09/17/13 - Miami Herald - Miami's shadow Cuban intelligence service
BY BRIAN LATELL
At the height of the Cold War, when Miami was a cauldron of international
intrigue and conspiracy, intelligence agents and services abounded. Enemy
operatives stalked one another, competing, carrying out high-stakes
missions, recruiting spies and mounting counterintelligence dragnets. But
it is scarcely known even today that from 1961 until 1975 two of the rival
espionage services that operated here were Cuban.
The larger and more aggressive was Fidel Castro's General Directorate of
Intelligence, the DGI, run by Manuel Pineiro, the notorious "Redbeard." The
other service, lean and obscurely proficient, was staffed entirely by
courageous Cuban-American men and women. Collectively they were known -
inside the CIA at least - by a curious cryptonym. They were the AMOTS.
The shadow intelligence service they staffed was intended to relocate to
Havana following the expected collapse of the Castro government, and then
to serve the security needs of a democratic Cuba. They would form the
agile, ready core of a much larger intelligence service. The AMOTS were a
"miniature CIA," according to an agency veteran who worked with them.
Members were recruited, tasked and funded by the agency, and managed by
JMWAVE in Coral Gables, the largest CIA station anywhere in the world in
the early 1960s. A few CIA officers were posted at the separate AMOTS
headquarters building near Miami International Airport but for security and
cover reasons there was little personal interaction between the two.
"Telephone contact with JMWAVE was frequent," the resident CIA case officer
at the AMOTS installation, recalled. He said his visits to the CIA station
"were rare." "Each day I would would meet with a station courier to pass on
all of our processed materials and to receive station requirements." The
AMOTS were obviously highly productive, operating in secrecy largely on
There were about 150 of them, veterans of many professions in their
previous lives in Cuba, trained in virtually the entire spectrum of
operational and analytic tradecraft. Many were intellectuals and scholars,
not inclined to volunteer for the dangerous infiltration and commando
operations run by JMWAVE into Cuba. But their unsung contributions were of
What did they do? Ted Shackley, the legendary chief at JMWAVE, testified
about their work before a Senate committee, citing what may have been a
hypothetical example. "We'd say, we are looking for a Cuban diesel engineer
with a license, and they'd come up with one." Miami exiles with special or
exotic skills needed by JMWAVE were identified and recruited this way.
Another CIA officer involved in Cuba operations testified that the AMOTS
served as access agents, as "eyes and ears in the Cuban community." They
helped the CIA, he said, in targeting potential agents, "hand holding
defectors, and compiling personal and psychological information." Some
AMOTS, extensively trained in espionage tradecraft, "were sent overseas to
help prepare other (intelligence) services." He said that AMOTS managed
safe houses and listening posts.
Occasionally they provided American law enforcement with information used
to detect and prosecute criminal activities. The most dramatic case
centered on Che Guevara when he delivered an anti-American diatribe at the
United Nations in New York in December 1964. AMOTS in Miami learned of a
military-style attack against him planned by an exile faction. JMWAVE
informed the FBI and arrests were subsequently made.
In fact, nonetheless, the militants managed to fire a remote-controlled
bazooka at the U.N. building just as Guevara was in the midst of his
harangue. The shell fell harmlessly into the East River a few hundred yards
short of the building, causing a geyser and rattling the windows of the
building. No one was hurt, but had the U.N. been struck, casualties would
have been likely.
Until now, with the declassification of once highly sensitive intelligence
records, the existence of the AMOTS operations was known to few beyond the
confines of the CIA. Sadly, therefore, the contributions of these anonymous
Cuban Americans have never been properly acknowledged. They served their
new country - and the free Cuba they desired - with dedication, enthusiasm,
and modesty. I am not aware that any former AMOTS have ever sought credit
or fame by violating the secrecy oaths they swore to many years ago.
Brian Latell, Cuba analyst and author of "Castro's Secrets. Cuban
Intelligence, the CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy," is a
senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American
Studies at UM. He served in the early 1990s as National Intelligence
Officer for Latin America at the CIA.
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