In June 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported that China would build up an electronic eavesdropping base in Cuba. However, some descriptions indicate that the Asian Giant had already had a SIGINT facility on the island since 2019. The existence of a Chinese base next to the United States would accelerate the espionage competition between Washington and Beijing.
CUBAN INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY’S CAPABILITIES:
Cuba is well known for its exotic weather, its products, and its revolutionary history. However, it is unknown to many people that Cuba possesses high capabilities in intelligence and espionage. In the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution (1959), the Czech Intelligence Agency trained in Cuba in intelligence and covert operations. But when the invasion of the Bay of Pigs took place in 1961, the Soviets started to train the Cubans becoming the main sponsor of the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence, known worldwide as G-2.
The cooperation between the KGB and G-2 benefited both sides during the cold war. On the one hand, the Soviets could use Cuba as a base of operations to conduct espionage activities against the United States. Both intelligence communities had a complex for Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) in Lourdes, a small town 60 miles away from Havana and 93 miles away from Key West, Florida to conduct electronic surveillance against the United States. The base was shot down in 2002, but there are some reports that Russia started to use it against in 2014 due to the Crimean crisis. On the other hand, the G-2 benefited from the KGB because it helped the Cubans to conduct covert operations in the Americas and the Third World.
During the sixties, Cuban Intelligence Services provided multiple guerrilla movements in the Americas in order to ensure the spread of revolutionary values in the continent. However, that strategy was unsuccessful because of a lack of progress of the guerrillas and criticism from the Soviet Union, which considered this kind of activity “adventurism”. Thence, Havana started to apply a different strategy, covert statecraft. It consists of penetrating high levels of a foreign government to achieve your geopolitical goals.
Its first attempt at Soviet statecraft took place in Chile during the leadership of Salvador Allende (1970-1973). Fidel Castro was always critical of Allende’s way to Socialism, so he encouraged the Chilean to promote more radical reforms in order to influence him. Nonetheless, these policies never took place because of Pinochet’s coup d’état on September 11th, 1973. After that, Cuba concentrated its efforts on promoting covert operations by aiding African liberation movements such as the MPLA in Angola.
Furthermore, the Cubans were capable to conduct espionage activities in the United States. Since the days of the revolution, Fidel Castro dispatched several spies on American soil to monitor US government activities, monitor Cuban exiles and also, recruited American officials to conduct espionage for the Cuban regime. One of them was Ana Montes, who sent classified information to Havana during her tenure as an intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 pushed Cuba into an economic recession which was named as Special Period. It put the island in a harsh crisis, which almost compromised Fidel Castro’s rule. However, the rise of Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela in 1999 brought Cuba opportunities to survive. Hence, Castro decided to apply once more the Soviet tactic of covert statecraft, in which Cuba penetrated Venezuelan ken departments such as the Armed Forces, Law Enforcement Agencies, and its Intelligence Community in order to ensure the effective domain of the country. Nowadays, Venezuela’s decision-making process is under the Cuban Intelligence Community‘s control.
The overthrow of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 incentivized the Cuban regime to rapprochement all nations within the Communist sphere. China was one the closest partners of the island during the first years of Castro’s dictatorship. Mao Zedong dispatch military and intelligence advisors to train the newly created Cuban Intelligence Community. Nonetheless, Cuba’s complete alignment with the USSR in the late sixties generated ideological conflicts with Beijing, but both governments kept cordial diplomatic relations until the late eighties.
During the Special Period, Beijing and Havana began distension to promote a pragmatic relationship to consolidate trade exchange between nations. As a result, the exchange of goods and services between both countries increased. According to official sources, the value of Cuban exports to China was near zero. By 2010, both countries agreed on the establishment of 70 development assistance projects, a combination of grants and low-interest loans.
In 2013, China launched the Belt and Route Initiative (BRI) and several countries joined this project. Cuba was one of them. In 2018, President Miguel Diaz Canel incorporated his government into the BRI and they have signed several bilateral agreements in order to expand the cooperation between both nations. In 2021, they signed a cooperation agreement to promote Chinese investments throughout the island in order to mitigate the effects of the Cuban economic crisis.
CHINESE ESPIONAGE IN THE UNITED STATES
The United States has suffered multiple attempts of espionage and covert activities from multiple powers, and China is no exception. The Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) indicates that the cases of Chinese espionage on American soil have been increasing since 2000, reporting 224 cases, half of them, involving cyber espionage. When Edward Snowden released the US digital surveillance system, China accused the United States is an “Empire of Hacking” which uses its capabilities to promote insurrections and destabilize governments overseas.
All Chinese intelligence operations are conducted by the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and several departments inside the People’s Liberation Army. The functions of the MSS are secret, which doesn’t even have an official website. China has applied different methods to conduct covert operations inside the United States. Some of them are penetrating the US state apparatus, recruiting agents inside the government, and using new technologies.
Cyberattacks have been the most common practice of the Chinese against the United States for the last few years. In 2010, Google reported a cyberattack perpetrated by Chinese hackers, a penetration threatening military, economic, and industrial sectors. In 2014, five Chinese agents were indicted after being accused of hacking and stealing intellectual property. The most recent case of Chinese hacking was in March 2023 after Google reported attacks against private networks.
Furthermore, some people committed acts of espionage for China on American soil. In 2016, Edward Lin, an American-Taiwanese in the navy, was arrested by the US authorities for espionage before taking a flight to China. Another example of Chinese spying in America was Szuhsiung “Allen” Ho, who was accused of stealing nuclear secrets.
The use of balloons above the US in February 2023 has become the most innovative method of espionage of the Chinese Government. Some experts considered that capability as a “gross violation of sovereignty”. Unlike satellites, spying balloons possess high-tech sensors, which can intercept radio, cellular and other communications that cannot be taken from outer space.
THE CHINESE BASE IN CUBA
In June 2023, it was reported that China and Cuba signed a secret agreement to set up an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island. The location of this facility seems to be in Bejucal, 26km from Havana. Nonetheless, the Biden Administration informed that the Chinese Intelligence Community has already been possessing a spy base in Cuba since 2019. The White House also warned that the tenure of the base just 100 miles away from Florida will allow the Chinese to intercept electronic communications in the United States, especially in the South where several military bases are situated.
When the announcement came out on June 9th, 2023, the Cuban regime immediately dismissed that claim, considering it “totally mendacious and unfounded” and another excuse from the Americans to keep the embargo against the island. The Chinese government on the contrary, has not entirely denied this accusation, the foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing stated that “We are not aware of the case and as a result, we can’t give a comment right now.” Two days later, a spokesperson from the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs commented that the American accusations were slander and that Washington has the best hacking capabilities in the world in order to disregard Biden Administration’s arguments.
Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal leaked on June 20th, 2023, a report which informed secret negotiations between China and Cuba in order to build up this new espionage base. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken raised his concern about this issue remarking that this new intelligence facility on the island is a response from China to the increasing number of US military troops in Asia through a growing influence in the Western Hemisphere.
The existence of a Chinese base in the Caribbean represents a direct threat to the United States because of two reasons. On the one hand, the fact that two of their adversaries, Russia and China have spying bases in a country in front of its shores, the risk of leaks and interception of secret communications increases. On the other hand, the US hegemony in the Americas could be undermined due to the increasing presence of other powers in its backyard.
The growing competition between Washington and Beijing has forced the latter to look for different methods to ensure an efficient espionage network in order to have information on its adversary. China’s alliance with Cuba, together with the latter’s expertise in intelligence, has helped the Asian giant to build an electronic eavesdropping to improve its espionage capabilities against the United States.
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