U.S. immigration official allegedly spied for Cuba

Relations between nations already tense over Cuban boy's fate

February 18, 2000

MIAMI (CNN) -- A senior U.S. immigration official in Miami, a supervisor who had access to classified information about Cuban defectors, is under arrest on charges he spied for Fidel Castro's government.

Mariano Faget, 54, a native of Havana, is due in a Miami courtroom Friday.

He is being held at the Federal Detention Center in Miami, charged with violating the Espionage Act and making false statements.

Following his arrest on Thursday, authorities searched his home in the Miami suburb of Kendall, Florida.

Faget came to the United States in 1960 -- the year after the Cuban revolution that put Castro in power -- and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1963.

He is believed to have worked for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for more than 30 years.

Contact with Cuban agents alleged

Faget (pronounced fah-HET) had secret security clearance within the INS.

He is suspected of divulging classified information about defectors to Cuban intelligence officials, the FBI said in a statement.

It also said an investigation called "Operation False Blue" found that Faget had "unauthorized contacts" with Cuban intelligence officers in Miami and other U.S. cities.

As a supervisory district adjudication officer for the INS, Faget could supervise decisions that affected the residency status of immigrants, the FBI said.

"Faget had access to classified and sensitive INS files relating to confidential law enforcement sources and Cuban defectors," the agency said.

The arrest comes amid already strained relations with the Communist island over Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy who has been the focus of an international custody battle since he was found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast November 25.

His mother and 10 others died when their boat sank. Elian was one of three survivors.

The boy's Miami relatives are fighting to keep him in the United States, despite an order by the INS to reunite Elian with his father in Cuba.

'A gentleman ... but very distant'

Perry Rivkind, the Miami director for the INS from 1983 to 1989, describes Faget as a quiet man.

"Cold. That's the word," Rivkind told The Miami Herald. "He was like a blank. The six years he was with me, I never got to know him, which was unusual. But I found him to be a gentleman. Very polite but very distant."

Jose Basulto, president of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue, said he believes there are many Cuban spies working in the United States. Basulto's group flies over the water between Florida and Cuba, searching for rafts carrying migrants leaving the communist-ruled island.

"The U.S. should be very embarrassed by this finding," Basulto said. "Who knows how many people Castro had a grudge against that were sent back? This man was, for us, in a very tragic position."

Fernando Rojas, a spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, said Faget's arrest proves what many Cuban exiles already believe -- that Cuba has an influential presence in the United States.

"What role did this gentleman play in the fate of Elian Gonzalez, or any other asylum seeker?" Rojas said. "It's very possible many rights have been violated."

The United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961. Although the almost nearly four-decade-old U.S. economic embargo remains in place against the Communist-led nation, travel between the two countries has increased, especially as part of cultural, academic and athletic exchanges. In October 1998, 14 people were charged in Florida in what authorities called the largest Cuban espionage ring uncovered in the United States in decades.

Authorities said the group tried to penetrate U.S. military bases, infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups and manipulate U.S. media and political organizations.

Five people have pleaded guilty in the case and three have been sentenced, receiving prison terms of up to seven years. Others are scheduled to go on trial in May. An FBI spokesman said Faget's arrest is unrelated to this ring.
  • Return to Cuban Spy page