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‘It was terrible’: Alan Gross gives first interview after being released from a Cuban prison

Alan Gross (R) speaks with his wife Judy shortly before leaving Havana on December 17, 2014. He was imprisoned for five years on espionage charges.
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It’s been nearly a year since Alan P. Gross was finally released from a Cuban prison. The Maryland man had been there for five years, on charges he was working in Cuba as an American spy instead of a USAID contractor, but was freed thanks to an historic detente between the Cold War foes. American media outlets clamored for interviews, but Gross stayed silent.

Until last night.

In an interview with Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, Gross said the Cubans threatened to rip off his fingernails and hang him. He lost 110 pounds and five teeth due to lack of nutrition. To stay in shape, he walked 10,000 steps in circles inside his cell at the Carlos Finlay Military Hospital in Havana.

Alan Gross’s exclusive interview with Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes”

“It was terrible. There was, it was a time of sensory deprivation for me, especially that first year,” said Gross, wearing a dark suit and red tie. “The place was infested with ants and roaches. I didn’t have any meat, really, for five years.”

Aside from pacing around his cell, Gross also wrote numerous letters home to relatives across the country.

Pelley’s exclusive interview is as interesting for what it includes and for what it omits. Gross said he was sent to Cuba multiple times by the USAID to set up Internet connections for Cuba’s Jewish community. And Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who helped secure his release, told Pelley that Gross’s work looked very much like the kind of thing the Cubans were accusing him of: spying.

“Well, they’re not a spy agency,” Leahy said of the USAID. “So they shouldn’t do things that make it look like that and I think it was a disservice to all the men and women who work so well for our country with USAID around the world.”

Why didn’t Pelley or his producers interview anyone at USAID, especially Gross’s superiors? And if the reporters tried, why didn’t they at least tell viewers?

Other questions lingered after Pelley’s interview wrapped up: Did Gross ever discover how the Cubans found out what he was doing? Did someone at one of the synagogues rat him out? Or did the Cubans figure it out on their own by spying on the congregations Gross was trying to aid?