- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A department chairman at the U.S. Naval War College who served in a senior Pentagon post has pleaded guilty to lying to the federal government about his purpose in traveling to Cuba.

Alberto R. Coll, who is chairman of the college’s Strategic Research Department, is scheduled for a June 7 sentencing and faces a maximum five-year prison term for the felony conviction for giving a false statement. The Justice Department also required that Coll no longer hold a security clearance or seek access to classified information, according to a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Providence, R.I.

Coll’s attorney, Francis Flanagan, said his client “has visited Cuba many times as part of his scholarship.” In the trip under question, Mr. Flanagan said, Coll put the name of an aunt as the reason he wanted to visit the island. Mr. Flanagan said that when Navy investigators asked Coll, who is married, about the trip, he acknowledged “from the get-go” that he lied on the form and actually visited his girlfriend.

The attorney said Coll had started the relationship with the old friend “as a shoulder to cry on” after his 18-year-old daughter died in an automobile accident in June 2003. He later made the trip about which he lied, prompting a Navy investigation. The college was notified of the probe in February 2004.

“Mr. Coll is a well-respected scholar who has suffered a loss most of us cannot fathom,” Mr. Flanagan said.

Susan Hang, spokeswoman for the Newport, R.I.-based college, said Coll remains on the staff, where he has served since 1993. She said the college suspended his access to classified information after it learned of the investigation.

“We are going to let the proceedings end, and then we will make a decision at that time on whatever needs to take place,” Ms. Hang said. “We are just letting the judicial process take its course.”

The Havana-born Coll is well-known in national security circles as an specialist on Latin American affairs and as a lecturer on Cuban-U.S. relations. In the first Bush administration, the Princeton-educated Coll served as principal deputy assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

A senior administration official said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had been investigating Coll’s trips to Cuba over several years and that the probe resulted in a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office in Rhode Island.

The Feb. 14 agreement states: “The defendant knowingly made materially false statements and representations to representatives of the United States Department of State and the United States Department of Defense concerning the purpose of his proposed visit to the nation of Cuba.”

Coll pleaded guilty in March. Mr. Flanagan said Coll will lose his security clearance on account of being a felon.

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