials. I’ve stayed there myself, so I know it’s easy to get a receipt.
Plus… even FBI agents have to eat. Even in Cuba. Did anyone collect a restaurant receipt over the course of three days that they wanted to be reimbursed for?
Maybe they spent a night out at the famous Tropicana nightclub—for research purposes, of course, and kept the receipt. (According to the Cubans, the Tropicana, and its tourist patrons, were among the targets of the bombing campaign.)
More substantively, I’m guessing that—given that the U.S. “sent five separate diplomatic notes to the Government of Cuba requesting a meeting concerning the evidence that the government of Cuba had regarding those bombings” before the June 1998 meetings—there must have been some interest among higher ups in the FBI and Justice Department, perhaps even the White House, about the progress of negotiations for the get-together.
Are you trying to tell me there wasn’t some quickly dashed-off note (“Hey, the Cubans said yes! We’re packing!”) to let someone in authority know the meeting would actually take place? And then, of course, a post-it note or two on how the discussions had gone, plans for follow-up, etc., etc..
As I said in my initial letter way back when, I’m interested in this information because I’m working on a book on the Cuban Five, a group of Cuban intelligence agents known as the Wasp Network who were arrested in Miami less than three months after those FBI officials returned from Havana.
Some commentators have suggested those unprecedented June 1998 meetings in Havana could have signaled the beginning of a new era of cooperation the United States and Cuba. But any hopes that that could happen were dashed by the arrest of the Five.
What happened in the three months between the Havana meetings and the Miami arrests?
Why did the FBI suddenly choose to arrest the Cubans, whom they’d surreptitiously been following for close to three years?
Hector Pesquera—the Special Agent in charge of your Miami office at the time of both the meetings in Havana and the subsequent arrests—has said that when he took up his duties in Miami in the spring of 1998, he was briefed on all the Bureau’s ongoing investigations. He decided, he said, that the FBI’s priority to develop additional intelligence about Cuba’s spy networks “shouldn’t be there any more. [The investigation] should change course and become a criminal investigation.”
According to author Anne Louise Bardach in her 2003 book, Cuba Confidential, Pesquera’s decision caused consternation in the Miami field office where he was considered too friendly with some in the anti-Castro exile community (including, it should be noted, at least one prominent exile singled out in the Anexos Operativos). According to Bardach, one agent told her that Pesquera “abandon[ed] all investigations into exile terrorism. Instead he decided to make his name with the Wasp network.”
Pesquera acknowledged to the Miami Herald (July 10, 2001) that there had been disagreements about whether to arrest the Five, and that the case “never would have made it to court” if Pesquera himself had not directly lobbied then FBI Director Leonard Freeh.
I’m guessing there must be a paper trail there too, even just a few for-the-record notes of telephone or face-to-face conversations. I’d love to read those… assuming, as I do, that they exist.
Which is why I am asking you to take one more look for the information I’ve requested and—just in case the information got “somehow… attached to another folder,” as another piece of FBI correspondence to me delicately phrased it—let me expand the date range of my request to begin on September 4, 1997—the date of the Copacabana Hotel bombing—and end on December 31, 2000, at the beginning of the trial of the Cuban Five.
Thanks in advance for your assistance in this matter.
Spanish version at Cubadebate.