FBI swoops on `Cuban spies'

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TEN CUBAN exiles, including two women, were charged in Miami yesterday with running a sophisticated spy network for President Fidel Castro, trying to penetrate military bases of the US Southern Command and disrupting the many anti-Castro exile groups in Miami.

The FBI said the 10 had been planning a major covert action against United States interests but declined to give details. One of the suspects had taken a job inside the Boca Chica naval air station in Key West, less than 100 miles from Cuba. Others had tried to penetrate the MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Florida. The US Southern Command runs American military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

All 10 exiles were charged in a federal court with "espionage on behalf of the government of Cuba", conspiracy, and "operating illegally as foreign agents", for which they could face life in jail. The FBI revealed their code names and displayed sophisticated equipment, including high-frequency radios and computers which they allegedly used to send reports back to President Castro's intelligence services.

The US prosecutor Tom Scott said the alleged agents had planned to "strike at the very heart of our democratic system".

Cuban exiles said the spy ring had apparently infiltrated the Brothers to the Rescue group, an organisation of pilots who fly light aircraft over the Florida Straits to look for refugees on rafts fleeing Cuba's Communist regime.

The group is best known for an incident in February 1996 in which two of its aircraft were shot down by Cuban MiG fighters. The four pilots and co-pilots, all Cuban-Americans, were killed. Brothers to the Rescue believed the Castro government had advance knowledge of flight plans from a Cuban agent.