Woman indicted in Cuba spy case is in Sweden and out of U.S. reach
By Jim Popkin, Published: April 26
The Justice Department on Thursday announced the indictment of a former
State Department employee for allegedly spying on behalf of Cuba, but it
is unable to arrest her because she lives in Sweden, a country that does
not extradite citizens accused of espionage.
Marta Rita Velazquez, 55, a graduate of Princeton University and
Georgetown University Law School, was indicted nearly a decade ago on
charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. Velazquez lives in Stockholm
and is aware of the charges against her, the Justice Department said.
But the extradition treaty between the United States and Sweden does not
allow extradition for spying.
"Espionage is considered a 'political offense' that, therefore, falls
outside the scope of Sweden's extradition treaty," said Justice
Department spokesman Dean Boyd. Swedish officials declined to comment on
the announcement of the indictment.
A grand jury in Washington indicted Velazquez in 2004, but the charges
remained sealed until Thursday. "Velazquez has continually remained
outside the United States since 2002," the Justice Department said,
frustrating U.S. attempts to arrest her. The United States notified her
that she was under suspicion in December 2011. Attempts to reach
Velazquez for her response to the indictment were unsuccessful.
Law enforcement sources said the FBI first learned about Velazquez in
late 2002, after the debriefings of Ana Belen Montes, a former Defense
Department analyst who pleaded guilty to spying for Cuba for 17 years.
Montes told investigators that she met Velazquez while they were
graduate students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced
International Studies in Washington and that Velazquez helped recruit
her as a spy.
"Velazquez would and did foster and maintain a close personal friendship
with Ana Belen Montes in order to facilitate the recruitment of Montes
to serve as an agent of the Cuban Intelligence Service," the indictment
states.Velazquez once mailed Montes a letter saying, "It has been a
great satisfaction for me to have had you as a friend and comrade. . . .
I hope our relationship continues outside the academic sphere."
According to the indictment, Velazquez, who was born in Puerto Rico,
introduced Montes to a Cuban intelligence officer in New York, escorted
her on a clandestine trip to Cuba for "operational training" and helped
her obtain employment with the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Montes would go on to lead a distinguished career at DIA as a top Cuban
analyst, winning awards, briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff and helping
to soften U.S. policy toward Cuba, all while reporting reams of
classified information back to Havana. Montes, the subject of a cover
story in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, was described by her lead
debriefer as "one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history."
Velazquez went on to work for the U.S. government, too, first at the
Transportation Department and then for 13 years as a legal officer with
the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development. During
her tenure with USAID, Velazquez held a top secret security clearance
and was posted to U.S. embassies in Nicaragua and Guatemala. She
exchanged encrypted messages with Cuban operatives while at USAID, the
indictment states, and traveled to Panama for an operational meeting.
She resigned from USAID in June 2002, after Montes's arrest but months
before Montes pleaded guilty to espionage and began cooperating with law
Like Montes, Velazquez received training in Cuba on how to receive coded
instructions from Havana on shortwave radio, how to fake her way through
government-administered polygraph examinations, and how to travel
incognito to Cuba using fake passports and disguises, the indictment states.
Popkin is a writer living in Washington.