For more than a year, I’ve been using American Freedom of Information legislation to try to obtain 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.”
I need the material for a book I’m writing about the Cuban Five.
Twice, the FBI responded that it had no records of any such meetings. Twice I appealed, the last time in an open letter, which explains the background to the request. The good news is that I now have a reply to my last appeal. The records exist! The bad news? Well, I’ll let my latest correspondence with the FBI’s FOIPA powers that be speak for itself…
David M. Hardy
Record/Information Dissemination Section
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, DC 20535
Re: Freedom of Information Appeal Request #1150092-002
Dear Mr. Hardy:
So… the FBI records that I requested that didn’t previously exist now do exist. That’s encouraging.
But you say you still can’t let me see them because “the records responsive to your request are law enforcement records; that there is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these responsive records; and that the release of the information contained in these responsive records could reasonably be expected to interfere with the enforcement proceedings.”
Let me see if I have this right.
On June 15, 1998—13 years ago today—officials of Cuban State Security met in Havana with a delegation from the FBI. Over the course of three days, the Cubans turned over to the FBI documents and evidence it had collected concerning alleged American-financed terrorist plots against Cuba. The FBI took those documents and some of the evidence back to Washington and…
Now, 13 years later—despite not having laid one single charge against one single individual or group as a direct result of the information the Cubans provided—you are telling me there is some mysterious, magical “pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding” that prevents you from spilling the beans to me.
I’m sure the Cuban government will be thrilled to hear the news that an arrest must be just around the next newscast.
During the meetings, the Cubans provided you with dossiers on 40 individuals they described as “elements linked to terrorism.” They gave your agents their physical descriptions, pseudonyms, relatives, known associates and home and work addresses and phone numbers, as well as details of their various alleged actions against Cuba. Those folks—Pepe Hernandez, Andres Nazario Sargen, Roberto Martin Perez, Guillermo Novo Sampoll, Enrique Bassas, Rolando Borges, Luis Zuñiga, etc., etc., etc.—must now be quaking in their boots at the certain knowledge your agents are on their trail. I’m sure Orlando Bosch, in exilio heaven, is thanking whatever gods that be that he slipped this mortal coil just before your agents smashed down his door—13 years after the fact.
I do realized that Luis Posada Carriles—one of those singled out by the Cubans as the mastermind of the 1997 Havana hotel bombing campaign that killed one man and wounded 12 others—was indeed charged in the United States. But it was just for lying on his immigration application rather than for the bombings themselves (or for his alleged role in the 1976 Cubana Airlines bombing that killed 73 people and for which he is still wanted by Venezuelan authorities).
We all know, of course, what happened with that particular prosecution. Posada was acquitted on all counts. Last night, they even held a ceremony in Hialeah, Florida, to present him with the keys to the city. I’m guessing there are no more “pending or prospective” Posada court appearances.
But perhaps there are others I don’t know about. Far be it from me to want to interfere with a “pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding”—no matter how belated.
That said, I’m sure if you rummage through the material I requested—the material that now exists that didn’t previously exist—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.
Perhaps the best starting point would be for you to provide me with an itemized list of everything that’s in the file—the one that now exists that didn’t previously exist—along with an explanation of what specifically makes each item exempt from disclosure “pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A).” And we can go from there.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.