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Ex-CIA Agent's Perjury Trail Delayed Another Week

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EL PASO, Texas (AP) - A federal judge has suspended for another week the politically charged perjury trial of an elderly former CIA agent after the defense claimed prosecutors put a covert Cuban counter-intelligence agent on the witness stand without providing them with information about his background.

Attorneys for Luis Posada Carriles asked for a mistrial last week, their fifth such request since the case began Jan. 10. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone delayed the trial for four days while considering the request and then told jurors Tuesday that it would remain on-hold at least until Feb. 22.

"I want you to know, I don't take these steps lightly," Cardone said, "but often times there are complicated matters that require a lot of thought."

The Cuba-born Posada spent decades crisscrossing Latin America as a Washington-backed, anti-communist militant and is considered ex-Cuban President Fidel Castro's personal nemesis. He faces charges of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud.

Prosecutors claim Posada sneaked into the U.S. in March 2005 and then lied about it during immigration hearings in El Paso, where he hoped to gain U.S. citizenship. They also say he refused to take responsibility for planning a series of 1997 hotel bombings in Cuba that killed an Italian tourist and wounded about a dozen other people. In a 1998 interview with the New York Times, Posada admitted planning the attacks, saying they were meant to cripple tourism in Cuba - but he has since recanted those statements.

Posada, who turned 83 Tuesday, was held in an immigration lockup in El Paso for nearly two years but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami - though he wears an electronic ankle bracelet.

At issue is the testimony of Lt. Col. Roberto Hernandez Caballero, an official at the powerful Cuban Interior Ministry. Posada's attorneys say prosecutors knew Hernandez Caballero was an undercover agent prepared to lie for the Castro government but delayed handing over documents showing that so he could take the stand in the Posada case.

Hernandez Caballero testified last week that he was merely a veteran criminal investigator assigned to the bombings at some of Cuba's most-luxurious hotels 14 years ago. Posada is not on trial for those attacks - only for lying about them during the El Paso hearings.

In a written motion seeking to have the case thrown out, Posada's attorneys wrote that Hernandez Caballero testified in a separate federal hijacking trial in Tampa, Fla., in 1997 that he worked for Cuban counter-intelligence. They said prosecutors had a transcript of Hernandez Caballero's 1997 testimony but dragged their feet in turning it over.

"The fact is that the Government failed to disclose the status of this individual as a Cuban intelligence agent in a case involving the highest profile target of Cuban intelligence in the world," the defense motion said.

It also said prosecutors were slow in turning over two previously classified FBI reports that they knew would help Posada's case. The motion said the FBI reports contained "alarming revelations," including that Castro himself ordered the hotel bombings to derail plans by Pope John Paul II to visit Cuba the following year.

In their response, federal prosecutors said they received the transcript of Hernandez Caballero's 1997 testimony last week and turned it over to the defense "immediately." They also said the reports were based on unreliable sources.

Cardone did not ask for more information from either side Tuesday and will spend the extra time considering what has already been submitted in writing.

Posada participated indirectly in the United States' failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and remained a paid CIA operative from 1964 until 1976. He later served as the Venezuelan government's head of intelligence.

In 1976, Posada was charged with masterminding an explosion aboard a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. A Venezuelan military court dismissed charges against him in the airliner bombing, but he escaped from prison before his civilian trial was completed.

Posada helped the U.S. support Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the 1980s and was arrested in Panama in 2000 in a plot to kill Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned in 2004 before turning up in the U.S.

Cuba and Venezuela would like to try Posada for the 1976 airliner bombing or the attacks on the Cuban hotels in 1997, but a U.S. immigration judge previously ruled Posada can't be deported to either country because he could face torture.