U.S. prosecutors charged a former ambassador to Bolivia for secretly working for the Cuban government and supporting its clandestine intelligence-gathering mission against the United States for more than four decades, according to unsealed court documents released on Monday.
Victor Manuel Rocha, who served in various roles within the State Department, was arrested on Friday in Miami, Florida, on a criminal complaint. According to the Justice Department, federal prosecutors charged Rocha with committing multiple federal crimes, including acting as an illegal agent of a foreign government and using a passport obtained by false statement.
“This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a news release.
Rocha, 73, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Colombia, allegedly spent 40 years secretly working as an agent on behalf of Havana while seeking out and obtaining positions within the U.S. government to gain access to classified information with the ability to affect its foreign policy.
The indictment does not specify details about the information Rocha allegedly shared with conspirators inside Cuba’s intelligence community.
Between 1981 and 2002, Rocha rose through the ranks of the State Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. He worked in U.S. Embassies in Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico City and served a short stint on the White House’s National Security Council as the director of inter-American affairs focused on Cuba from 1994 to 1995.
Rocha later became an advisor to the Commander of the U.S. military’s Southern Command — a joint command of the U.S. military whose area of responsibility includes Cuba —from around 2006 to around 2012, according to the Justice Department.
During a series of meetings beginning last year, Rocha admitted to his decades of work as a Cuban intelligence agent to an undercover FBI agent who posed as a covert Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence representative.
Rocha allegedly told the undercover agent his efforts to “infiltrate” the U.S. government were “meticulous,” “very disciplined,” and had “strengthened the revolution immensely.”
The accused spy told the undercover agent at their first meeting outside a Miami church that his “number one priority was …any action on the part of Washington that would – would endanger the life of — of the leadership…revolution itself.”
Prosecutors allege throughout the meetings, Rocha behaved as a Cuban agent and consistently referred to the U.S. as “the enemy,” praised Fidel Castro as the “Comandante,” referred to his contacts in Cuban intelligence as his “Compañeros” and the Cuban intelligence services as the “Dirección.”
“I have to protect what we did because what we did…the cement that has strengthened the last 40 years,” Rocha allegedly told the undercover agent during their second meeting, “What we have done…it’s enormous…More than a grand slam.”
It was not immediately clear if Rocha’s legal representation issued a comment.
His wife, Karla Wittkop Rocha, declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
“I don’t need to talk to you,” she reportedly told the outlet before hanging up.
Rocha was expected to make an initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Miami on December 4.
The arrest comes nearly a year after U.S. authorities released a high-ranking federal official from prison after serving more than two decades for leaking information and identities of some American spies to Cuba.
Ana Belen Montes, 65, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, pled guilty in 2002 to conspiracy to commit espionage and using her status to leak classified information and four U.S. spy identities to Havana.