FBI: FIU couple spied for Cuba.
Posted on Tue, Jan. 10, 2006
ESPIONAGE CASEFBI: FIU couple spied for CubaThe U.S. government uncovered what it said was a husband-and-wife spy team at Florida International University. The two allegedly spied for Cuba for decades.
BY JAY WEAVER AND NOAH BIERMAN
A Florida International University professor and his wife, an FIU counselor, were accused Monday of operating as covert agents for Cuba's communist government for decades, using shortwave radios, numerical-code language and computer-encrypted files to send information
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton expressed such dismay over the alleged espionage-related history of Carlos M. Alvarez, 61, and his wife, Elsa, 55, that she denied them bond before trial on a charge of failing to register with the federal government as foreign agents. Simonton said she believed that the gravity of the charges -- admitted by the couple last summer to the FBI -- their past academic trips to Cuba and their contacts in Fidel Castro's government made them a flight risk if allowed to return to their South Miami home.
'As a practical matter, these are people who admitted they were spying,' Simonton said. ``They would indeed return to Cuba, rather than face the consequences of their actions here.'
Attorney Steven Chaykin, representing Carlos Alvarez, and lawyer Norman Moscowitz, representing Elsa, said their clients had strong ties to their family and community. The lawyers stressed that the two did not leave the country after admitting their alleged espionage work for the Cuban government months ago.
'There is not a scintilla of evidence . . . that they contemplated leaving' for Cuba, Moscowitz said, noting that his client is in poor health and has to care for her 12-year-old daughter and elderly parents.
Chaykin said neither gave information to Castro intelligence officials that ``in any way endangers the U.S. government or military.'
The indictment, which included no mention of top-secret U.S. government information being disclosed, came months after the couple's confessions because of additional investigative work in the case, interim U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.
The case of the longtime FIU employees marks the biggest Miami spy-related case since 1998, when five men were charged with infiltrating the exile community and laying the groundwork for the shootdown of four Brothers to the Rescue pilots by the Cuban Air Force in 1996.
JAN. 19 ARRAIGNMENT
If convicted of one count of not registering as foreign agents, the Alvarezes could face prison sentences of seven to 10 years. An arraignment is set for Jan. 19. They are being detained at the Miami Federal Detention Center.
FBI agents arrested Alvarez and his wife Friday at their home, valued at about $750,000, which they had hoped to use for bond. An indictment, returned in late December, was unsealed at their two-hour court hearing Monday, which was attended by the couple's four adult children, FIU President Mitch Maidique, a Catholic priest close to the defendants and numerous reporters.
According to an FBI agent and federal prosecutors, the couple transmitted information about Miami's exile community -- including leading groups such as the Cuban American National Foundation and Brothers to the Rescue. They did not send any military or classified information, but they did provide Cuban officials with the identity of an FBI employee who had once been an FIU student of Carlos Alvarez.
Carlos Alvarez is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at FIU who also does psychological screenings of police cadets for the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County police departments.
Elsa Alvarez is a psychological counselor at FIU.
'They used their academic positions as covert covers to spy for the Cuban government,' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier. ``They were living a lie.'
Frazier said Carlos Alvarez had spied for Cuba since 1977 and Elsa Alvarez since 1982. He said that Elsa, Alvarez's second wife, had been independently spying for the Cuban government before she teamed up with her husband.
It was unclear what motivated the two to act as alleged spies for so many years. They were not paid for information they gathered, but Cuba covered their expenses such as travel, lodging and meals, authorities said.
Thanks to a tip, the FBI had been monitoring the couple -- Carlos Alvarez used the alias 'David' and his wife used 'Deborah' -- for months before each gave separate confessions in June and July to agents about their alleged spying activities. The FBI was assisted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Frazier said they admitted to using high- and low-tech methods to communicate with Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence and several of its ``handlers.' Among them: an antenna in their backyard, a shortwave radio, a five-digit code, encrypted computer disks and local post office boxes.
Since the early 1990s, the couple traveled to Cuba several times on U.S.-authorized educational trips, bringing along FIU students, Frazier said. He called the trips a ``pretext to do other things.' The couple also shared information with Cuban intelligence agents in Mexico, South America and the United States, Frazier said.
Frazier said the two were so good at their work that the Cuban government gave them commendations in the 1990s.
The couple's arrests on Friday came as a federal appellate court in Atlanta plans to hear arguments next month in an unrelated Cuban spy case in which five men were convicted of espionage charges. The entire 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will determine whether pretrial publicity tainted the jury pool.
In October, the appellate court threw out a ruling by a three-judge panel that had overturned the 2001 convictions for the so-called Cuban Five on espionage charges.
The decision pleased relatives of four Miami exile pilots fatally shot down over international waters in 1996 by the Cuban Air Force in an alleged plot linked to the spy case. The FBI began targeting the couples' activities in 2001, when the agency installed a hidden microphone in the bedroom of their Miami-Dade home. In the summer of 2005, two FBI agents picked up Carlos Alvarez at a local Publix and took him to a hotel, where he detailed his ''conspiracy'' with Cuban agents. On Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Axelrod, aided by prosecutor Brian Frazier, depicted the Alvarezes in distinctly different roles. Axelrod said Carlos Alvarez's involvement with the Cuba intelligence service began in 1977, noting he gathered information in Miami ``on prominent people, community attitudes, political developments and current events of interest to the Cuban government.'' Among the exiles under surveillance: FIU president Modesto ''Mitch'' Maidique. He declined to comment. Axelrod revealed a web of technology, secrets and cover-ups that would have been presented at trial. ''Alvarez received these instructions through personal meetings, messages written on water-soluble paper, coded pager messages and encrypted electronic communications,'' he told the judge. ``The electronic communications involved shortwave radio messages from the Cuban intelligence service, which Alvarez decrypted using a computer disk.'' Alvarez then gathered the requested information and compiled written reports, which he encrypted using another computer disk. Alvarez signed these reports with his code name, ``David.'' ''Alvarez mailed these reports to various post office boxes in New York,'' then destroyed the evidence, Axelrod said. Communication between Alvarez and his co-conspirators ''ceased'' when the U.S. attorney's office in Miami charged 10 suspects with espionage in the so-called Wasp spy case in 1998. The prosecutor said Elsa Alvarez became aware of her husband's ''conspiracy'' in 1982. He said her role ''helped conceal the true nature of his activities'' -- until July 2005, when she spoke to the FBI. Elsa Alvarez's lawyer, Moscowitz, said her client ``was very concerned for Carlos.''
Una cosa è leggere le illazioni sulle number station pubblicate su libri e siti amatoriali da qualche appassionato cacciatore di frequenze. Un'altra è vedere confermate certe teorie su quotidiani che tirano milioni di copie e soprattutto sui documenti ufficialmente presentati in Corte. Infatti, proprio mentre gli americani discutono sulla reale efficacia della propaganda ufficiale, Carlos ed Elsa sono apparsi poco prima di Natale davanti al giudice per invocare, attraverso una dichiarazione di colpevolezza, una pena meno severa (fino a cinque anni per lui e tre per lei). Sul caso ho trovato una scheda molto completa, piena di link utili, preparata dal Centre for counterintelligence and security studies.
Couple strike plea deal in Castro 'spy' case
A couple who worked at Florida International University pleaded guilty to reduced charges in a Cuban government 'spy' case.
By JAY WEAVER
Almost one year after his arrest jolted Miami, former Florida International University professor Carlos Alvarez pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to be an unregistered agent who informed on the Cuban exile community for the communist government of Fidel Castro. His wife, Elsa, an FIU counselor on leave, also pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami to being aware of his illegal activity, harboring him and failing to disclose it to authorities. The Alvarezes averted a difficult jury trial next month on the more serious, previous charge of being Cuban agents who did not register with the U.S. government, an offense that carries up to 10 years in prison. The plea deals were struck after a judge decided to allow a major piece of incriminating evidence at trial -- Carlos Alvarez's ''confession'' last year to the FBI of his collaboration with Cuban intelligence agents, including use of a home computer, encrypted disks and travel to the island. ''The entire case against Dr. Alvarez came from his own mouth,'' defense lawyer Steven Chaykin said outside the courthouse. He argued that his client told FBI agents ''everything he did'' after they dangled a ''promise'' to leave him alone if he told the truth. Both Chaykin and Elsa Alvarez's lawyer, Jane Moscowitz, stressed to reporters that their clients ''never sought to do any harm to anyone in this community.'' Chaykin said his client was simply trying to work toward lifting the U.S. embargo against Cuba through exchange programs -- an ''idealism'' infused with ''naiveté'' that ''ensnared'' him in the Cuban intelligence service. Prosecutors condemned the Alvarezes' felony activities with Cuba's hostile regime. ''Today's guilty pleas serve as a stark reminder that there are among us some who, while enjoying the freedom and liberty our great nation offers, continue to serve the interests of another master,'' U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said. The plea agreements, approved by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, mean that Carlos Alvarez faces up to five years in prison and his wife, Elsa, up to three years at their sentencing, which is set for Feb. 27. Carlos, who has been held at the Miami Federal Detention Center since his arrest in January, smiled and blew kisses to a half-dozen supporters in the courtroom. His wife, who was released on a $400,000 bond by the judge in June, remained stoic. Alvarez, 61, was a longtime FIU psychology professor who formally resigned on Nov. 22, according to a school spokeswoman. His wife, Elsa, 56, was placed on a leave of absence without pay on Nov. 3. The couple, who have five children, had been on paid administrative leave.
Sui giornali vengono pubblicati i testi delle dichiarazioni di colpevolezza, in particolare là dove si viene a sapere che:
In or about the late 1980's, Carlos Alvarez received training in computer technology (...), including the decryption of incoming radio messages from the Cuban Intelligence Service and the encryption of outgoing written reports.
Questo accadeva venti anni fa, ma le trasmissioni spionistiche sulle onde corte non sono mai cessate. Così come l'uso propagandistico del mezzo, nonostante il venir meno delle condizioni dettate dalla contrapposizione non armata più importante del secolo scorso. Se la radio dev'essere usata per trasmettere colpi bassi, state pur certi: i finanziamenti si troveranno sempre.