In reversal, key fax allowed in ex-CIA agent case

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2011 6:54 PM
In reversal, key fax allowed in ex-CIA agent case

A former New York Times reporter testified Thursday that an ex-CIA agent on trial for perjury told her he was pleased by the success of a wave of 1997 bombings at Cuban hotels, and that he authored a fax which prosecutors argue proves he masterminded the blasts.

That testimony prompted the judge to reverse her previous ruling and allow the fax into evidence _ erasing what had been a victory for the defense team of Luis Posada Carriles.

Ann Louise Bardach now works for the Daily Beast but was a contract writer for the Times in 1998. She interviewed Posada from Aruba, where he was in hiding, and got him to admit planning bombings in Havana and the beach resort of Varadero between April and September 1997 that killed an Italian tourist.

"He was pleased that it was a successful strike. He wasn't pleased a man was killed, but he was pleased it was starting to get attention and with this story it was going to get more," said Bardach, who co-authored a series of summer 1998 stories on Posada for the Times.

"He had a general good feeling that they had done something successful and upset the tourist industry and alarmed Cuba," she said.

Posada, 83, was born in Cuba and spent years crisscrossing Latin America as an anti-communist militant whose activities were largely backed by the U.S. government. He is Public Enemy No. 1 in his homeland, even featured on propaganda billboards, and considered former President Fidel Castro's nemesis.

But Posada is now charged with obstruction, perjury and immigration fraud, accused of lying during citizenship hearings in El Paso about how he sneaked into the U.S. in 2005. Prosecutors say he also failed to disclose his alleged involvement in the Cuba bombings, and used a Guatemalan passport with a false name.

Bardach spent about 13 hours interviewing Posada. She said he agreed to the interview because he wanted to clarify that, while the explosions were meant to scare visitors to Cuba, no one was supposed to get killed.

Prosecutors played tapes of her interview, including a portion where Posada spoke about an August 1997 fax that was sent to his associates in Guatemala from El Salvador. Two-pages of hand-written Spanish, the fax was signed "Solo," an alias Posada used from the 1960s U.S. television show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Written at the height of the bombing campaign, the fax noted a wire transfer worth $3,200 from New Jersey to pay a "hotel bill," but complained about a lack of press coverage, warning that if there wasn't more attention in U.S. newspapers, no more money would be paid.

Bardach quoted Posada in the original stories as saying he had received money for years from leaders of the powerful anti-Castro lobbying group the Cuban American National Foundation, some of whom lived in New Jersey.

On the interview tape, Bardach and Posada were heard laughing about his non de guerre, "Solo."

That allowed the prosecution to reintroduce the fax, and U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone let it be shown to the jury, even though she had ruled previously that there wasn't enough evidence Posada had written it.

Bardach was subpoenaed by the U.S. government and is an unwilling participant in the case, saying her testimony is tantamount to putting journalism on trial. She has maintained she's not testifying for the prosecution _ but also not for Posada.

When pressed by the defense about whether Posada explicitly said he authored the fax, Bardach finally responded, "I'd like to help you out here, but I don't have a shred of doubt that he authored the fax."

Bardach also testified that the block-lettering on the fax was similar to that on a hand-written note Posada gave her clarifying some of his past answers as their 1998 interview was winding down. The jury also saw that note, which said, "he does not admit the bombings in the hotels, but he does not deny either," with Posada referring to himself in the third-person.

Posada has since recanted his statements during the Times interview, saying it was conducted in English, which he doesn't really speak. Bardach's interview tapes, however, have Posada recalling working as translator into English while helping the U.S. government support Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

A CIA agent until 1976, Posada participated indirectly in the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion and later served as head of the Venezuelan government's intelligence service. He was arrested for planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people but escaped from a Venezuelan prison while still facing trial.

In 2000, Posada was arrested in Panama in connection with a plot to kill Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned in 2004 and turned up in the U.S. the following March.