The Toll of a Terrorist

By Eugene Robinson
Friday, May 13, 2005

It's been more than a month since a man portrayed in FBI files as a veteran terrorist entered the United States illegally, according to his lawyer. Yet the Bush administration -- which took about two nanoseconds to scramble fighter jets and evacuate half of official Washington the other day over a wayward Cessna -- still hasn't summoned the curiosity to even look for the guy.

So much for our post-Sept. 11 policy of zero tolerance of terrorism.

So much for a family in New York whose shining star this man allegedly blew out of the heavens.

The man in question is Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile who has spent most of his life vainly trying to topple or terminate Fidel Castro. Declassified FBI and CIA documents released by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research organization at George Washington University, make clear that U.S. authorities have suspected Posada of an act of mass murder -- the 1976 in-flight bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner that killed 73 people -- since day one, or at least day two.

Barely 24 hours after the disaster, the FBI was told by a well-connected source that Posada and a confederate "had engineered the bombing." There's no tone of surprise in the cable, because by then the FBI was quite familiar with "Bambi" Posada. The documents offer a retrospective of his long career in the shadows.

In 1964, three years after the Bay of Pigs fiasco supposedly ended talk of invading Cuba, Posada spent three months in Polk City, Fla., training with other exiles for a stillborn invasion that he believed "had U.S. government tolerance," according to an FBI memo. In 1965, sources told the FBI, Posada spent part of the year plotting to blow up a Cuban ship in Mexico and the rest scheming to overthrow the Guatemalan government.

For much of this time he worked for the CIA, at one point being paid $300 a month; one CIA document says he became "of operational interest" in April 1965. His last contact with Langley was in June 1976, four months before the airliner bombing. Later he turned up requisitioning uniforms for the Nicaraguan contras, part of Oliver North's illegal supply line.

From other sources we know that he is accused of mounting a string of hotel bombings in Havana -- one Italian tourist was killed -- and at least one serious plot to assassinate Castro.

Now he's hiding somewhere in the United States, perhaps in the Miami area. His attorney says Posada, who does not lack chutzpah, is applying for political asylum here on the grounds that the people he has tried so hard to kill might now turn around and try to kill him.

Before ruling on Bambi's application, the Bush administration ought to send someone to Long Island to talk to Roseanne Nenninger. Her brother was on that Cuban air liner.

The flight was a milk run from Guyana to Cuba, with stops at various Caribbean islands along the way. Its passengers were mostly Cubans but included 11 Guyanese, among them a young man named Raymond Persaud.

He was just 19, and in a family that valued education -- the father, Charles Persaud, was headmaster at a school -- his promise was unlimited. There wasn't enough money to send him to universities in the United States, so when he won a scholarship to study medicine in Cuba, the Persaud family was thrilled.

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