The Obama administration is hosting visits to U.S. Coast Guard facilities by Cuban Border Guard officials as part of its policy of seeking closer ties with the communist government in Havana.
The visits are raising concerns among officials and security analysts that closer ties with Cuba will benefit aggressive Cuban intelligence operations in the United States that have been underway for decades.
A delegation of Cuban officials arrives this week for visits to Coast Guard bases in Florida and Alabama following an earlier visit two months ago.
The Department of Homeland Security, which arranged the visits, refused to provide details of the Cuban delegation. But a spokeswoman said they are part of an exchange program.
“These visits represent professional exchanges between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Cuban Border Guard to discuss issues of mutual interest such as at-sea rescue operations,” DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told the Washington Free Beacon, without elaborating.
Cuban officials on March 18 visited three Coast Guard port facilities in the south, including one near Mobile, Alabama. The group also toured an oil refinery in Alabama, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman.
A State Department official said the Cuban Border Guard tours of Coast Guard bases are an outgrowth of the president’s pro-Havana tilt. “The administration’s new policy of engagement has enabled U.S. agencies to discuss and coordinate on topics of mutual interest as we work to normalize relations.”
The official referred further questions to the Cuban government. A Cuban Embassy official did not respond to email requests for comment.
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Comdr. David French sought to play down the security concerns posed by the exchange by saying the service holds similar visits with many nations.
“The U.S. Coast Guard recently met with a Cuban delegation at Coast Guard sector Key West as part of the continued professional exchange between the Coast Guard and the Cuban Border Guard,” he said, declining to discuss past sessions or future visits.
President Obama traveled to Cuba in March as part of what the White House has called his rejection of “the failed, Cold War-era policy” of isolating the communist regime in Havana.
Alexandria Preston, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said the March visit was arranged by Coast Guard headquarters as part of the International Port Security program.
The Cubans were given public information briefings and presentations about Coast Guard operations in Mobile followed by a question and answer session on the Maritime Transportation Security Act, she said. At the refinery, the Cubans were given a briefing and tour by the refinery’s security officer.
Cuba’s Border Guard troops are part of the Cuban Interior Ministry that directs the Intelligence Directorate, the political police, and an intelligence service modeled after the Soviet-era KGB intelligence service. The Border Guard in the past has been involved in liaisons with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Cuba’s intelligence services also cooperate with Russian intelligence services.
SOURCE: Bill Gertz
The Washington Free Beacon