Top Cuban lawmaker says detained U.S. contractor is a spy

By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 7, 2010

MEXICO CITY -- The leader of the Cuban parliament on Wednesday accused a U.S. government contractor arrested in December of being a spy for American intelligence agencies.

Statements by Cuba's legislative leader, Ricardo Alarcón, may represent a hardening of the communist government's position on the detainee, who Alarcón said was still under investigation and had not yet been charged.

The detainee, an American citizen who was working for a Bethesda-based aid organization called Development Alternatives Inc. on contract for the U.S. Agency for International Development, is being held in Havana.

According to U.S. officials, congressional sources and others, the detainee was in Cuba on a tourist visa and was distributing cellphones, computer disks, thumb drives and satellite communications technology to members of the Cuban pro-democracy movement, including dissidents, bloggers and activists.

"There is a new institution in the United States which is made up of agents, torturers and spies that are contracted as part of the privatization of war," Alarcón said, according to a report from the Associated Press in Havana. "This is a man who was contracted to do work for American intelligence services."

Analysts speculated that the Cuban government may use the contractor as a diplomatic pawn.

"If the contractor was engaged in nothing more than innocent wrongdoing, I could imagine the U.S. government raising hell and pressing vociferously for his release," said Wayne Smith, a former U.S. diplomat in Cuba who is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington. "But the U.S. has been very quiet, which suggests he was up to some hanky-panky."

In a recent speech, Cuban leader Raúl Castro, who took over for his ailing older brother Fidel, said, "The enemy is as active as ever. A case in point is the detention in recent days of a U.S. citizen, euphemistically labeled as a government 'contractor' in statements by State Department spokesmen, who was devoting himself to the illegal distribution of sophisticated satellite communications equipment to 'civil society' groups that they hope to set up against our people."

The Cuban government continues to press for the release of the "Cuban Five," intelligence agents convicted and sentenced in the United States after they infiltrated Cuban exile organizations hostile to the Castro government and sought access to information at U.S. military bases.

The USAID contractor was arrested Dec. 4 at the Havana airport as he prepared to board an international flight. The State Department and his employer have declined to reveal his name or describe his work in detail, except to say that he was working on a USAID contract designed to promote democracy in Cuba. Officials from the U.S. Interests Section did not see the contractor until Dec. 28.

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