Former U.S. Diplomat Charged with Secretly Serving as an Agent for Cuba

December 5, 2023

This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday’s arrest of former United States diplomat Manuel Rocha, whom the Department of Justice alleges “served as an agent of the Cuban government” for more than 40 years.

The Big Picture: A former American diplomat, Manuel Rocha, was charged with secretly serving as an agent to Cuba. The government alleges he has been engaged with Cuba since at least 1981 – the same year he began working at the U.S. State Department.

The Justice Department charges Rocha “with conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General; acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General; and with using a passport obtained by false statement.”

In 2022 and 2023, Rocha allegedly made confessions to an undercover FBI agent who was posed as a Cuban intelligence operative. In these admissions, The Associated Press explains that, according to the criminal complaint, he “praised the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro as ‘Comandante,’ branded the U.S. the ‘enemy’ and bragged about his service for more than 40 years as a Cuban mole in the heart of U.S. foreign policy circles …”

Rocha’s U.S. Government Career: Rocha began working at the U.S. State Department in 1981, and held various positions including on the National Security Council (1994-1997) as well as U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia (2000-2002). From around 2006-2012, Rocha worked as “an advisor to the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, a joint command of the United States military whose area of responsibility includes Cuba” (DOJ).

For Context: Under the Obama administration (in 2015), the U.S. and Cuba officially restored diplomatic ties after more than 50 years of tension. During the Trump administration, sanctions were reimposed on the country (located about 100 miles from Florida at their closest points); in 2021, the Trump admin re-designated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. While Cuba remains one of four U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism, “President Joe Biden [has] loosened some U.S. restrictions in the wake of widespread protests on the island and a renewed crackdown by Havana” (Council on Foreign Relations).

Read More:

Former U.S. Ambassador and National Security Council Official Charged with Secretly Acting as an Agent of the Cuban Government (U.S. Department of Justice – Office of Public Affairs)

Former career US diplomat charged with secretly spying for Cuban intelligence for decades (The Associated Press)

Former U.S. ambassador arrested on charges of being an agent for Cuba since 1981 (NBC News)

by Sarah Pinkerton,