MIAMI — Three months before the 1976 midair explosion of a Cuban plane off the coast of Barbados, CIA covert operative Luis Posada Carriles cabled his U.S. minders from Venezuela to report that the plot was in motion and asked for Washington's "assistance."
Recently declassified CIA communications confirm that a U.S. agent got back to Posada within a few days. Other internal communications obtained by the National Security Archive research project put Posada in regular contact with Washington handlers from the time of his arrival here just before the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion through the late 1990s, when he allegedly masterminded a series of Havana hotel bombings in an effort to crush Cuba's budding tourism business.
The 79-year-old anticommunist, who turned up two years ago in Miami, has never been charged by U.S. justice officials with participating in a violent act, not even the hotel bombings purportedly financed by fellow Cuban exiles in New Jersey and about which Posada has boasted.
On Tuesday, the sole prosecution brought by Washington against the Cuban-born Posada, an immigration fraud charge, was quashed by a federal judge in Texas, leaving a man branded by the U.S. Justice Department as "a dangerous criminal and an admitted mastermind of terrorist plots" free to roam a country he entered illegally and from which another court has ordered him deported.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 85 words Type of Material: Correction
Freed suspect: In an article in Thursday's Section A about suspected terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, the National Security Archive's Cuba Documentation Project was described as an effort to disclose past CIA operations. The project seeks to make information public from a broad array of domestic and foreign government records. Also, the article referred to a June 1998 interview he gave to "author and freelance journalist" Ann Louise Bardach, but failed to mention that Bardach's interview was granted to and published by the New York Times.
Angry denunciations from Cuba and Venezuela of the "impunity" accorded Posada reached a high point Wednesday after word spread that U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso had quashed the immigration case, denouncing the U.S. government for manipulating evidence and mistranslating testimony from its longtime collaborator.
"In addition to engaging in fraud, deceit and trickery, this Court finds the Government's tactics in this case are so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice. As a result, this Court is left with no choice but to dismiss the indictment," Cardone wrote in her scathing 38-page opinion.
As international condemnation mounts against the United States' failure to prosecute an admitted terrorist, congressional leaders were demanding to know Wednesday from U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales why he hasn't declared Posada a security threat and jailed him under the Patriot Act.
"Mr. Posada's release from prison calls into question our commitment to combating terrorism and raises concerns about a double standard in our treatment of terrorists," Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.) wrote the attorney general.
In an interview Wednesday, Delahunt said he planned to launch an investigation into Posada's longtime relationship with the U.S. government and the Bush administration's failure to brand Posada a terrorist. A former prosecutor, Delahunt called Judge Cardone's action almost unprecedented in its excoriation of the government's handling of the case.
"It is incumbent on us to conduct a thorough and exhaustive investigation in a professional manner, in a way that reassures the world that we're not hypocrites and that nefarious, unsavory machinations do not happen behind closed doors," Delahunt said of the Posada case, which he described as a baffling evasion of justice.
He also wants a probe into how evidence against Posada in the hotel bombings now sought by a New Jersey grand jury got destroyed at the FBI's Miami office in 2003, after the government's only active case against Posada was dropped. Posada at the time was serving a sentence in Panama for plotting to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2000, a term that would be cut short less than a year later as a favor to the Bush administration fighting for Cuban exile votes in its 2004 reelection battle.
Unease over CIA ties cited
National Security Archive project director Peter Kornbluh attributes the U.S. government's failure to win a conviction against Posada to Washington's apparent complicity in some of Posada's alleged criminal acts. Prosecutors' efforts to banish any mention of his CIA service from the immigration case were "a reflection of real concern about details of past operations that might get thrown into the trial," said Kornbluh, who oversees the George Washington University-based project aimed at disclosing past CIA operations.
Internal CIA cables and reports Kornbluh has unearthed suggest a pattern of contacts between Posada and U.S. government officials dating back to his arrival in Miami less than two years after Castro's 1959 revolutionary triumph.
FBI agents struggling to put a case together for the New Jersey grand jury have reportedly visited Havana in recent weeks in an unusual act of collaboration with Castro's security forces, who have preserved forensics in the case. News reports of the Havana trip spurred angry outbursts from South Florida's three Cuban American congressional representatives. The three Republicans blasted the Bush administration for "asking a state sponsor of terrorism for 'evidence' regarding terrorism."