Tough task ahead for U.S.: assessing the damage

February 19, 2000 - Juan O. Tamayo - Miami Herald

The names of the people whom Mariano Fuget handled as an immigration officer read like a who's who of Cuba's defectors: military officers, dissidents, even spies bolting for America.

Faget interviewed human rights activist Ricardo Bofill when he sought asylum in 1988. He handled the papers for author Norberto Fuentes when he defected. He signed a parole for a captain in Cuba's domestic security service in 1990.

Now, with the FBI charging he worked for Cuba's Intelligence Directorate, Faget's bosses at the Immigration and Naturalization Service are rushing to figure out how much information he may have compromised.

Perhaps he turned over the address of former Gen. Rafael Del Pino, whom Cuban agents vowed to assassinate after he defected in 1987. Perhaps he gave up the telephone number for a top aide to Gen. Raul Castro living quietly in Maryland since 1993.

"All prior INS matters handled by Mariano Faget are being reviewed," INS Miami Director Robert Wallis told reporters Friday during a news conference at FBI headquarters to announce Faget's arrest.


INS and FBI officials privately said it will take weeks if not months to "take backbearings" on Faget -- the counterintelligence art of trying to figure out how much information a spy may have compromised.

"They will go through his computer, his phone records, credit cards, everything, to figure out what files he saw, but we'll never know what he may have heard at the water cooler," a retired FBI agent said.

Whatever Faget may have revealed to the Cubans -- the FBI said its agents started investigating him only one year ago -- it's clear that he has been privy to top U.S. secrets on Cuban defectors for decades.

"The immigration papers of every significant person arriving from Cuba went through Faget. He was a key person who knew everything about the new arrivals," Fuentes said.

Fuentes noted that Faget's father, a former Batista-era police colonel also named Mariano, had worked many years for the INS, also specializing in screening senior-level Cuban migrants.

Bofill said Faget seemed "a straightforward bureaucratic type" during their 1988 interview but noted that Faget had a reputation for a measure of "roughness" among some top-level defectors.


Bofill said one defector whose appeals for asylum passed through Faget's office was Rafael Delgado, a former Cuban intelligence agent who killed his 9-year-old son, then committed suicide in 1989, despondent over his inability to resolve his immigration status and find a legal job.

A former captain in Cuba's Ministry of Interior, in charge of domestic security, recalled that Faget interviewed him in 1990 and asked several "nasty questions."

"He wanted to know why I had supported the communists for so long. He asked why he should give any papers to a bunch of `commies' who were just rats fleeing a sinking ship," said the captain, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals by Cuban exiles in Miami.

One question left unanswered after the FBI news conference was whether Faget also may have had access to information on U.S. spies within the Cuban intelligence agencies.

The FBI affidavit charging him with spying and making false statements said he had access to classified INS files "relating to confidential law enforcement sources and Cuban defectors, including Cuban Intelligence Service defectors who are assisting the U.S. Intelligence Community."


That description would apply to people such as Juan Antonio Rodriguez Menier, a Cuban intelligence agent who defected in 1987 while on assignment at the Cuban embassy in Budapest, Hungary.

Rodriguez was debriefed by the CIA and now lives in semi-secrecy in the Washington, D.C., area, saying he fears an assassination attempt by Cuban agents. His INS papers should have been handled in utmost secrecy.

But the FBI affidavit's description would appear to apply also to U.S. agents even now active in Cuban intelligence agencies -- working spies still giving Washington information on Cuba's intelligence operations.

CIA veterans have long confirmed that most U.S. "spies" working against Cuba in the 1970s and '80s were uncovered by Havana and turned into double agents working for the Cuban government.

"Faget was certainly in a position to reveal many names to the Cubans," said a retired FBI agent who worked with Faget on many cases. "Whether he gave them names of our spies in their ranks, I certainly hope not."

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