No Debt Aid For Spying Russia

Under a bill passed by the House of Representatives Thursday, the U.S. won’t be able to reschedule Russian debt repayment unless the former Soviet Union closes a spy station in Cuba.

The Russian-American Trust and Cooperation Act, which passed by a vote of 275-146, was sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R.-Fla., a Cuban refugee and hard-line Castro opponent.

The bill, which faces an uncertain future in the Senate and a possible veto, would prohibit the president from rescheduling or forgiving any debt Russia owes the United States until the White House "certifies to the Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation has ceased all its operations at, removed all personnel from, and permanently closed the intelligence facility at Lourdes, Cuba."

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. wants to reschedule payment on some $496 million Soviet-era loans, plus interest, but has yet to sign an agreement with Moscow on that debt plan.

The Lourdes listening post is Russia's largest signal intelligence site outside Russia, according to the Federation of American Scientists. The 28-square mile facility is run by civilian and military intelligence agencies, employs 1,500 technicians and can monitor satellite, military, fax, computer and telephone communications in the U.S.

Cuba claimed in 1993 that Russia gets 75 percent of its military strategic information from Lourdes.

The legislation claims that Russia has used Lourdes to get intelligence on Operation Desert Storm, personal information on U.S. citizens and to snoop-out trade secrets and economic information. The bill claims the post could enable Russia to launch cyberwarfare attacks on the U.S.

Reports indicate Russia pays between $1 million and $3 million to lease the facility and has spent $3 billion to modernize it.

The bill commands the president to delay rescheduling Russia's debt—and to order the U.S. representative to the Paris Club, an international creditors organization, to vote against any multilateral debt rescheduling—until Lourdes is closed.

It allows the president to waive the legislation only if he decides debt rescheduling is crucial to national interests and can certify Russia is adhering to arms nonproliferation agreements.

Supporters of the measure argued that it's not in America's interests to help Russia out of indebtedness if it is still spending money on spy projects against the U.S.

"It is absolutely inconceivable to me, and I think to most Americans," said Florida Rep. Porter Goss, a Republican, "that the United States would provide aid and oans to Russia at a time when, according to press reports, the Russian government pays Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars a year to operate a facility it uses to eavesdrop on the United States and on our business and what is going on here."

But opponents argued the bill threatened Russia's stability and democratic reforms there.

"A Russian default could upset any attempt at Russian economic reforms. That is something we want to avoid at all costs, because it could eventually threaten our own national security," said Rep. Joe Moakley, D.-Mass.

"This is not leadership. We are not showing our strengths by withholding debt relief to Russia. We need to stand by our commitments and assist Russia as it works to become a true democracy with a market economy, but strangled by this debt, they will never get there," Moakley said.