August 4, 2006


The CIA's Blind Spot (Marc Pitzke, 8/04/06, Der Spiegel)

"Wait and see" -- Bush's fecklessness shines through even in the official language. "We don't know what the condition of Fidel Castro is; we don't know the exact facts of this," White House spokesman Tony Snow said clumsily at a press briefing Tuesday. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack spoke in similar terms. "I don't think there are too many people outside that small core group of people who run Cuba who really know what is going on," he said Thursday.

So now -- as history arrives at the moment a whole generation once wished for -- the end of Castro's reign threatens to become a lost opportunity. Instead of reaching out to a new Cuba and playing a constructive role in the state's transformation, Washington is relying on old, unsuccessful recipes: blockade, sanctions and a hardline approach.

"U.S. policy is going to remain the same irrespective of whether it's Fidel Castro or Raul Castro in power," sighs Daniel Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. Pride leads to stubbornness: "If the Cuban government implements a smooth transfer, that would indicate a failure of U.S. policy," Erikson says.

As for US intelligence services, they're especially vague when it comes to Cuba. The rigid attitude taken for decades by both Democrats and Republicans turns out to be a handicap. Taking its cue from the Cuban-exile lobby in Miami, Washington shut out Castro's government, only to find itself shut out of Cuba.

When John Negroponte became National Intelligence Director in 2005, he immediately requested an analysis of the Cuban situation from his agencies. But the Americans haven't had access to reliable intelligence sources for decades, let alone to circles of power in Havana. Following the start of the US embargo on Cuba in 1960, all economic relations were severed -- and with them all informal channels of communication. Meanwhile, Cuban Cohiba cigars smuggled into the US became all the rage among American diplomats. The only information that trickeled through came from defectors like Alcibiades Hidalgo, Cuba's former ambassador to the United Nations, who defected from his position in 2002 and revealed that "virtually every member of the Cuban mission to the UN" works as an intelligent agent for Castro.

The US can only dream of keeping such a close eye on Cuba. Former CIA analyst Robert Baer believes the CIA will have a tough time convincing President Bush that it knows exactly what will happen when Castro dies. CIA analysts will have to rely on second- and even third-hand information, Baer believes, and compares their information about Cuba to the spotty information that was available about Iraq during the 1990s. Which bodes ill for a new policy.

So Castro is beating the "empire" with its own weapons even from his deathbed. Ten US presidents have unsuccessfully locked horns with him since 1959. They've planned his overthrow and his assassination. They tried to isolate him -- and succeeded only in strengthening him. They all made the same mistake -- "a consistent underestimation of his political strength," in the words of Cuba expert Philip Peters, Vice President of the Lexington Institute and an advisor to the Cuba Working Group of the US House of Representatives.

Rather than relying on intelligence that is always faulty we succeed when we impose a new reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2006 1:02 PM

See blind Spot run.

Posted by: obc at August 4, 2006 3:11 PM

Wow. You've got it! The United States is the reality.

We need to take a close look at Cuban history. Castro is the expression of Hesperophobic Boxer-Leninist racism. It will remain when Castro goes for Cuba to re-join world civilization, which will mean depositing their old reactionary ideology on that ash-heap.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 4, 2006 3:21 PM

I noticed a flyer pinned to the board at work for a lecture about "Cuba and Peak Oil." I thought, "What does Cuba have to do with peak oil?" and googled "cuba peak oil." Check out this site:

Note the little cartoon at the top:
"Cuba offers free health care, education and housing to all its people, farms organically and uses alternative medicine."
"Those poor undemocratic people."

Yikes. I didn't think people that stupid existed in this day and age. Try this:
"Cuba has already been through economic collapse as a result of the shortage of energy resources. That happened after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 and Cuba lost its primary sugar market and the source of almost all its petroleum. The Cubans rose to the occasion, and today are a model of sustainability for the rest of the world."

Model of sustainabiliy?! And that's just from the front page! It gets much wackier on the inside and, curiously, no mention of how much oil Hugo Chavez micght be shipping to his best pal.

Posted by: Bryan at August 4, 2006 3:46 PM

The collapse of the USSR was such a sad day for the left, how will they survive the end of communism is Cuba? Now they will only have Hugo Chavez and North Korea. Markos Moulitsos will cry himself to sleep tonight. Muwawahaha!

Posted by: lebeaux at August 5, 2006 1:10 AM