FBI: FIU couple spied for Cuba.
By Jay Weaver and Noah Bierman
The U.S. government uncovered what it said was a husband-and-wife spy
team at Florida International University. The two allegedly spied for
Cuba for decades.
A Florida International University professor and his wife, an FIU
counselor, were accused Monday of operating as covert agents for Cuba's
communist government for decades, using shortwave radios, numerical-code
language and computer-encrypted files to send information about Miami's
exile community to top Castro intelligence commanders.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton expressed such dismay over the
alleged espionage-related history of Carlos M. Alvarez, 61, and his
wife, Elsa, 55, that she denied them bond before trial on a charge of
failing to register with the federal government as foreign agents.
Simonton said she believed that the gravity of the charges -- admitted
by the couple last summer to the FBI -- their past academic trips to
Cuba and their contacts in Fidel Castro's government made them a flight
risk if allowed to return to their South Miami home.
''As a practical matter, these are people who admitted they were
spying,'' Simonton said. "They would indeed return to Cuba, rather than
face the consequences of their actions here.''
Attorney Steven Chaykin, representing Carlos Alvarez, and lawyer Norman
Moscowitz, representing Elsa, said their clients had strong ties to
their family and community. The lawyers stressed that the two did not
leave the country after admitting their alleged espionage work for the
Cuban government months ago.
''There is not a scintilla of evidence . . . that they contemplated
leaving'' for Cuba, Moscowitz said, noting that his client is in poor
health and has to care for her 12-year-old daughter and elderly parents.
Chaykin said neither gave information to Castro intelligence officials
that ``in any way endangers the U.S. government or military.''
The indictment, which included no mention of top-secret U.S. government
information being disclosed, came months after the couple's confessions
because of additional investigative work in the case, interim U.S.
Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.
The case of the longtime FIU employees marks the biggest Miami
spy-related case since 1998, when five men were charged with
infiltrating the exile community and laying the groundwork for the shoot
down of four Brothers to the Rescue pilots by the Cuban Air Force in
JAN. 19 ARRAIGNMENT
If convicted of one count of not registering as foreign agents, the
Alvarez could face prison sentences of seven to 10 years. An arraignment
is set for Jan. 19. They are being detained at the Miami Federal
FBI agents arrested Alvarez and his wife Friday at their home, valued at
about $750,000, which they had hoped to use for bond. An indictment,
returned in late December, was unsealed at their two-hour court hearing
Monday, which was attended by the couple's four adult children, FIU
President Mitch Maidique, a Catholic priest close to the defendants and
According to an FBI agent and federal prosecutors, the couple
transmitted information about Miami's exile community -- including
leading groups such as the Cuban American National Foundation and
Brothers to the Rescue. They did not send any military or classified
information, but they did provide Cuban officials with the identity of
an FBI employee who had once been an FIU student of Carlos Alvarez.
Carlos Alvarez is an associate professor of educational leadership and
policy studies at FIU who also does psychological screenings of police
cadets for the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County police departments.
Elsa Alvarez is a psychological counselor at FIU.
''They used their academic positions as covert covers to spy for the
Cuban government,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier. ``They
were living a lie.''
Frazier said Carlos Alvarez had spied for Cuba since 1977 and Elsa
Alvarez since 1982. He said that Elsa, Alvarez's second wife, had been
independently spying for the Cuban government before she teamed up with
It was unclear what motivated the two to act as alleged spies for so
many years. They were not paid for information they gathered, but Cuba
covered their expenses such as travel, lodging and meals, authorities
Thanks to a tip, the FBI had been monitoring the couple -- Carlos
Alvarez used the alias ''David'' and his wife used ''Deborah'' -- for
months before each gave separate confessions in June and July to agents
about their alleged spying activities. The FBI was assisted by the Naval
Criminal Investigative Service.
Frazier said they admitted to using high- and low-tech methods to
communicate with Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence and several of its
Among them: an antenna in their backyard, a shortwave radio, a
five-digit code, encrypted computer disks and local post office boxes.
Since the early 1990s, the couple traveled to Cuba several times on
U.S.-authorized educational trips, bringing along FIU students, Frazier
said. He called the trips a ``pretext to do other things.''
The couple also shared information with Cuban intelligence agents in
Mexico, South America and the United States, Frazier said.
Frazier said the two were so good at their work that the Cuban
government gave them commendations in the 1990s.
The couple's arrests on Friday came as a federal appellate court in
Atlanta plans to hear arguments next month in an unrelated Cuban spy
case in which five men were convicted of espionage charges. The entire
11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will determine whether pretrial
publicity tainted the jury pool.
In October, the appellate court threw out a ruling by a three-judge
panel that had overturned the 2001 convictions for the so-called Cuban
Five on espionage charges.
The decision pleased relatives of four Miami exile pilots fatally shot
down over international waters in 1996 by the Cuban Air Force in an
alleged plot linked to the spy case.
Source: The Miami Herald
January 09, 2006