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The Alan Gross case: Could 12 dozen = 5?*

by Saul Landau
31 August 2010

Someone, perhaps the protagonist himself, made a mistake -- perhaps an “oversight,” as Washington bureaucrats label their errors. Alan Gross, on a mission for his company (DAI) working for USAID (United States Agency for International Development) solicited a tourist visa to travel to Cuba for the purpose of “promoting democracy,” a euphemism for undermining governments that challenge Washington dictates.

Imagine the 60-year old American posing as a tourist while distributing laptops, cell phones and forbidden satellite phones to Cubans! Gross should have known he would draw the attention of Cuban state security. Or did he think he could innocuously drop-off expensive appliances at private homes, like a Santa Claus who prolonged his gift-giving night? Gross claimed he intended only to help the Cuban Jewish community upgrade its communication technology. Do most religious Jews believe God will talk to them only via satellite phone?

The atheistic Cuban government, of course, would have denied him permission to accomplish this task; so big deal, he lied and wrote “tourist” on his visa application. Not really a lie. He did hope to visit the Tropicana and spend a day at the beach in between satellite phone deliveries.

Gross knew Cuba does not allow satellite phones. A sign at the airport announces this. Satellite phones prevent tapping and could be used for sending coded messages on several frequencies. Their signals will usually bypass local telecom systems. Oh, these phones can also call in coordinates for air strikes. On the web, Motorola advertises its satellite phones at bargain prices: between $1,795 and $5,273 – not counting service.

In addition, the Cuban state phone company holds a monopoly and doesn’t allow competition. But if Gross wanted Jews to communicate to relatives abroad why not distribute phone cards in hard currency or Cuban-made cell phones with a prepaid long distance options?

How did he acquire his merchandise? Could Cuban customs, which x-rays all incoming baggage, have missed these hi-tech phones in his suitcase? Not likely. Did Gross pick them up at the U.S. Interests Section? [NB - the US Interests Section is the lower-level equivalent of a consulate or embassy and its staff are considered diplomats. Diplomatic luggage and mail, by international agreements, is not searched. klw]

In any case, Gross, working for DAI, a company contracted to the U.S. government, Cuba’s primary enemy, falsified his immigration form and failed to register with Cuba as an agent of the U.S. government. In other words, Cuba had him cold on immigration fraud and failing to register. Did he really think he wouldn’t get caught? Did no one in his company or at AID warn him? A Gringo going around Cuba handing out satellite phones to Jews? And there are not that many in Cuba.

Given the facts of prima facie evidence of his lying to Cuban immigration and distributing taboo products, you’d think from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s recent remarks, that Cuba had unjustly arrested a gross of innocent Jewish Americans trying to help members of their suffering tribe. Who, by the way, already get plenty of communications help from Jewish agencies in several countries.

Clinton appealed to American Jews to rally behind Alan, who “has been held in a Cuban jail for the last seven months without being charged with any crime – because he did not commit any crime. He was in Cuba as a humanitarian and development worker and, in fact, was assisting the small Jewish community in Havana that feels very cut off from the world.” Clinton, speaking at a dinner honoring Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, [said she]raised the issue at the behest of his family: “I am really making an appeal to the active Jewish community here in our country to join this cause.” (Jerusalem Post, July 15) She probably didn’t have time in her remarks to mention one fact: Gross worked for a company contracted with an agency in her own State Department -- USAID. (July 13 speech to reception hosted for the Jewish Community)

In late February, I asked three people at Havana’s largest synagogue; none knew an American named Gross. Adela Dworin, vice president of the Hebrew Community House in Cuba, “denie[d] any knowledge of Gross and says that recognized international Jewish organizations have provided them with legal Internet connections,” according to CBS News. (http://www.cbsnews.com/8300-503543_162-503543.html?keyword=Portia+Siegelbaum#ixz\z0tfoB4onk)

Alan Gross had previously set up satellite communications systems to circumvent state-controlled channels in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like a bottom fish on the precarious food chain of subverting a foreign government, Gross got caught on a Cuban police hook. Cuba has not yet formally charged him although Cuban officials have said they “suspect him of espionage.”

Secretary Clinton, pleading for Gross’ freedom, ignored the case of five admitted Cuban agents serving long sentences in U.S. federal prisons. Like Gross, they also failed to register as foreign agents (maximum sentence 18 months); unlike him, they came to Miami to fight terrorism, not to undermine the U.S. government or political system.

The five Cuban agents admitted they didn’t register as foreign agents – their only crime. Yet, the Justice Department charged them, without evidence, of conspiring to commit espionage and other felonies. The intimidated Miami judge and jury predictably convicted and sentenced them. Gross traveled to Cuba to undermine the Cuban government.

Different motives, but hell isn’t it time for a swap? Gross for five? Judy Gross, his wife, could stand beside the wives of the five Cuban prisoners’ wives demanding: “free our husbands.”

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow whose films are available from roundworldproduction.com.

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