Saturday, 12 March 2011

Operation Surf

by Deisy Francis Mexidor, Marina Menéndez and Jean Guy Allard.
Source: Granma International, 10 March 2011.

• Clandestine networks and illegal Internet connections, part of a subversive plot against the island that the CIA has already implemented in other countries • This story recounts the work of men and women in Cuban State Security who, together with other citizens like Cuban Dalexi González Madruga, have confirmed that the intentions of the enemies of the Revolution remain the same: to destroy it.

SEATED at the entry to the little bridge leading to El Cayuelo, Dalexi González Madruga, once again ran over the passwords that he had to give when an unknown person turned up: an expected arrival that, for him, had made sleep hard to come by the previous night.

It was a while after midday and the sun was beating down on his face. He would have liked to have been with the others, enjoying the surfing contest on that part of the Havana coast on the road to Matanzas, near the town of Santa Cruz del Norte. But he couldn’t forget the "magic" words that he had to say when the man approached him.

He was wearing, as instructed, a white T-shirt; Marcos, his neighborhood friend who had been living in Spain for some time and had gotten him into this, almost without consulting him, had more or less told him, "The important thing is a white T-shirt."

Everything had started in January 2007, about 12 months before. At that point, Marcos only told him that a friend would be coming to see him. "Listen to him, he’s coming to help you." He silently wondered how a foreigner could help him.

He thought that it was just another of Marcos’ things. He had changed so much since moving to Spain, telling him that he was into cell phones etc. Lately, it was almost only their shared devotion to technology and business that sustained their friendship.

It never occurred to Dalexi that Marcos would send him a person as weird as the one who knocked on his door.

It was all a matter of strange questions when the visitor, Robert Guerra – as he introduced himself without looking at him directly – arrived. The first thing that caught Dalexi’s attention was the question as to whether, from his flat roof on a hill in La Víbora (a Havana district) he could make out the U.S. Interests Section. He didn’t like that question.

Just in case he thought that he was being very clear as to his allegiances upon curtly replying, "No, what is clearly visible from my roof is the Russian embassy."

But Guerra didn’t understand… or that wasn’t enough. He spoke clear and fluent Spanish but with a foreign accent and Dalexi felt so overwhelmed by the alarming significance of his conversation that he didn’t even ask him his nationality. He quickly realized that there was something more than merely technical questions behind the visit.

The conversation was laced with double meanings which did not pass unnoticed by a telecommunications engineer like Dalexi.

Talking freely, both Guerra and Marcos confided to him that earlier, they had toured various hotels, checking the state of their wireless Internet connections as part of a study. This prompted more suspicions in his mind, given that it was a matter of a foreigner who looked like a tourist. Why was that man so interested in how Cubans surfed the net?

Later, it was Guerra’s insistence on talking about how to obtain easy Internet access which, of course, is everyone’s dream in a country like Cuba, surrounded by underwater cables potentially providing easy and rapid entry into cyberspace but whose use is banned by the United States for a reason that dates back 50 years: the blockade.

However, that was just a kind of apple of temptation. Guerra’s little inducement concealed a world of evil intentions, which could be made material by installing all those CD programs, plugs, navigators and other sophisticated software that he handed to Dalexi, without his asking for them.

He was stunned by Guerra’s insistence on his learning to set up communication networks between two or more buildings in case something happened and it was necessary to send information; you could say that Guerra was obsessed with the subject. He showed Dalexi how to enter websites without access from national connections, doing so from a server outside the country. Moreover, no one would be able to detect him.

Also evident was Guerra’s desire to show Dalexi how to encrypt messages. He even gave him a disk containing applications capable of sending texts which, on radio waves, could be transmitted as something similar to noise, and thus would be very hard to identify.

Robert Guerra’s secretive leanings were laid bare before Dalexi’s eyes, more like a revelation. He tossed him more bait showing him his cell phone: a creation of German intelligence services which had just come onto the market and whose central attraction was that encrypted messages could be sent on it, likewise in normally inaccessible codes.

Evidently, Marcos had already agreed with Guerra on how to get Dalexi involved in dirty work which was not proposed to him in concrete terms, but for which they left him all the tools… and the suggestion.

Naturally, the only thing he did was to reveal his concerns to somebody who could dispel them. Maybe Marcos and Guerra had thought that the fact of working illegally presupposed that he was capable of acting against his country?

As he was instructed, from that moment he strung along the foreigner and Marcos to see where they were headed. His neighbor arrived to propose, or rather impose an illegal connection.

Marcos, already back in Spain, sent him an email with an urgent order to go to a remote location in Baracoa, at the other end of the island, to pick up some antennas. What most surprised him later was the confirmation of Marcos’ description of that remote place, "where there isn’t a goddamn soul about." But initially he refused to make such a long and dangerous trip.

Bathed by a warm March sun in 2008, he was now in the middle of a surfing contest facing El Cayuelo, sitting on the little bridge looking as if he had come out of the water. The new "tourist" would know he was the man as soon as he saw the white T-shirt.

It wasn’t long before the subject emerged from among the surfers. He covered the approximately 50-meter wooden bridge in a few strides and came to a halt beside him. He was the organizer of the contest, promoted by a webpage. Blond and athletic, he had the appearance and name of an American from a Hollywood film studio: Barry.

The code words identifying him also seemed like something out of a spy movie, but apart from being sent as a well-built emulator of James Bond, he was very nervous. He evidently knew that he was doing something illegal.

"How’s the surf in the south of France," he asked rapidly, with an obvious desire to get things over with. It was the expected question. Dalexi replied with the correct password, and that was enough.

They headed for a minibus parked a few meters away, and Barry gave him four satellite dishes, camouflaged as surf boards, together with a genuine article. A very good system to link into the illicit Internet flow. Using an antenna, every user could connect to various people and form those networks with which Guerra was so obsessed.

What Dalexi did not initially know was that the enemy strategy was one of undermining from within and, at the same time, using lies to create a scandal abroad. Establishing illegal networks in Cuba is an attempt to form a parallel communications system on the margin of national institutions and authorities in order to incite people to rebel, and then to find support abroad via campaigns demonizing their state.

This is not something invented by a novice. It is a modus operandi carefully studied by the U.S. intelligence services and already tried and tested with positive results in the so-called color revolutions in certain Eastern European countries and in Iran. That is how the questioning of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June 12, 2009 presidential elections was put into circulation and the people were incited to demonstrate, while the protests were internationally presented as expressions of spontaneous discontent.

A more recent example of this modus operandi has become evident in response to popular uprisings in some countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Finally, subversive efforts to undermine the Cuban Revolution are nothing new and are in receipt of strong financial backing. These incidents are not isolated ones; the equipment might change, but the objectives and methods remain the same.

One of the principal funding channels is USAID (the ill-named U.S. Agency for International Development), whose Latin American section is directed by Mark Feuerstein, a supposed opinion poll expert who was head of the National Endowment Foundation (NED) in Nicaragua in the 1990s and, in 2002, acted as presidential campaign advisor to Bolivian Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a refugee in the United States given charges against him in his country for the massacre of 63 campesinos in 2003.

Now, exactly like under Bush, USAID remains the multimillion-dollar mechanism for attacking and attempting to destabilize, fragment and annex the island. From its creation, shortly after the triumph of the Revolution, to date, it has always been the visible face of yankee intelligence.

An internal audit of its Cuba Program revealed that, from 1996 through September of 2007, it granted subsidies of $64 million to approximately 30 agencies.

Reports recently made public reveal that via the annexationist Bush Plan, USAID channeled approximately $140 million, excluding funds assigned to secret parties.

In spite of the acknowledged ineffectiveness of the agencies it used, USAID reported to the U.S. Congress and government that, prior to 2008, it infiltrated more than 80 international experts into Cuba, distributed 10,000 shortwave radios, two million subversive books and other informative material. It was the immediate antecedent to cybernetic aggression.

Today, USAID openly boasts of giving support to the extended activities of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, of providing Internet access programs, while it acknowledges having smuggled into the country "money, latest-generation laptops and other means of communication."

For that, it utilizes direct and indirect methods, including remittances, mules, embassies and diplomats in third countries, not to mention giving international awards to mercenary bloggers.

A reading of all the information concerning USAID aggression against Cuba reveals a long list of illegal activities which range from subsidies to ex-CIA agents or authentic terrorists, to the trafficking of latest generation electronic equipment, the agency’s current obsession.

The dirty practice of utilizing Internet for political intervention has been developed over a number of years, with an increasing tendency in the wake of recent measures by the Barack Obama administration, which inherited from George W. Bush the decision to redirect the financing of subversion within Cuba into the telecommunications sector.

It wasn’t exactly a disinterested benefactor with a foreign businessman’s resume who appeared at the home of Dalexi González, leaving as a gift a suitcase full of computer programs. His dossier was too fat for Dalexi not to at least suspect something.

Robert Guerra is no less than the current head of the aggressive cybernetics plan of Freedom House, the CIA organization which, for decades, has mounted intelligence operations in Cuba, financed by USAID through the NED – a plan created by CIA agent Frank Calzón’s Center for a Free Cuba.

On April 19, 2010, Guerra spoke as a Freedom House expert at an event organized by this group in conjunction with the George W. Bush Institute, tellingly entitled the Global Cyber-Dissident Movement, a propagandistic creation conceived and run by the CIA.

The 20-some panelists included Jeffrey Gedmin, head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – two CIA broadcasting stations with a long history of subversion; Daniel Baer, assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Work; Peter Ackerman, subversion expert in Eastern Europe; Colombian Oscar Morales Guevara, associated with the George W. Bush Institute’s Human Liberty program; as well as other mercenaries working on cybernetic attacks unleashed by Washington around the world.

Guerra has a service record very similar to that of other figures identified with U.S. intelligence agencies.

He studied in such places as the University of Western Ontario, in London, Canada (1984-1988), and the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, (1991-1996), where he pursued a degree in medicine. Although he has never practiced the profession, he has made forays into the world of health.

He quickly became involved in computers and over the course of several years created a network of companies which appear and disappear, nevertheless all linked to the topics which are his current specialty.

Thus, little by little, a hybrid image of a human rights specialist linked to informatics was constructed. He became an expert in the subversive use of the Internet and network security, even, strangely enough, risk management in communication, censure, so-called cyber-crimes and in methods used to encrypt information, that is to say the coding of messages.

According to the needs of his tasks, he created real and phantom entities until settling down with Privaterra, the Canadian company with which he appeared in Havana. Privaterra would be defined later as "a Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility project," a non governmental organization in Palo Alto, California, U.S.A.

Over the last several years, Guerra has participated in many international conferences, always about these same topics and has been linked with NGO’s, or pseudo-NGO’s and foundations with the unmistakable trademark of U.S. intelligence services. He even managed to get himself into the UN World Summit on the Information Society as an advisor to the Canadian delegation.

He took off his mask in April, 2009, when – already head of Freedom House subversive informatics operations – he made public statements crudely defaming half a dozen countries, all opposed to the hegemonic power of the United States, among them Russia and China.

He reserves his most vicious slander for Cuba. He asserts that the country has "the most disastrous" situation on a world scale, because practically no one on the island has Internet access, and "it is where the use of the web is fiercely repressed with cruel laws" and other arguments regularly disseminated by the United States.

As is to be expected, he never mentions the measures taken by Washington to prohibit Cuba’s use of the latest generation equipment and software or the fiber optic networks which surround the island, obliging the country to resort to expensive satellite connections.

Our country is accused of denying free Internet access; however, many people do not know that the country’s slow connection to cyberspace is not the result of a Cuban government ruling, but a tactic in the close to 50-year economic warfare against Cuba which makes it impossible to access a Washington-controlled network.

It was in 1996 that access to the worldwide web became possible, but with political conditions: it is part of the package of restrictions in the 1992 Torricelli Act to ‘democratize’ Cuban society.

According to the legislation —which is still in effect— every megabyte contracted out to U.S. companies has to be approved by the Treasury Department; moreover, it establishes a whole range of sanctions for any company, within or outside the United States, in favor of electronic dealings or providing a minimum economic benefit to Cuba in this context. Thus, any connection from the island has to be via satellite, making it slower and four times as expensive.

Within the current incitement to illegality, digital sites offering guaranteed Internet access are being advertised from Miami, with benefits including broadband, total discretion and confidentiality because, as they say, the system is undetectable and the dish can be easily camouflaged, and that clients can surf without restrictions, see their family members on camera, use Skype, set up Wi-Fi networks with up to 20 computers and connect calls.

When the Cuban militia defeated the Bay of Pigs mercenaries, Washington think tanks realized that the Cuban problem could not be solved by classical military aggression. The only way to crush the nascent Revolution was by utilizing covert activities: terrorism and subversion. That the Cubans themselves had to do destroy it from within. That was the context of the so-called Operation Mangosta.

The first step, initiated in 1959 itself, was the official establishment of the blockade as a policy of asphyxiation, the freezing of Cuban capital in U.S. banks and the elimination of the sugar quota. That was compounded by a bevy of different laws prohibiting any commercial transaction with the United States involving products containing Cuban components, and vice-versa. It is a veritable economic war which has punished third parties since the Helms-Burton Act internationalized the yankee obsession. A policy which punishes the people whose "freedom and democracy" it claims to defend. It not only denies them latest generation medicines, but also slows the country’s access to an almost indispensable information and communication service.

Recently, the CIA has been seeking to provide Internet connections to Cubans whom it selects to serve its intelligence interests, in the style of the best covert actions.

At a time when voracious media campaigns are demonizing the "Cuban regime," CIA plans are to utilize something as noble and useful as the network of networks as a means of mounting a destabilization operation to end the government of "the Castros."

While in the 1970s and 80s in Cuba, encoded messages had to be sent in Morse code or via illegally acquired shortwave radios, there is now no need for such complications. It is enough to make use of the applications which Robert Guerra handed over to Dalexi.

On the other hand, today’s covert agents are entering the country the way that he and Barry did: as tourists with baseball caps and brightly colored T-shirts, the latter carrying an antenna disguised as an inoffensive surf board under his arm.

After the Cayuelo episode, Dalexi González received additional packages. He was instructed to pick up certain parts for the antennas on Havana’s Almendares Bridge, to be found in a seemingly discarded black plastic bag. He could not refuse, so he went there, searched and searched again above and under the bridge, among the bushes: but there was nothing there. Later, he found out that the items were sent with another U.S. tourist named Margaret… perhaps an envoy of Robert Guerra.

If one thing was clear to Dalexi from the beginning, it was that Marcos had strong financial backing behind him. He made sure that every expense was covered by a receipt, which he kept carefully. Those people checked and double checked, and were spending even more. Their style of operating was very flamboyant. And from the moment that Dalexi met Guerra, he knew that they wanted to recruit him. Everything worked that way, like a spy thriller in which he was being tested on a number of occasions.

"Given the way that things were developing, I soon realized that they wanted to use me and, simply, I wasn’t going to lend myself to any activity of this kind. And so, I became Alejandro to the enemy and Raúl to my country’s State Security."

Cuba is not against technology
CUBA is not against the use of technology, on the contrary. The world is moving at a vertiginous speed in this direction, but it requires order, control. Mounting satellite stations requires a license, explains Carlos Martínez, director of the Control and Supervision Agency (ACS) attached to the Ministry of Informatics and Communications (MIC). It is not about Cuba’s exclusivity, but something which is internationally stipulated.

Signed by 189 countries, the constitution of the lnternational Telecommunication Union, a UN specialized agency, acknowledges the sovereign right of states to regulate the sector.

For example, some countries charge for the television service that is offered free of charge to our people. Others implement a tax, that is their right. "Here, it is a regulation that all satellite services must have a license," Martínez explains.

That is why ACS works hard on the detection of illegal stations. In Cuba, use of the radio frequency spectrum is legislated by Decree 135 of 1986.

In relation to satellite services, these are governed by Decree 269 of 2000, which covers stations with access to artificial earth satellites, transmission to and reception from these satellites, or both, on any frequency band used."

That legislation also states the obligation to obtain an ACS permit, issued in line with specific technical regulations.

Cuba has the technology to deal with any illegal act related to the utilization of its airspace. It is expensive technology, but the country has been obliged to acquire it, and which, linked to a state body of inspectors, among other measures, closes the circuit on violations.