Leaked Documents Reveal Cuban Spying at the Miami Airport

This report is part of the special series #CiberCubaleaks: a leak of confidential documents on Cuban National Security.

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Cuban Intelligence Services have successfully received confidential information regarding inner workings, airline operational records, and restricted area access of the Miami International Airport (MIA), according to classified documents from the Ministry of the Interior of Cuba (MININT) obtained by CiberCuba.

This report is part of the special series #CiberCubaleaks: a leak of confidential documents on Cuban National Security.

In 2018, hundreds of confidential files leaked from Cuban intelligence and counterintelligence with emails, dossiers of Cuban residents abroad, financial documents, information on senior officials within the Cuban government, and invoices that were given to CiberCuba by an anonymous source.

At least six documents with letterhead from the MININT Directorate of Counterintelligence, dated between 2015 and 2017, contain sensitive information that was sent to Havana by agents of the Cuban regime in compliance with espionage and data collection missions.

The intelligence documentation on MIA is part of a batch of classified records with hundreds of pages and multimedia files, bank transfers, contracts, emails, and private information on people of interest to the Cuban government which makes up one of the largest secret archive leaks from the MININT ever.

Each of the pages related to MIA has a header labeling it Collection Program with a Confidential seal in capital letters and numbers stamped at the bottom.

The discoveries highlight Cuban intelligence interest in a strategic installation in North American territory, the main gateway between the United States and Latin America, and the economic engine of South Florida, with annual revenues totaling more than $33 billion.

A document dated January 09, 2017 contains a transcript of a report with two security codes (PIN) to access airport restricted areas. The report appears to be attributed to one Agent Charles.

“Here are 2 MIA security PINs. Remember the order (...). No connection to the carriers. Card reader received. Through the other information channel, digital credential reading, same order. Access to secure areas. Miami International Airport. Blue, Green, Main Green, Secondary Zone Light Brown. Main Zone Light Brown, Secondary Zone Green, Yellow Identification”, says the transcribed text, ending by giving "credit to GORDO".

On another page, labeled as Appendix 07, there is a photocopy of a mechanic’s identification issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The document is signed by Dan Elwell, Interim Administrator of the FAA. The report recommends giving the photocopy to specialists at the Department of Information and Communication Technology "for analysis and study of the holographic seal".

The documentation can be traced back to the administrative period of Emilio González, who served as director of MIA and highest aviation authority of Miami-Dade County from 2013 to 2017. González was actively involved in growing the airport with an investment of $6.5 billion and diversifying traditional operations to a more comprehensive service. He was replaced by Lester Sola in February, 2018.

“These codes give direct access to any part of the airport, and that the Cuban government has people inside the facility with this level of access is truly disturbing,” González told CiberCuba. "To have access to the cargo area means having access to the entire airport".

Having access to the cargo area means having access to the entire airport

The executive reiterated that MIA is a key point facing an emergency situation in the United States or Latin America, given its geographic location, technological infrastructure, and service capabilities.

“I think the reference to the holographic seal is also important since reproducing it allows for the creation of falsified documents and identifications,” said González, who is currently an administrator for the City of Miami.

Following is a statement from MIA Director and CEO Lester Sola:

“Based on our review of the documents, there is nothing included that would grant access to secure areas or compromise our security at Miami International Airport. We have shared this report with our federal intelligence partners, for their awareness. We take every step possible to ensure the safety of our passengers, we have strong protocols to control access to all areas of the airport, and we will continue to investigate these and other possible threats and take any necessary steps to maintain the security and safety of MIA.”

González believes that Cuban intelligence seeks to solidify a network of agents and collaborators with access to data and restricted sites, using falsified documentation.

“I think it is important information for the safety of air transportation and should be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities, González said.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security created after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, is in charge of managing airport security systems.

The Miami airport ranks among the busiest in the world with more than 416,000 air operations each year and a record 45,044,312 passengers in 2018. It also handles more international cargo than any other airport in the United States.

ABX Air in the Spotlight

Among the focal points of the Collection Program is ABX Air, one of the largest cargo companies in the United States and a leader in international air express service. The airline is owned by Air Transport Services Group headquartered in Wilmington, Ohio, but provides services from Miami where it has a maintenance center.

ABX Air operates the largest fleet of a Boeing cargo aircraft in the world and its most important customer is DHL, although it also provides service to Amazon, the United States government and the Mexican postal service. Its international destinations include Jamaica, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, China, and Cuba.

A report from April, 2015 reveals a list of 14 aviation technicians and mechanics who are on the company’s roster and conduct special training. The list gives first and last names of each employee, their ID number, user ID, and password to access training on Pelesys, a provider of advanced training and qualification in the aeronautical industry.

The information shows that on the course register, "El Gordo” appears, also known for his informative contribution of information in the document on MIA security codes.

In another report received by the Directorate of Counterintelligence, a diagram of the Boeing 767-200 hydraulic system, an aircraft log, and schematics of the aircraft’s digital data are included.

“Two models of the aircraft logs used by and for maintenance were received through the same channels and source, appendix 18 and 19. None of these documents can be found published,” the message says on November 16, 2016.

The aircraft log records all the aircraft information including mechanical faults and discrepancies and this is, together with the black boxes, an indispensable part of any investigation.

“The aircraft log is each company's internal documentation and the information within is crucial, like having an x-ray of the aircraft", explained Eddie Miceli, an experienced aviation analyst. “Only the regulatory agency of the country where the aircraft is registered and aviation authorities of the countries where it flies can have access to it.”

Attorney Sergio Commas, an expert on Cuban affairs, considers the operational attempt to place agents and informants in MIA to have, “the Double purpose of accessing internal security and industrial espionage.”

“Accessing specialized technological information allows you to reduce the costs of maintenance and repair, and overcome possible commercial obstacles,” said Comas.

Leaking these documents re-energizes concerns regarding penetration of the Castro intelligence on governmental agencies, academic institutions, cultural centers, and sectors vital to policy, commercial activity, and public life in South Florida where the largest and most influential Cuban community in the United States resides.

Penetration of the Castro intelligence on U.S. Governmental agencies

The dates of the leaked documents coincide with the greatest outreach of Barack Obama's administration to Cuba following the announcement of reestablishing bilateral relations in December, 2014 and resuming direct flights by U.S. Airlines to the island in 2016.

Miami International Airport, target for Cuban intelligence

“The Miami airport is in the lens of Cuban espionage because it is a crucial hub for transporting people and goods”, said Enrique García, a former senior officer of the Cuban Intelligence Directorate (DGI for its Spanish acronym) who defected to Ecuador in 1988. “All of the information surrounding MIA, as insignificant as it may seem, is of interest to Cuba; from access to databases to tracking people as soon as they disembark from an airplane.”

García, who currently lives in Miami, believes that the simple transit of political figures such as federal senators and congresspersons or noteworthy business and cultural figures is sufficient motivation for deploying Cuban agents to that location.

But that does not rule out the possibility that information may be used for purposes of destabilizing the airport. According to Garcia, in the early 1980s, Cuba implemented a plan to reorient agents who had lost the opportunity for intelligence in order to use them in operations of sabotage against North American targets around the world in response to worsening tensions or an armed conflict with the United States.

Cuba was, is, and will be a threat to the national security of the United States

Although more than four decades have elapsed since then and the messages belonging to the Cuban Five from 1998 make no mention of operations in MIA, García thinks that the Cuban government never scaled back its intelligence priorities in Miami as “one of the world’s most important aviation hubs.”

Garcia ended by saying, “Cuba was, is, and will be a threat to the national security of the United States.”

Edgerton Levy, the former Cuban agent who was an essential factor in dismantling the Cuban Five agrees with García.

“I do not write off MIA as an intelligence target and it is even more so now,” Levy told CiberCuba.

“Perhaps it's the missing piece of espionage operations from all those years ago.”

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