Share story

WASHINGTON — At the core of the breakthrough to normalize U.S.-Cuba ties was the swap of three Cuban spies for a former Cuban intelligence officer who sent information to the CIA that led to the exposure of agents who infiltrated U.S. military intelligence, the State Department and anti-Castro exile groups.

U.S. officials didn’t identify the individual President Obama called “one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades.”

McClatchy, however, determined that he is Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, an expert on cryptography who worked at the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence Directorate. He was convicted in 1995 of passing state secrets to the U.S. government and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Obama said the released spy is back in the United States.

Sarraf’s name appeared on a list of Cuban intelligence officers convicted of spying for the United States that The Miami Herald published in January 2009. A former U.S. defense official confirmed Sarraf was the intelligence agent released by Havana.

Sarraf worked for Department M-XV, the unit of the Cuban Intelligence Directorate that maintained encrypted communications with Cuban agents in the United States, said the former defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Cuban funneled information about Cuban spy operations in the United States to another Cuban agent working for the United States, Jose Cohen, who, in turn, passed the material to the CIA, said the former U.S. defense official. Cohen escaped to the United States after learning he was being watched by Cuban counterintelligence officers, but Sarraf was arrested. “Had his (Sarraf’s) parents not been senior officials in the Cuban government, he would have been executed,” said the former U.S. defense official.

The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the identity of the U.S. agent released by Cuba. A national intelligence office statement, however, said information provided by the agent was “instrumental in the identification and disruption of several Cuban intelligence operatives in the United States and ultimately led to a series of successful federal espionage prosecutions.”

Those cases included the convictions of Ana Belen Montes, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who rose to become the Pentagon’s top expert on Cuba, and Walter Kendall Myers, a State Department official, and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers, the statement said. The Cuban agent’s information also led to the uncovering of the so-called “Wasp Network” of more than 40 Cuban spies who infiltrated anti-Castro exile groups in Florida. The spies included the “Cuban Five,” three of whom were those swapped for the U.S. agent.