Former U.S. Ambassador Accused of Spying for Cuba 6:00
(CNN Español) -- Manuel Rocha is 73 years old and worked for several decades as a U.S. diplomat. He was deputy director of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba and became that country's ambassador to Bolivia. He is now accused of acting as Cuba's secret foreign agent.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Dec. 4 that the case against Rocha "exposes one of the most far-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent."
Rocha says he is innocent. How did the U.S. discover that this high-level official was allegedly a spy?
Manuel Rocha, who according to the State Department is a "naturalized U.S. citizen of Colombia," has an extensive diplomatic history with positions at U.S. embassies and consulates in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Italy, Bolivia, Mexico and Argentina.
Rocha graduated laude from Yale University in 1973, received his Master of Public Administration from Harvard University in 1976 and a Master of International Relations from Georgetown University in 1978, according to his biography at the U.S. State Department.
He began his career as a diplomatic officer in the State Department's Honduras office in November 1981. In January 1983 he was appointed political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He then served as a Surveillance Officer at the State Department's Operations Center and Consul for Political and Economic Affairs for the U.S. Consulate General in Florence, Italy. In March 1987 he was appointed political-military official at the embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
He later served as deputy director of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and as director of Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council in Washington. He was also deputy political counselor at the embassy in Mexico City.
From 1991 to 1994, Manuel Rocha was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Later he was deputy director of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba.
Rocha was chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires from 1997 to 2000.
Rocha then served as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, his most important diplomatic post.
After that, he worked as an advisor to the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, a position he left in 2012.
Rocha currently works at consulting firm LLYC USA as a "senior international business advisor," according to court documents.
What they point it out for
The State Department says Rocha "secretly supported the Republic of Cuba and its clandestine mission to gather intelligence against the United States by acting as an undercover agent for Cuba's General Directorate of Intelligence."
"The criminal indictment alleges that for more than 40 years, Rocha acted as an undercover agent of the Cuban government," Attorney General Garland said.
- Charges Mount Against Manuel Rocha, Former U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, Accused of Spying for Cuba
Rocha faces 15 charges, including acting as an illegal agent of a foreign government, and others — added to the indictment Tuesday — of wire fraud and false statements to investigators.
Prosecutors allege that the 73-year-old former U.S. diplomat acted as an "undercover agent for Cuba's intelligence services" for decades.
Rocha was arrested and had his initial court appearance Monday in Miami, where federal prosecutors asked a judge to keep him in custody until trial.
In the indictment, prosecutors claim that the Cuban government has worked for years on recruiting people inside the United States to assist in intelligence gathering, including people within the U.S. government.
As a State Department employee, the former diplomat had "unique" access to government information that was not public, according to prosecutors.
Rocha was represented by Miami attorney Jacqueline Arango, who works for the law firm Akerman. At the arraignment on Tuesday, Dec. 6, Rocha pleaded not guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Stratton said the government plans to bring additional charges before a grand jury and set a preliminary hearing and arraignment for Dec. 18.
"Betraying trust by pledging false allegiance to the United States while serving a foreign power is a crime that will be punished to the full force of the Department of Justice," Garland said.
The indictment also alleges that Rocha praised another U.S. government official who worked as an agent of Cuba. In secretly recorded conversations, Rocha allegedly spoke of someone who worked with the Cuban government named "Ana" and said that "unfortunately I would have done much more if I hadn't been betrayed."
While court documents do not identify the person, a U.S. citizen named Ana Montes was convicted of spying for the Cuban government while working at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. He spent more than 20 years behind bars.
How an undercover FBI employee contacted Rocha
It all started with a tip the FBI received. An undercover FBI employee posing as a Cuban intelligence agent messaged Rocha via WhatsApp in November 2022, shortly after investigators received a tip of Rocha's alleged undercover work, court documents say. In the message, prosecutors say, the undercover employee said he "has a message for you from your friends in Havana. This is a sensitive issue." The former ambassador agreed to meet with the undercover employee in Miami to talk.
In several meetings with an undercover FBI employee posing as a member of Cuban intelligence, Rocha repeatedly referred to the United States as "the enemy," and praised Fidel Castro, according to court documents.
Rocha said he was "in charge" of what he described as the "downing of the planes," which prosecutors believe refers to an incident during Rocha's time working for the State Department in Havana, when Cuba in 1996 shot down two unarmed planes operated by members of Brothers to the Rescue, a U.S.-based group opposed to Fidel Castro's government. Four men were killed in the episode.
Rocha allegedly boasted, according to prosecutors, of his "decades" of work on behalf of the Cuban government, saying he "strengthened the revolution" during "the last 40 years," and lamented "the blows that the enemy," allegedly referring to the U.S. government, "has dealt to the current revolution."
CNN's Ione Molinares, Hannah Rabinowitz, Holmes Lybrand, Evan Perez, Denise Royal and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.