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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

37. CUBAN INTEREST 2





Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

February 1999


Aeroflot flew nonstop to Havana once a week. 

This meant we could easily establish the precise plane upon which Howard Lee Howard would be traveling. 

So I laid this idea on John H:  We plant an agent on this aircraft.  Seven hours into the flight, as the plane cruises the northeast corridor of the United states, our agent appears to suffer a heart attack (drugs exist to harmlessly induce such symptoms).  The pilot would likely land at the nearest airport (Boston, New York, or Washington) to save the dying passenger.  FBI agents enter the aircraft, on U.S. soil, and remove one Edward Lee Howard. 

John H’s response after checking with Headquarters:  

We don't have a warrant to arrest Howard in Massachusetts, New York, or Virginia.  Any chance you can get his plane diverted to New Mexico? 

(Someone at the Department of Justice thought the continual de-railing of a Howard rendition was funny.) 

When I met with John H at the Sheraton Wardman Tower on March 16th, prior to my departure to Cuba, he conveyed DoJ’s new concern:  Edward Howard was on the sauce again.  While drunk, he'd do stupid things, like phone people he knew in the United States and apologize for his bad behavior. 

The concern at Headquarters:  Howard might, while intoxicated, board a USA-bound plane. 

Said John H:  "He could turn up at JFK one day and we wouldn't know what to do with him." 

I joked:  "Does this mean our new mission is to ensure Howard never comes back?"

John H did not laugh. 

(In 1933, Compton MacKenzie authored an espionage farce entitled Water on the Brain.  He knew.)  

Then I received a telephone call from Luis Fernandez, who identified himself as First Secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. 

Fernandez had received instructions from Havana to issue me a visa, and this puzzled him.  Could I come over and complete a visa form?  

I jumped into my car and drove to 2630 16th Street, arriving within the hour. 

A receptionist inside this stately building summoned Fernandez, a short barrel-shaped Cuban, mid-40s with a paintbrush mustache and balding crew cut. 

Fernandez, sweating and harassed, ushered me up a marble staircase to a large, sparsely furnished visitors room. 

Sitting across from me in coat and tie, Fernandez consulted a notebook and said he needed to know who I was and what I wanted to do in Cuba. 

I affably outlined my generic background and explained that I wanted to explore potential book deals and business opportunities. 

Fernandez asked me how this trip had been orchestrated. 

I explained that it had been a couple years in the making, through a Moscow-based friend whom I would meet in Havana. 

"Aside from whatever opportunities it may provide, Cuba is closer than Moscow for seeing my friend," said I. 

"So close yet so far away," sighed Fernandez. 

This led him into a diatribe about the harsh treatment of Cuba by the United States.  He said it made him happy that I would see for myself the truth about Cuba. 

"We have sent 600 doctors to Central America to give humanitarian aid after the hurricane.  Does the U.S. press corps care about this?  No.  They prefer to write about prostitution.  There is more prostitution in France, more prostitution here." 

With pained expression, Fernandez said that the U.S. would not lift its economic embargo of Cuba due to the efforts of a small group of Cuban émigrés who had a stranglehold on a handful of politicians. 

Fernandez took my completed application form, promised to issue me a Cuban visa, and invited me to remain in contact with him. 

"We need all the help we can get," he said.  "Life is very difficult here." 


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