Americans up the stakes

 June 3, 1998

Michael Kozak from the US Interests Section in Havana met with the Cubans again on June 3, 1998, to deliver the text of a statement he said the United States was planning to circulate to all airlines flying between the U.S. and Cuba directly, or via third countries to Cuba, as well as to the governments all those third countries:

“We have received unconfirmed information about a plot to place explosive devices on civil airliners which fly between Cuba and countries in Latin America. The people involved in the plot plan to leave a small explosive device on board an aircraft with the intention of activating it sometime during the flight. The explosive device, according to reports, is small, has a fuse and a digital timer that can be programmed 99 hours before it is to go off. The specific target, place and timeframe have not been identified. We cannot dismiss the possibility that the threat may extend to international cargo flights from the United States. The US government is still looking for additional information to clarify, verify or refute this threat.”

Under American law, Kozak explained, the Federal Aviation Agency had no choice but to send out such information circulars “whenever the U.S. government has any credible information concerning a possible threat to aircraft.”

Castro was apoplectic. He personally drafted the Cuban response: “We did not ask you to issue any warning to air companies,” it said. “That is not the way to deal with this problem; different kind of measures can and must be taken to deal with it. No one could guarantee discretion. An indiscretion in this case could make the investigation more difficult and place obstacles in the way of more efficient measures. Moreover, the circulation of such a warning might create panic, thus causing considerable damage to the Cuban economy, which is exactly what the terrorists want. This damage could also extend to the airlines. Therefore, we disagree with the issuance of a warning; we are seriously opposed to that. We can make a thorough analysis with your group of experts of the most advisable steps to take.”

Castro’s protests fell on deaf ears. The Americans, the Cubans soon realized after they began to look into the intricacies of American law, really did have no choice but to notify the airlines and governments about what they knew, or face serious liability issues should the worst happen and their foreknowledge be disclosed.