Former U.S. Ambassador Accused of Being Cuban Agent Signals Guilty Plea - The World News

Former U.S. Ambassador Accused of Being Cuban Agent Signals Guilty Plea

A former U.S. ambassador accused of working for decades as a secret agent for Cuba indicated on Thursday that he would plead guilty, a move that would bring to a swift end the legal case over one of the biggest national security breaches in years.

Manuel Rocha, 73, said in federal court in Miami that he would file a change of plea, signaling that he is prepared to plead guilty. He was charged in December with acting as an agent of a foreign government and defrauding the United States. He also faces charges of wire fraud and making false statements to obtain and use a U.S. passport.

Mr. Rocha is expected to plead guilty to two counts of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors are expected to drop the other charges; the wire fraud charge carried a 20-year maximum sentence.

Mr. Rocha’s lawyer indicated in court on Thursday that she and prosecutors have reached an agreement on his possible prison term, The Associated Press reported, though details were not made public. His next court hearing is scheduled for April 12.

The indictment said that Mr. Rocha, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Bolivia who briefly worked in a White House role under President Bill Clinton, had aided the Cuban government since at least 1981. He was posted at the U.S. mission in Havana during the 1990s.

“This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said after Mr. Rocha’s arrest in December.

Mr. Rocha was born in Colombia and grew up in New York. He worked in the State Department under Mr. Clinton and President George W. Bush, handling matters related to Latin America. He served as ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002 and as an adviser to the U.S. military command that includes Cuba from 2006 to 2012.

Federal prosecutors have said that Cuba’s aggressive intelligence agency may have recruited Mr. Rocha in Chile in the early 1970s. Cuba, which has had hostile relations with the United States since the 1960s, has had remarkable success in infiltrating the U.S. national security establishment over the decades.

The indictment against Mr. Rocha did not give specifics of his dealings with the Cuban government or accuse him of sharing specific secrets. He was notably not charged with espionage, though his ability to access classified information would have been enormously valuable to Cuba and its allies.

Two other former American officials who were revealed as Cuban spies struck plea deals that compelled them to be debriefed about their knowledge of Havana’s intelligence efforts.

Ana Belén Montes, a former analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, pleaded guilty to being a Cuban agent after she was arrested in September 2001. Ms. Montes was released last year.

Ms. Montes’s cooperation led the F.B.I. to charge another former U.S. official who is accused of having served as a Cuban agent for years. That official, Marta Rita Velazquez, who worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development, fled to Sweden after Ms. Montes was arrested and remains a fugitive. An indictment against Ms. Velazquez was unsealed in 2013.

The second major Cuba espionage case in recent years involved Walter Kendall Myers, a former State Department official who pleaded guilty in 2009 to spying for Cuba for decades. Mr. Myers is serving a life sentence. His wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, who was also charged in the case, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison.

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