A former American diplomat and State Department employee, Victor Manuel Rocha, has been accused of acting as a secret agent for Cuba after an undercover FBI agent allegedly caught Rocha admitting to working against “the enemy” United States for 40 years, court records obtained by Law&Crime show.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday that Rocha, who resides in Miami, Florida, has been a foreign agent of the Cuban government while serving on the National Security Council from 1994 to 1995 and later as U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002.
“We allege that for over 40 years, Victor Manuel Rocha … sought out and obtained positions within the United States government that would provide him access to nonpublic information and the ability to affect U.S. foreign policy,” Garland said.
In the newly public complaint detailing the charges, prosecutors say that from 1981 to 2002, Rocha had access to so-called “nonpublic information including classified information” while he worked at the State Department, though the complaint is otherwise largely devoid of details about how those efforts may have shaped U.S. foreign policy.
Prosecutors say he moved from role to role at State, serving as a secretary to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Dominic Republic and later, as the director of inter-American affairs for the National Security Council. He held other positions too including deputy chief of missions at the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires and then from November 1999 until roughly August 2022, he was the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia.
At no time, prosecutors noted in the 20-page indictment, did Rocha have authorization, either directly or indirectly, to communicate U.S. secrets or sensitive information to any hostile nation, including Cuba. The U.S. has for years listed Cuba as a “state sponsor of international terrorism” and diplomatic tensions between the neighboring nations have been strained for nearly as long as Rocha, 73, has been alive.
“Rocha always kept his status as a Cuban agent secret in order to protect himself and others and to allow himself the opportunity to engage in additional clandestine activity,” prosecutors allege
The affidavit underlying his criminal complaint outlines some of the bold confessions and declarations prosecutors say Rocha made as he was being interviewed by an undercover FBI agent last November, as well as February and June this year.
The November meeting came after the FBI said it was tipped off for the first time about the former ambassador’s activities.
The undercover agent said when they met, Rocha made efforts to hide the route he took to the meeting and observed Rocha checking out the meetup spot in advance, like any trained counterintelligence professional might.
Rocha would remark on this to the undercover agent later, saying he “received sufficient training to know that you have to be alert to provocations,” the complaint states.
The undercover FBI agent also said that when he told Rocha he was going to set up a new “communication plan” for him and that he had a message to pass from his “friends in Havana,” the former ambassador was delighted, though he chided the agent.
“I tend to say ‘The Island,”” he allegedly said. “I never use C or H.”
“The Dirreción,” or, Cuba’s General Directorate of Intelligence, had told him to lead a “normal life” as he worked as a spy, Rocha is also accused of saying.
To do so, Rocha said he “created the legend of a right-wing person” to keep up the ruse, the complaint states.
Prosecutors say Rocha later admitted to going “little by little” and observing a meticulous, disciplined” process for his covert activities. He also regularly referred to the United States as “the enemy” and when using the term “we,” used it in reference to himself and Cuba.
According to the affidavit, he told the agent: “I knew exactly how to do it and obviously the Dirreción accompanied me.”
The undercover FBI agent said he met with Rocha for the first time in November 2022 outside of a church in Miami, Florida, though Rocha had offered to meet at a food court as a “back up” location if the first spot became compromised.
The food court was the perfect place to meet, Rocha allegedly said, because it was for “lower income people” and “no one” would recognize him. He would eventually meet the undercover agent at the food court on two separate occasions.
At the November meeting, the undercover agent claimed Rocha told him he had been working for Cuba for 40 years and he had never put a comrade in danger. He also asked to use something with the undercover agent at that meeting known as a “parole,” the complaint states.
A “parole” is an identifying item, password or phrase typically shared between an agent and their handler.
The “parole” Rocha is accused of giving the agent was a Columbian pesos bill.
During their meeting in February, the agent said when he pressed Rocha about whether he was still a “compañero of ours” or in other words, a “comrade,” Rocha was adamant that he was still working as a spy. When he met with the undercover FBI agent again this June and the undercover agent needled Rocha again, Rocha erupted defiantly.
“I am angry,” Rocha told him. “I am pissed off because that question that was asked … it’s that — that is like questioning my manhood … it’s like you want me to drop them … and show you if I still have testicles.”
When Rocha was later told that with “the help that you have given us for so long … you must have a great pair of balls not to be worried about,” he replied, “I have them — I have them,” the complaint states.
However, when he met with Diplomatic Security Service Agents last week, Rocha allegedly seemed less brazen. When asked by the agents if he had ever met the undercover agent at the church or the food court, Rocha flatly denied it.
Then, when allegedly shown a picture of himself with the undercover agent at one of their meetings, prosecutors say Rocha declined to comment any further.
Rocha is charged with conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General; acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General; and using a passport obtained by false statement. The passport charge, according to the prosecutors, stems from his admission to the undercover agent that he used a Dominic Republic passport instead of his American one when entering Panama.
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