Hegemony watch: China’s on-again spy facility in Cuba, established in 2001

FPI / June 14, 2023


By Richard Fisher

In a classic public-relations bungle, a June 9 leak by “U.S. officials” to the Wall Street Journal said that “China and Cuba have reached a secret agreement for China to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island.”

Already Cuba’s largest trading partner since 2016, the Journal said China would pay “several billion dollars to allow it to build the eavesdropping station.”

A declassified U.S. reconnaissance photo from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis of the Soviet nuclear warhead storage bunker at Bejucal, Cuba, now close to a major Chinese signals intelligence (SIGINT) base aimed at the United States.

That same day, however, the Journal report was denied by Pentagon spokesman Gen. Patrick Ryder, saying, “We are not aware of China and Cuba developing any type of spy station.”

Also on June 9, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told MSNBC news, of the Journal report, “it’s not accurate.”

But the next day on June 10, a “Biden Administration official” told the New York Times that a Chinese signals intelligence (SIGINT) facility “has been up and running since or before 2019, when the Chinese base was upgraded.”

The Times added the Biden Administration official “insisted that China and Cuba had struck an accord to enhance existing spy capabilities.”

Criticism of the White House’s fumbled message was quick. Congressman Mike Gallagher, who is leading a House of Representatives Select Committee on the China challenge said, “Why did the Biden administration previously deny these reports of a C.C.P. spy base in Cuba? Why did they downplay the ‘silly’ C.C.P. spy balloon?”

Further clarity was offered by Miles Yu, former China policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and current Senior Fellow and Director of the Hudson Institute China Center, in a June 13 statement from the Hudson Institute:

“The White House was wrong. The White House, you know, first denied the report that the CCP had an eavesdropping project in Cuba. And then, it said, oh, the CCP does have it but they started at least since 2019. The truth is that the Chinese eavesdropping facility in Cuba went way back, far beyond 2019. It basically became a large-scale enterprise between Cuba and China in the spring of 2001, right after the EP3 plane crash incident.”

Washington has a longer history of concerns with signals and electronic intelligence (ELINT) systems in Cuba operated by the former Soviet Union, then Russia, from their base near Havana at Lourdes, a 28 square hectare facility that began construction in 1962 and that at its height had 1,000 to 1,500 Russian technicians.

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