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Castro's spies, U.S. partner, a war

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

When does faith in an ideology shatter? For years Jorge Masetti was a true believer in Cuban communism and Fidel Castro. His memoir of disillusionment is an important book for two reasons. First, from his vantage point as an agent for DGI, the Cuban intelligence service, Mr. Masetti details operations ranging from drug smuggling, counterfeiting, bank robberies in Mexico to murder. He witnessed Cuba's bungling involvement in Nicaragua, Angola and other countries.
And second, Mr. Masetti gives an incisive account of the show trials and executions in 1989 of his father-in-law, Col. Antonio de la Guardia, a key figure in the Cuban Interior ministry, and Arnoldo Ochoa, the charismatic general who commanded Cuban forces in Angola, Ethiopia and Nicaragua. Now Mr. Masetti lives in exile in Spain, and his revenge is In The Pirate's Den: My Lie as a Secret Agent for Castro (Encounter, $24.95, 164 pages, illus.)
Mr. Masetti was a second-generation Castro true-believer. His father, an Argentine journalist, came to Cuba in the 1950s to cover Castro's revolution, joined the guerrillas, and after victory helped found Prensa Latina, the Cuban news service.
Cast out by rivals, he died a lonely death leading a guerrilla band in Argentina. At age seven, Mr. Masetti was taken in hand by Manuel Pineiro Losada, aka "Red Beard," head of DGI, eventually becoming an international agent.
Dedication died hard in Mr. Masetti. He saw the futility of Castro's ventures in African wars, and the ill-treatment of young Cuban soldiers shipped halfway around the world to fight someone else's fights.
So, too, for the corruption of the Cuban-supported Sandinistas who won control of Nicaragua. And as a DGI operative in Mexico City, Mr. Masetti found himself reduced to criminal thuggery, organizing bank robberies to raise money for Puerto Rican terrorists.
DGI's plans could be grandiose. In 1989 Mr. Masetti was told to create a base in Spain for operations against the United States. "Believe it or not," he was told by Gen. Patricio de la Guardia, twin brother of Tony de la Guardia, "the first objective is to blow up the transmission balloon of TV Marti!" referring to the Reagan administration's multi-million project to beam anti-Castro material into Cuba.
Mr. Masetti never had to undertake this fool's mission. The day after his assignment, police arrested the de la Guardia brothers and Gen. Ochoa on charges of corruption and drug dealing. The latter was grotesque, given the Castro government's involvement in dope smuggling. The accusations were a sham: The true reason, Mr. Masetti asserts, is that Fidel Castro recognized the rising popularity of Gen. Ochoa among the 300,000 Cubans who had served in Angola, and chose to destroy a rival.
A show trial followed "a month of dementia and nightmares" with the accused dutifully reciting "confessions" in return for the lives of their families. Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia died before a firing squad. Mr. Masetti fled to Spain, concluding, "we didn't try to destroy only our enemies, but we destroyed our women, our children, the people who worked for us. The fact is, during those years of conflict, all we did was destroy. We built nothing."

First, a bit of inside baseball. In 1999 the Central Intelligence Agency sponsored a conference on the intelligence wars in Berlin, 1946-196l.
Circulated materials included a 634-page book, "On the Front Lines of the Cold War," by the agency history staff. One featured operation was the famed tunnel that ran half a mile into the Soviet sector to tap Red Army communication lines.
Scant attention was paid to the fact that the British Secret Intelligence Service was an equal partner, an omission that raised hackles in London. Now SIS, the Brits' equivalent of CIA, puts forth its part of the story in Spies Beneath Berlin (Overlook Press, $24.95, 222 pages, illus.)
A former diplomat, David Stafford is one of Britain's foremost intelligence writers, a reputation this book will enhance. He describes the first Cold War tunnel operation, conceived by the SIS head of station in Vienna, Peter Lunn, the 1936 captain of the British ski team. SIS rented a house near where Soviet cables ran through the Allied sectors , and from 1948 to 1951 snatched up a rich trove of message traffic. Operation CONFLICT was a forerunner for Berlin.
The basics of the Berlin tunnel have been oft-told. Lingering public myth is that British traitor George Blake, who worked for SIS on the project, told the Soviets what was happening. Former CIA officer David Murphy and others put this yarn to rest in their 1997 book, "Background Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War."
The truth is that the KGB was quite happy to let the West snoop on the Red Army; further, using the tapped lines for disinformation could have led to Blake's exposure. The SIS now has its say, and no longer can it be said, as it was at CIA's 1999 conference, that "the intelligence war was fought and won by the Americans alone."

More than half a century after peace, good war stories still surface. Philip Gerard does a superb job in detailing a shadowy side of the war that for the most part remains officially classified. His book is Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception (Dutton, $25.95, 400 pages, illus.).
Mr. Gerard describes the exploits of the 23d Headquarters Special Troops, created to persuade the German army that the U. S. Army was far stronger and better equipped than actuality, and to stage fake river crossings as diversions even when doing so meant drawing enemy fire on its own positions.
Through adroit sound recordings and mock vehicles, the "ghost army" convinced the Germans time and again that American forces were massing for river crossings. Lacking access to documents, Mr. Gerard managed to find and interview scores of men willing to tell their part of an intriguing story.
One quibble that an editor should have handled: Mr. Gerard has the infuriating habit of referring to soldiers as "guys," as many as three times per page. An editor should spare readers such irritations.

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is JosephG894
@aol.com