V. TERRORISM STRIKES HOME
In 1961 a young Puerto Rican by the name of Filiberto Ojeda Rios traveled to Cuba to receive training in sabotage techniques. He bonded with the Cuban revolutionary leadership and expressed his willingness to work with the Cubans to infiltrate United States military bases in Puerto Rico. The Cubans provided a false identity and the alias of Felipe Ortega. Ojeda returned to Puerto Rico and helped create MAPA, the first terrorist nationalist organization actively engaged in confrontation with the United States.
By May of 1964 Puerto Rican law enforcement authorities presented proof that Cuba was sending weapons into Puerto Rico through the airport at Ponce. Ojeda was invited by Havana for what was termed the Tricontinental Revolutionary Conference held in 1966. The Puerto Rican representatives included Narciso Arabell Martinez and Todd Pagan.
On April 10, 1968, several bombs were placed in commercial offices and at the IBM building in the capital. In July of 1968 armed commandos destroyed the Sears store in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. After the inauguration of Luis Ferre as governor, terrorist squads began to place bombs indiscriminately in banks, hotels, police stations, and even the United States Secret Service office in San Juan. Ojeda, among others, now responded indirectly to Manuel Piñeiro, the Cuban head of the Department of the Americas, the counter intelligence unit and predecessor to the present Directorate of Intelligence, or Cuba’s infamous DI.
In 1968 Fidel Castro directed a series of active measures engaging students and professors in Puerto Rico, the continental United States and Canada. Part of the plan involved the Venceremos Brigades which brought young people to Cuba where they were taught by intelligence officers Julio Torres Rizo and Alina Alayo Amaro, Cuban specialists on America. Brigade activities were coordinated directly through the Department of the Americas. In 1969 the Cuban government welcomed representatives of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the embryo of the Weather Movement. Mark Rudd, Bernadine Dohrn, Peter Clapp, Carlos Aponte, and Jeff Jones were briefed. Cuban intelligence decided to help finance the Black Panther movement under the leadership of H. Rap Brown. One Black Panther who personally developed the Cuba contact was Tony Bryant. Bryant even skyjacked a commercial airliner, directed it to Cuba and was welcomed by Castro. Within a short time he became disillusioned with Castro’s revolution, spoke out and was incarcerated. Eventually he was released, fled Cuba and joined Cuban freedom fighters Tony Cuesta and Eugenio Llamera, among others, in the struggle against Castro.
Cubans engaged in transmissions through Radio Free Dixie, a program directed at African- Americans. Robert Williams ran the station until he fell from grace as a result of his perception of Cuban government racism and its contradictory policies. In 1970 Venceremos Brigade member Julie Nichamin was quoted in the Cuban military magazine Verde Olivo as stating that the brigades had a mission, “to destroy the imperialist monster from within as the rest of the peoples of the world are doing from outside.”
In 1969 Fidel Castro also recognized an opportunity to advance his objectives as a result of the discord in America over the Vietnam war. Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Manuel Piñeiro, and the highest echelon of Cuban intelligence, authorized violent active measures in the United States. In December of 1969 Ojeda placed a bomb in a public library in Manhattan. In March of 1970, in the Bay of San Juan, a terrorist group attacked Marines and later fired at the American base in Buchanan. During the subsequent law enforcement investigation a series of documents were seized indicating that the terrorist conspirators were traveling to Cuba where they were being instructed on sabotage of specific U.S. targets. Cuba directed that the contacts for Arabell, Ojeda, Pagan and others would be Cuban representatives at the United Nations who would in turn convey the necessities of funding, arms and explosives to Havana. Eventually Ojeda was arrested. Documents were seized. A manual edited in Cuba on explosive preparation and placement was presented as evidence before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington. After posting bond Ojeda disappeared and was declared a fugitive. A couple of days later five bombs were detonated in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In 1973 the FBI reported that one hundred and thirty five leaders of subversive groups in Puerto Rico traveled to communist Cuba for indoctrination and training. Most of those received extensive training in guerilla warfare, preparation of explosives and sophisticated methods of sabotage to be executed on U.S. soil. In 1974 Ojeda returned to New York and began to work in coordination with the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN).
In 1974 FALN and the Weather Underground, another terrorist organization, established a bond. The leaders met in Havana. According to Czechoslovakian Secret Service (STB) defectors, including Ladislav Bittman, the Weather Underground in the United States maintained contact with communist intelligence for years, particularly Cuban intelligence, and with the East German STASI. Cuban and East Germans funded the Weather Underground. Larry Fratwohl, and ex-Weatherman, has stated that when underground members lost track of each other or needed funding, explosives or contact points, the Cuban embassies in Mexico and Canada were called. Thanks to Havana the FALN and Weather Underground decided to coordinate their separate but common terrorist objectives in America.
In September and October of 1974, the Cubans provided logistical support for the FALN movement to explode bombs in City Hall and the police station in Newark, New Jersey, as well as at five other sites, including Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, New York. The most spectacular bombing by FALN would be the explosion of January 24, 1975, at the historic Fraunces Tavern in New York City, during the lunch hour. A briefcase was left in a hallway, was detonated, four Americans died and fifty-five Americans were wounded. Terrorism had now firmly gripped America.
The notoriety of the Fraunces Tavern bombing forced Ojeda to go into hiding. His Cuban handlers directed that he immediately report for protection at the Cuban mission in the United Nations where he was spotted by FBI surveillance later in 1976. Somehow he returned clandestinely to Puerto Rico and named the militant wing of the FALN, now known as the “Macheteros.”
The Department of the Americas, at the direction of Manuel Piñeiro, began to train Puerto Ricans on an ongoing basis at Guanabo, Cuba. At one point there were six hundred receiving terrorist training to be carried out upon homeland targets. In August of 1978 the Macheteros engaged in the killing of a police officer in Naguabo, Puerto Rico. On October 1, they stole five hundred pounds of ammonium nitrate, dynamite, detonators, and other bomb making equipment in Manati, Puerto Rico. In December of 1979, Cuban backed Macheteros ambushed Marines at Sabana Seca in Puerto Rico. In January of 1981 the terrorists attacked the military airport at Isla Verde where they destroyed nine U.S. fighter planes. The active measure, planned in Havana, was executed in a total of seven minutes as part of a strike and flight objective. Had a detonator exploded properly on March 15, 1981, the Macheteros would have killed Henry Kissinger. On July 14, 1981, Macheteros demolished three Coast Guard Stations interrupting air traffic between the United States and Latin America. On February 28, 1982, terrorism returned to Manhattan. Four bombs went off in the Wall Street area. In 1983 Macheteros struck the Computer Center of the United States Navy in Washington, D.C.
By 1983 the Department of the Americas had begun to shift the financial burden of terrorist activity. After years of funding, the Castro brothers, Piñeiro, Jose Abrantes and Antonio De La Guardia were beginning to capitalize on their investments. Across the globe the Cubans had become significant players in drug trafficking, kidnappings, and bank and armored car robberies. At a meeting in Havana Machetero leader Carlos Rodriguez was directed to fund terrorist operations with bank robberies. On July 17, 1983, one such event netted the Macheteros two and a half million dollars. On September 12, 1983, Macheteros robbed a Wells Fargo office in Hartford, Connecticut, removing over seven million dollars. According to a Cuban defector then partly in charge of the operation, Jorge Masetti, two million dollars were quickly delivered to Fidel Castro through an espionage network which included Cuban agents Fernando Gomez, Jose Arbessu and Masetti himself. Later in March of 1984, the FBI identified an additional three million dollars in transit from Cuban Agent Gomez to Castro, the proceeds of the Connecticut heist. The testimony of Machetero conspirators, as well as of Masetti, confirmed that the entire robbery had been planned in Havana and that Havana had issued forged passports and even fifty thousand dollars of financing prior to the successful venture.
On October 30, 1983, Machetero Luis Colon and three others fired an anti-tank rocket LAW-M-72, at the FBI offices on the fifth floor of the federal building in San Juan. The missile markings reflected it was American made and had been left by American forces in Vietnam in 1975, later being removed to Cuba.
As the magnitude of the targets continued to escalate on U.S. soil, massive amounts of assets were directed by the United States government at stopping the Cuban backed Machetero network. As part of the law enforcement efforts a conversation was taped between Ojeda and others where Ojeda discussed the introduction of thirty kilos of plastique explosives into the United States through Mexico, originating in Havana. While the investigation was in progress, Macheteros fired off two rockets at the Supreme Court in San Juan. The rockets also again came from Cuba. According to William Webster, then Director of the FBI, there was no question of the source. In September of 1985 Ojeda was arrested.
Previously in 1978 in Elmhurst, Queens, a bomb exploded. William Morales blew off his hands when a pipe bomb he was assembling in a safehouse accidentally detonated. He was convicted on February 28, 1979, in the Brooklyn Federal Court. On May 21, 1979, at the age of thirty- one, with his hands bandaged, he managed to escape from Bellevue Hospital unto a waiting car. Morales went underground for several years and eventually crossed the border into Mexico. The Mexican government refused to extradite him and in 1988 Morales fled to Havana to join his handlers. He had been granted safe haven and protection by the Cuban government. He now lives with his Cuban wife and his son, Rodrigo. He is paid a salary by the Cuban government. Occasionally he meets with some of America’s most wanted. For instance, Assata Shakur, the former Joanne Chesimard, one of the most wanted of American fugitives and the convicted murderess of a New Jersey state trooper, is another escapee with whom Morales visits.
On September 10, 1999, the Tampa Tribune published an editorial criticizing President Clinton’s offer of clemency to a gang of sixteen terrorist members of the FALN movement. Many of the convicted terrorists that Clinton pardoned had been serving nearly life sentences. The highly criticized clemency case resulted in the Tampa Tribune editorial that indicated that the FALN group leader, “was captured after a bomb he was making exploded prematurely and blew off his hand. The wounded prisoner later escaped U.S. custody, was captured in Mexico after a shootout that killed a Mexican officer, was subsequently released, and is now living in exile in Cuba, where he can study at the feet of the master, Castro.” On August 27, 1999, the Tampa Tribune reported that federal agencies wanted no leniency for the Puerto Rican nationalists. The FBI, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Attorneys in Illinois and Connecticut all objected. FBI officials complained of “any leniency [given] to a person convicted of terrorist related acts at a time when the United States was engaged in a world wide battle against terrorism.” America’s position must remain constant.
Sen. GRASSLEY: I'd like to show you an FBI surveillance video secretly recorded in a Chicago apartment and ask you some questions. This chilling video shows Edwin Cortes and Alejandria (sic) Torres. These were two of the terrorists who received clemency from President Clinton after you directed that the Justice Department change its recommendations.
The video shows Cortes and Torres in the process of building a bomb. Were the two terrorists in this video in the group that you asked the pardon attorney to draft a positive recommendation for?
HOLDER: Senator, I can't answer that question. I don't have the records in front of me. I don't know the names of the people who were among that group of 15, I guess.
I don't know the answer to that.
GRASSLEY: OK. Well, as I said, their names were Edwin Cortes and Alejandria (sic) Torres. At the time you directed the pardon attorney to draft a neutral options memo, had you ever seen this video before?
HOLDER: No. I've not seen this video before.
GRASSLEY: Are you weren't aware that the video existed?
HOLDER: I think I've seen it in some news accounts in the recent past, like, over the last week or so, something like that.
GRASSLEY: Were you aware that after this video was taken, a search to the apartment led to the seizure of 24 pounds of dynamite, 24 blasting caps, weapons, disguises, false identification, and thousands of rounds of ammunition?
HOLDER: I can't say that I'm aware of that specific fact. I did know that the people who were a part of that group, for lack of a better term, had access to, had been captured with explosives. I don't know the amounts or whether it was in connection with this particular thing.
GRASSLEY: Were you aware that FALN terrorists threatened to kill the judge at their sentencing hearing?
HOLDER: That one I'm not. I'm not aware of that.
* * *
GRASSLEY: Well, earlier today, you said in response to a question from Senator Sessions that the people who received clemency didn't actually hurt anyone and that you thought that the granting them clemency was reasonable, but isn't it true that the only person that the people in the video didn't hurt anyone is -- or why they didn't hurt anyone -- is because the FBI caught them before they got a chance to do their damage.
HOLDER: Yes, that might be so, but that is, nevertheless -- you know, it's a difference between let's hypothetically say murder and attempted murder. If some -- there's an intervening act that stops the person from committing the crime that they wanted to do, the person's intent is certainly nefarious and worthy of punishment but the ultimate crimes are fundamentally different ones.