10 Charged As Cuban Spies

Ten people were charged Monday in what prosecutors said is the largest Cuban spy ring ever uncovered in the United States since Fidel Castro came to power nearly 40 years ago.

CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports that, according to the FBI, the spy ring had been under surveillance in south Florida for three years.

The eight men and two women tried to penetrate U.S. military bases, infiltrate anti-Castro groups, and manipulate U.S. media and political groups, federal investigators said Monday. One suspect was a civilian employee at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Key West, Fla.

"Some of his activities included...reporting on combat readiness of our airplanes, daily activities, and physical descriptions of the building inside, including security areas," said U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Scott. "This spy ring was cast by the Cuban government to strike at the very heart of our national security system and our very democratic process."

The FBI said one of the group's targets was the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which runs American military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The suspects were held without bond and face charges of espionage and acting as unregistered agents of the Cuban government. Prosecutors said the investigation is continuing, but would not say if more arrests were anticipated.

Charges against five of the suspects carry life sentences. Charges against the other five have maximum sentences of 15 years.

Among those arrested was Rene Gonzalez, once a welcomed and award-winning member of the Miami-based Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue. The group lost four members in 1996 when they were killed, shot down by a Cuban MIG fighter jet over international waters during a mercy mission between Florida and Cuba.

There had been suspicion that spies played a role in the shooting. Investigators say Gonzalez posed as an informant for the FBI, but he was actually spying for the Cuban government.

Another suspect, Linda Hernandez, was said to be part of a husband-wife spy team. Both she and her husband are members of the Cuban military and longtime operatives, the FBI said. Her lawyer, Vincent Farina, said his client is a housewife, not a spy.

"She had nothing to do with this whatsover," Farina said.
According to an FBI affidavit filed in support of the arrests, surveillance dating back to 1995 indicated all 10 members operated with code names and had escape plans and alibis.

FBI agent Raul Fernandez said in the affidavit that Manuel Viramontes, a Cuban military captain led the spy group and used computers with coded material on disk to communicate with other members.

Viramontes had an apartment in Miami and it was there that the disks were found, investigators said.

The disks provided a detailed overview of spy operations reminiscent of Cold War-era espionage, including references to agents as comrades.

"o say the least, folks, this operation was sophisticated," Scott said.

Two of those arrested were identified as U.S. citizens and one as a resident alien. The citizenship of the others was not released, but the FBI said some were agents who slipped in and out of the United States.

Congressional sources said the arrests made without incident Saturday were timed to avert an operation planned by the suspects. They provided no further details.

Part of the operation focused on infiltrating six exile groups, according to the FBI.

The affidavit said two of the suspects set up a surveillance of the Southern Command, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West.

The two allegedly produced detailed reports, complete with photos, on the Southern Command and were assigned to report any "unusual exercises, maneuvers, and other activity related to combat readiness at the Naval air station."