Special Report from the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism
With wars raging in the Middle East, and Russia still threatening Ukraine, the problem of anti-Americanism in Latin America has been put on the back burner. But since Secretary of State John Kerry declared last year that the Monroe Doctrine was dead, Vladimir Putin of Russia has traveled to Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and Cuba. This doesn’t seem like an accident. The Obama administration is inviting aggression against the U.S.
During the Cold War, Cuba hosted Soviet nuclear missiles targeting the U.S., and the Castro regime sponsored terrorism on American soil carried out by such groups as the Weather Underground and the Puerto Rican FALN. Cuba continues to protect anti-American terrorists on the island such as Joanne Chesimard, a cop-killer who fled the U.S. with the help of the Weather Underground.
None of this bothers Putin, of course. And Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is talking about establishing new military bases in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Russia’s clout in the region has dramatically increased, while American influence has declined. Again, this doesn’t seem like an accident.
The Monroe Doctrine was supposed to protect U.S. national security interests in the Western hemisphere by prohibiting foreign meddling in America’s backyard. Putin seems to share Kerry’s belief that this national security doctrine is dead.
President Obama made sure that the CIA was taken out of the business of destabilizing anti-American regimes in the hemisphere. Now, limited democracy-promotion programs in Cuba, financed by the U.S. and mandated by Congress, are coming in for strong criticism from the Associated Press (AP) news organization.
The media campaign has all the earmarks of a political influence operation whose ultimate goal is to get the U.S. out of the “regime change” business, even when the regime being changed is a dictatorship that oppresses its people and poses a military threat to the U.S.
The context is important: President Obama has been cordial to Cuban dictator Raul Castro, greeting him warmly at the Nelson Mandela memorial service in South Africa. It is clear that his heart (and much of his “progressive” base) is with the idea of normalizing relations with the Cuban regime.
But Congress has had other ideas. It is not so enamored with the communist dictatorship, and mandated that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) establish programs to give Cubans a chance to enjoy such things as freedom of the press and access to information, so that they can understand and appreciate the rights that have been denied them. Now, all of these programs are in jeopardy.
Interestingly, a key source for the controversial AP stories—which portray the USAID programs as sinister—is former top CIA analyst and John Kerry aide, Fulton Armstrong.
The AP allegations against U.S. efforts to foster democracy in Cuba have played into Castro’s hands, and may have been designed that way all along. They became front-page news in Granma, the organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, which cited the “American press” as saying that the USAID had been caught engaging in “subversive actions in Cuba.” The charge is typical communist propaganda.
Unfortunately, media coverage benefiting Castro is not new. “In revealing U.S. operations in Cuba and presenting the communist Cuban regime as a victim of U.S. intrusion,” says analyst Toby Westerman, “the AP is following the pro-Communist, anti-freedom example of Herbert Matthews, The New York Times correspondent who gave invaluable publicity to Castro and his guerrillas in the early days of his revolution.”
He adds, “The AP misinforms its readers. The AP does a disservice to those who are risking their lives to resist Communist oppression in Cuba, and it completely ignores the Cuban regime’s espionage offensive against the United States as well as against the Cuban people. As such the AP gives a distorted picture of what the United States is attempting to do in Cuba, and why.”
The Cuban Spy
One reason that Armstrong now finds himself under attack for his role in the AP stories is his own controversial link to one of Castro’s spies, Ana Montes, now serving a 25-year sentence for espionage in a U.S. prison. However, Armstrong told AIM that he rejects the “slanderous” attacks on his own character and defends his involvement in the AP stories.
In attacking Armstrong’s role in the AP stories, the Capitol Hill Cubans blog says that during his time at the CIA, “Armstrong authored, together with his former colleague at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes,” a report that argued that “Cuba no longer posed a security threat to the United States.” It was “prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in coordination with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the National Security Agency, and the United States Southern Command Joint Intelligence Center…”
The 1997 report was the subject of a New York Times story headlined, “A Pentagon Report Now Belittles the Menace Posed by Cuba.”
Montes spied for Cuba for 16 years and pled guilty in 2002.
Armstrong told AIM, “If by ‘colleague’ you mean someone in the same interagency group focused on Cuba as she, then I was among the several dozen people from a wide range of agencies [who] were her ‘colleagues.’”
He said he never “co-authored” a report with Montes and that “She drafted the famous Cuba threat paper during the period that I was Deputy National Intelligence Officer—and one of my responsibilities was to shepherd it through interagency coordination. The draft was very weak and was heavily rewritten by representatives of all 15 agencies at the table. All 15 agencies endorsed the rewritten paper without reservation.”
Armstrong served as the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, a position that earned him the title of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s most senior analyst for this region of the world. At the time of Armstrong’s tenure at the CIA, the agency was accused of nonchalance toward anti-American political trends in Latin America and the emergence of an international communist network that includes not only the countries recently visited by Putin, but Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Uruguay.
The governments of several of these countries have been directly implicated in the narcotics trafficking partly blamed for causing the flood of illegal aliens into the U.S.
Venezuela and Bolivia kicked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) out of their countries, while Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal was indicted by U.S. officials on charges of protecting drug shipments from the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Cuba is currently hosting “peace talks” between the FARC and the Colombian government, which could allow the terrorist group to emerge as a legitimate political party.
This continues a revolutionary policy that was documented in the 1990 book, Red Cocaine, by Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., a highly respected intelligence analyst. He had examined how flooding the U.S. with drugs has been a major objective of the Soviet Union and its satellites for decades.
Fulton Armstrong’s Boss John Kerry
Fulton Armstrong was Senior Advisor for Latin America at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 2008 to October 2011, and served under its chairman, then-Senator John Kerry (D-MA), now the U.S. Secretary of State.
Kerry served in the Vietnam War, only to turn against the war and stand accused of aiding the enemy when he ran for president in 2004. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking defector from the former Soviet bloc, described Kerry as a dupe who parroted communist disinformation about the U.S. military effort to keep South Vietnam free from communism.
He was confirmed as Secretary of State in a vote of 94 to 3, with three Republicans—Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Sen. John Cornyn (TX), and Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK)—voting against him.
Not selected to join Kerry at the State Department because of his controversial views and background, Armstrong is currently a research fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University. He seems to spend some of his time advising the media on how to cover Cuba.
The ongoing AP series of articles on alleged “secret American political activity in Cuba under the Obama administration” refers to democracy-promotion programs mandated by Congress to foster citizen activism and political awareness on the communist-controlled island.
Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, says, “The programs’ fundamental goal remains to break through the Castro regime’s control of information that isolates the Cuban people and keeps them in bondage.”
But the AP, using Armstrong as one of its sources, portrayed the programs as sinister.
Over the years Armstrong has earned the criticism of many dedicated to a free Cuba.
Cuban-born journalist Humberto Fontova said Armstrong was among a group of U.S. intelligence analysts who “were heavily influenced by a Castro spy and were parroting ‘intelligence estimates’ authored by this spy and planted by Castro.”
Montes was recruited by Marta Rita Velazquez, once a legal officer at the Agency for International Development. Velazquez, who introduced Montes to a Cuban intelligence officer posing as a Cuban diplomat at the United Nations, was charged with espionage in 2004 in an indictment that was only unsealed last year. She is believed to be living in Sweden and married to a Swedish government official.
Both Montes and Velazquez are natives of Puerto Rico, a U.S territory the Castro regime has always claimed was occupied by American imperialists, and which led to Cuban sponsorship of the FALN terrorist group. Montes was a staunch Catholic, perhaps of the liberation theology variety.
An FBI summary of the Montes case says she was the “top Cuban analyst” for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and “was known throughout the U.S. intelligence community for her expertise.” It said she “was leaking classified U.S. military information and deliberately distorting the government’s views on Cuba.”
The phrase “distorting the government’s views on Cuba” is a reference to her acting as an agent of influence.
After noting that he worked for the CIA and that Montes worked for the DIA, Armstrong told AIM, “As far as I am aware, not one of the dozens of IC [Intelligence Community] professionals with whom Montes interacted suspected she was a spy. We were all deeply shocked by her arrest. After her arrest, a couple people claimed to have had suspicions—based apparently on their disagreement with her criticism of aspects of U.S. policy—but those individuals obviously failed to report their concerns and supporting evidence to their respective security officers.”
Suspicions About Montes
In fact, the FBI report says, “Her downfall began in 1996, when an astute DIA colleague—acting on a gut feeling—reported to a security official that he felt Montes might be under the influence of Cuban intelligence. The official interviewed her, but she admitted nothing.”
The report goes on: “The security officer filed the interview away until four years later, when he learned that the FBI was working to uncover an unidentified Cuban agent operating in Washington. He contacted the Bureau with his suspicions. After a careful review of the facts, the FBI opened an investigation.”
DIA counter-intelligence investigators involved in the case included Scott W. Carmichael, author of True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba’s Master Spy, and Chris S. Simmons, founder of the Cuba Confidential blog.
The Carmichael book says that Armstrong “was in frequent telephone and e-mail contact” with Montes and tried to get her placed at the National Intelligence Council (NIC), where she would have had “super access” to intelligence information. It says Armstrong tried to get her into the NIC by obtaining a waiver from a freeze on DIA analysts moving into other high-level positions. Montes was reportedly on “a first-name basis” with Armstrong.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton was so concerned about Armstrong that he had sought, in his previous role as an undersecretary of state, to have him reassigned. But many top CIA officials defended Armstrong.
The controversy over Armstrong’s involvement in the AP stories about democracy programs in Cuba comes as American aid worker Alan Gross remains a hostage in Cuba. He was taken prisoner by the Castro dictatorship in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison on trumped up spying charges. Gross had been trying to facilitate citizen efforts to bypass the Cuban regime for news and information using the Internet. He is apparently being used as leverage and ransom for the release of remaining members of the “Cuban Five” spy apparatus in prison in the U.S.—and perhaps Montes herself.
On the charge that he worked with the AP to discredit the Cuba democracy programs, Armstrong said, “AP’s reports seem mostly based on documentary evidence provided by insiders concerned about the regime-change programs, as well as on interviews with many people in Washington, Miami, Cuba and Central America.”
But the Capitol Hill Cubans blog says, “Note each chapter in the collaboration is written by the same team of AP reporters and they all stem from information dating back to 2009-2011, while Armstrong was still at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
The AP team includes Desmond Butler, Jack Gillum, Alberto Arce and Andrea Rodriguez.
Armstrong confirmed that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had investigated what he called “these scandalously run covert-action programs during my tenure on the Committee staff, and because my boss [Senator Kerry] was concerned enough to put a hold on the programs for a while, I was logically among the dozens of people to be called by the reporters.”
But he denies he helped “prepare” the stories.
Top Democrat Rejects Kerry Effort
At the time Senator Kerry temporarily stopped the programs, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) said, “I respect Chairman Kerry’s right to disagree about U.S. policy toward Cuba, but firmly believe that we should be able to unite around a shared goal of supporting human rights activists, democracy activists, independent journalists and economists, and others struggling to create peaceful change in their country.”
Menendez is now chairman of the committee and was the subject of an alleged Cuban intelligence disinformation campaign using the conservative Daily Caller to discredit his reputation. Tucker Carlson, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller, rejects the charges.
Defending the substance of the AP allegations, Armstrong said there are “professionals” in the State Department, USAID and in their “partner” organizations “who have long been concerned about the nature, purpose, and lack of transparency with the programs.”
In response, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, issued a statement declaring, “That USAID is using measures to promote democracy in Cuba is no secret. We have to keep the pressure on the Castro regime and continue to support the Cuban people, who live under oppression every day.”
She said she would like to see the media devote more effort to covering human rights violations in Cuba by the Castro regime “rather than manipulate the coverage of programs promoting freedom of expression and justice.”
But it appears that the AP and its sources have other ideas.
“The Associated Press cannot be trusted when reporting on Cuba,” analyst Westerman concludes.