The handicap of working for Cuba

The Supreme Court’s refusal June 15 to review the case of the Cuban Five, whose original trial began in November 2000, invites comparisons of their sentences with those handed out to others with convictions relating to espionage, especially involving countries other than Cuba.

Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino, Fernando González and René González were arrested and jailed on Sept. 12, 1998. They had volunteered to monitor private groups in southern Florida that for decades had organized violent attacks against the Cuban people. An airliner had been brought down, hotels bombed and, according to the Cuban government, over 3,400 people killed.

Charges the men entered the country illegally and failed to register as foreign agents were uncontested. Two men so charged, René González and Fernando González, received 15 and 19 years respectively.

Three others, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino and Gerardo Hernandez, were also convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage ― but, importantly, not of espionage. Hernandez was also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder ― but not of murder. The three men share four life sentences.

At their trial, high U.S. military and intelligence officials testified that the five men caused no harm to U.S. interests, did not steal documents, did not infiltrate U.S. agencies and did not work at U.S. facilities. They exclusively targeted private Cuban-American foes of the Cuban government, appropriately described as paramilitaries.

The political character of the prosecution, trial and cruel sentencing of the Cuban Five becomes clear through comparisons. Their fate, for example, differed sharply from that of five other Cuban agents who had also monitored terrorist preparations in Miami. When arrested along with the so-called Cuban Five, they pled guilty. Eventually they served prison sentences ranging from three-and-a-half to seven years.

They avoided a trial and hoopla and subsequently returned to Cuba. In the case of the Cuban Five, the opportunity to stage a judicial extravaganza with Cuba’s revolutionary government in the dock made all the difference.

Comparisons with the sentencing of real spies, those who did more than conspire, are also instructive. Sentencing of the latter group was far milder than that of the Five, even though they targeted the U.S. government itself rather than the privatized proxy warriors investigated by the jailed Cubans.

A federal judge, for example, fined Ben-Ami Kadish $50,000 on May 29 for conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of Israel. He admitted to transferring classified documents to an Israeli agent between 1980 and 1985.

Early this month the U.S. government dropped charges against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, accused four years ago of providing Israeli diplomats with sensitive information.

In 2006 Lawrence A. Franklin was sentenced to 12 years in prison for leaking classified documents to an Israeli diplomat, although he remained free pending appeal. Last week a judge reduced his sentence to probation plus 10 months in home confinement.

Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi worked for Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service spying on Iraqi exiles. He served three years and 10 months in prison for acting as a non-registered foreign agent.

Former FBI intelligence analyst Leonardo Aragoncillo took 736 secret documents from the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department to keep the Philippine government informed. He received 10 years for espionage.

American citizen José Padilla was sentenced to 17 years and four months for conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to aid terrorists.

Former State department official Donald W. Keyser was sentenced to a year in jail and fined $25,000 for illegally possessing secret documents, communicating with a Taiwanese intelligence officer and lying to investigators.

Analyst Ana Belen Montes was caught spying at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. She pled guilty and received a 25-year jail sentence. That relatively harsh treatment perhaps stemmed from her having spied for Cuba.