Cuba-US relations: President Obama welcomes home a spy whose ‘sacrifice has been known to only a few’

The mystery agent's information led to the discovery of some of Cuba’s most prolific operatives in the US, including a former State Department official

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This much is known about  the Cuban man who spied for the United States and was released on Wednesday in the historic prisoner swap between the US and Cuba: he had access to closely held intelligence information at the highest levels of the Cuban government.

His information was so good, officials said, that it helped American authorities ferret out a number of Cuban spies in the United States, including two senior US government officers who were among Cuba’s most prolific operatives.

The spy, whom American officials declined to name, spent nearly 20 years in prison after he was caught.

President Barrack Obama said his “sacrifice has been known to only a few,” and called him “one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba.”

The man is now “safely on our shores,” Mr Obama said, along with Alan Gross, the American aid contractor also released on Wednesday. Their swap came as Mr Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced steps to fully normalise relations between their countries.

Officials said many details about the spy in Cuba remain classified.

According to Brian Hale, spokesman for the director of national intelligence, the spy’s information helped lead to the prosecution of Ana Belén Montes, a former senior Defence Intelligence Agency analyst who is serving a life sentence after spying for Cuba for 17 years; and former State Department official Walter Kendall Myers, serving life after spying for three decades.

President Obama announcing the shift in policy toward Cuba

“I think this is a tremendous gain for the intelligence  community,” said Fran Townsend, a former senior national security official in the George W Bush administration. “This was a very productive asset who was well placed, trusted by the Cuban government and helped us in a number of ways.”

She said it “really is extraordinarily important to ongoing intelligence efforts when  you are able to secure the release of an asset like this. It tells the world we remain loyal, we don’t forget and  we never abandon those who help us.”

The spy also helped the US expose the “Wasp Network,” in Florida, Hale said, a Cuban spy ring that included members of the Cuban Five, the last three of whom were released in exchange for the Cuban spy. Cuba also released 53 other prisoners.


The Cuban Five were convicted in 2001 of being unregistered foreign agents, and three also were found guilty of espionage conspiracy for failed efforts to obtain military secrets from the US Southern Command headquarters.

“In light of his sacrifice on behalf of the United States, securing his release from prison after 20 years – in a swap for three of the Cuban spies he helped put behind bars – is fitting closure to this Cold World chapter of US-Cuban relations,” Hale said.

Three of the Cuban Five – Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero – were sent home to Cuba as part of the swap. Hernandez had been convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of four Miami-based pilots whose small, private planes were shot down on 24 February 1996, by a Cuban MiG in international waters off Cuba’s northern coast.

Montes, who was arrested in September 2001, is considered one of the most damaging spies in recent history, because she had access to – and betrayed – US intelligence activities in Cuba.