The Fed Who Talked a Lot

A top immigration official is accused of spying for Cuba

Joseph Contreras - Newsweek, February 28, 2000

After a 34-year career, Mariano Faget was one of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's most trusted employees. A supervisor in the Miami office with a "secret" clearance, he had access to highly sensitive files on Cuban defectors and confidential law-enforcement sources. But last Thursday, just weeks before the 54-year-old Faget was set to retire from his $82,017-a-year post, federal law-enforcement agents arrested him at his south Miami home and charged him with espionage. For more than a year, the Feds allege, the Cuban-born American covertly used his position to spy for Fidel Castro's regime. (Faget's lawyer, Joel Kaplan, declined to comment.)

Faget might have been a victim of his own carelessness. In February 1999 an FBI surveillance team followed him to a bar at the Miami Airport Marriott, where he met with a Cuban intelligence officer. Faget toasted his companion, and the two talked together for 90 minutes. Eight months later, FBI agents videotaped Faget meeting for two hours with another Cuban intelligence operative, this time in the public lobby of a Miami Hilton. At the same time, he was in frequent contact with a Cuban-born New York businessman. The FBI says the businessman met regularly with Cuban agents.

The Feds moved in earlier this month. Faget was called to meet his boss and an FBI agent. They asked for his help: a high-ranking Cuban intelligence officer was planning to defect to the United States. The agent showed Faget a picture of the defector. It was the same intelligence officer Faget had met for drinks a year earlier. Faget remarked he had seen the man once at a dinner party. The FBI agent told Faget to keep silent about the case (which was entirely fabricated).

It didn't take him long to open his mouth. Twelve minutes after the meeting, according to court documents, Faget returned to his office and called the New York businessman on a cell phone to tell him cryptically about the meeting. He said he'd call that evening, when he was "nowhere near" his office. The Feds were recording the call, and listened when Faget called his friend again from his home phone. He apologized for speaking in code earlier in the day, and gave him the name of the bogus defector. Faget was arrested six days later.

Late last week the State Department announced the expulsion of a Cuban diplomat assigned to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington who is suspected of receiving classified information from Faget. It's still unclear what, if any, real secrets Faget might have given the Cubans in his years with the INS. In the court filing, the FBI said it had not yet revealed all the facts and hinted of additional arrests. (Predictably, Cuban-American activists demanded to know if "Castro's spy" influenced the INS decision to send 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba. But Faget apparently was not involved.)

If Faget was a spy, what did he get out of it? In its court filing, the FBI makes no mention of cash payoffs. But, in February 1999, the same month he had drinks with the Cuban officer, Faget's businessman friend secretly named him vice president of his company. If the charges stick, it could be 10 years before he can report for work.

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