By Dan De Luce, AFP
WASHINGTON–He was the CIA’s man in Havana �X the undercover agent who unmasked a spy ring lurking in America and then spent 20 years languishing in a Cuban jail. The fate of the spy �X whose identity remains a secret �X was at the center of high-stakes negotiations between Washington and Havana that led to Wednesday’s historic diplomatic breakthrough. In scenes reminiscent of a Cold War espionage thriller, he was released and flew to the United States without fanfare �X with no television news cameras recording his return. U.S. President Barack Obama called the Cuban national ��one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba and who has been in prison for nearly two decades.�� The United States had insisted on the release of its agent as part of a spy swap, officials said. Washington released three Cuban spies �X also heroes in their homeland �X who had been in a U.S. prison since 2001. Cuba also free an American contractor, Alan Gross, who had been behind bars for five years, but both governments billed this as a humanitarian gesture rather than part of the prisoner swap.
The spy’s name was not revealed but the national intelligence director’s office confirmed he was Cuban and described him as a highly valued intelligence operative. ��This man, whose sacrifice is known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today as well as other spies in the United States,�� Obama said. ��This man is now safely on our shores,�� he added. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: ��Our ability to recover him was an important principle for us in these discussions.�� Uncovering Cuban ‘Wasps’
The spy who came in from the cold helped uncover ��La Red Avispa,�� or the Wasp network, a Cuban espionage ring that snooped on the Cuban exile community in south Florida, officials said.
Its agents attempted to penetrate U.S. military Southern Command in Florida and obtained jobs at the Key West Naval station, from where they sent reports of U.S. aircraft movements. After tracking it for years, the FBI broke up the ring in 1998.
The Wasp network included the three Cubans released Wednesday.