US charges former State Department official with spying for Cuba

Marta Rita Velazquez allegedly met Cuban agents in Madrid in the 1980s The 57-year-old former government employee fled the country and lives in Stockholm

US Justice Department headquarters in Washington.
US Justice Department headquarters in Washington.Reuters

US federal prosecutors on Thursday unsealed a grand jury indictment against a 57-year-old former State Department employee who has been charged with spying for Cuba and recruiting other officials for an espionage ring.

In a lengthy statement, the US Justice Department said that Marta Rita Velázquez, a native of Puerto Rico who now lives in Stockholm, “conspired with others to transmit to the Cuban government and its agents documents and information relating to US national defense, with the intent that they would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of the Cuban government.”

A federal grand jury handed down the indictment in 2004 but it was only unsealed on Thursday. Justice officials didn’t give any reason why they waited nine years to make it public.

According to the charges, Velázquez – also known as Marta Rita Kviele and Barbara – conspired with others to transmit documents and information related to US national defense to the Cuban government agents.

She fled the United States after one of her handlers, Ana Belén Montes, a former US Defense Department official, pleaded guilty to spying for Cuba and began cooperating with prosecutors.

Velázquez and Montes became friends when they both attended Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in the early 1980s.

Montes, 55, who was arrested at her workplace by authorities, is serving a 25-year sentence at a federal prison.

Velázquez allegedly helped the Cuban Intelligence Service “spot, assess and recruit” US citizens who occupied sensitive national security positions, the indictment states.

Around 1985, both women traveled to Madrid and Prague where they met a Cuban official who gave them false passports. From Prague they also traveled to Havana, the indictment states.

Velázquez, who had top security clearance at the State Department’s US Agency for International Development (USAID), helped Montes obtain her job with the US Defense Intelligence Agency.

In Cuba, both were trained to receive encrypted messages through high radio frequencies.

After Montes was arrested on September 21, 2001 and pled guilty the following year, Velázquez resigned her position and left the country.

She could face up to life in prison if she is convicted.

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