Ex-US Ambassador Accused of Spying for Cuba Reveals Clandestine Tradecraft

US federal prosecutors accuse Victor Manuel Rocha, former US Ambassador to Bolivia, of working as a Cuban spy for more than four decades in what could be one of the longest known betrayals in US espionage history. Rocha has pleaded not guilty.

Retired American Ambassador Manuel Rocha shared his espionage tradecraft tips with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a Cuban intelligence officer during a year-long sting operation that led to Rocha’s arrest in December 2023.

According to Miami court papers, Rocha, now in his 70s, traveled to a meeting outside the First Miami Presbyterian Church after completing a Surveillance Detection Route (SDR) - taking a longer, indirect, circuitous route to the church and stopping at a location for several minutes to observe the meeting place from a safe distance. 

At the start of the meeting, Rocha guided the undercover FBI agent to an outdoor food court explaining that the 'low-level' employees who ate there weren't likely to recognize him. At another point, Rocha allegedly explained that Havana’s Direccion - a reference to Cuba’s General Directorate of Intelligence - asked him to lead a ‘normal’ life so Rocha adopted the ‘legend’ of a right-wing person.

Rocha also arranged to use a Colombian Pesos bill as a 'parole' at the next meeting to ensure operational security. A parole is a password, recognition phrase, or item used between an agent and his handler - or between intelligence officers - as a security protocol.

US federal prosecutors accuse Manuel Rocha of spying for Cuba since 1981

Ex-US Ambassador Accused of Spying for Cuba Reveals Clandestine Tradecraft

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US federal prosecutors accuse Victor Manuel Rocha, former US Ambassador to Bolivia, of working as a Cuban spy for more than four decades in what could be one of the longest known betrayals in US espionage history. Rocha has pleaded not guilty.

Retired American Ambassador Manuel Rocha shared his espionage tradecraft tips with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a Cuban intelligence officer during a year-long sting operation that led to Rocha’s arrest in December 2023.

According to Miami court papers, Rocha, now in his 70s, traveled to a meeting outside the First Miami Presbyterian Church after completing a Surveillance Detection Route (SDR) - taking a longer, indirect, circuitous route to the church and stopping at a location for several minutes to observe the meeting place from a safe distance. 

At the start of the meeting, Rocha guided the undercover FBI agent to an outdoor food court explaining that the 'low-level' employees who ate there weren't likely to recognize him. At another point, Rocha allegedly explained that Havana’s Direccion - a reference to Cuba’s General Directorate of Intelligence - asked him to lead a ‘normal’ life so Rocha adopted the ‘legend’ of a right-wing person.

Rocha also arranged to use a Colombian Pesos bill as a 'parole' at the next meeting to ensure operational security. A parole is a password, recognition phrase, or item used between an agent and his handler - or between intelligence officers - as a security protocol.

US federal prosecutors accuse Manuel Rocha of spying for Cuba since 1981

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FBI counterintelligence operation

The FBI team secretly taped the former US diplomat using audio and video recordings during a series of meetings in 2022 and 2023, court documents show.

Rocha was born in Colombia around 1950 and became a naturalized US citizen. From around November 1981, he was employed by the US Department of State and served as a political military affairs officer at the US Embassy in Honduras, among his many other roles in Mexico, Argentina, and Bolivia. He also served on the White House's National Security Council in the mid-90s and worked for the US Department of State in Havana in 1995-1997. `

In addition to being an adviser to the Commander of the US military's Southern Command from 2006 to 2012, Rocha was a member of Henry Kissinger's International Council on Terrorism and served on the advisory board of the Cuba Transition Project of the University of Miami.

“Victor Manuel Rocha served as an agent of the Cuban government and sought out and obtained positions within the United States government that would provide him with access to non-public information and the ability to affect US foreign policy,” Justice Department Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said. “This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent."

Rocha was charged with multiple federal crimes including acting as an illegal foreign agent and using a fraudulently obtained passport. Rocha was 73 years old and living in Miami at the time of his arrest in 2023. The federal complaint alleges Rocha traveled outside the US to meet with Cuban intelligence operatives; and made false and misleading statements to obtain travel documents.

Rocha isn't the only high-profile American to be accused of spying for Cuba. Until her arrest in 2001, Ana Belén Montes used her position at the Defense Intelligence Agency to funnel classified documents to Cuba and served 20 years in prison. Walter Kendall Myers, a former US State Department employee, was indicted on charges of spying for Cuba for nearly 30 years. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010.

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