A former U.S. counterintelligence officer claims Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, was likely spied on by Cuban intelligence services during a 2010 visit to Havana.
McAuliffe visited Cuba to promote Virginia’s agricultural exports. He convinced the regime to allow imports of Virginia apples, poultry, soybeans, and wine, the Washington Post reported.
McAuliffe met with Jorge Bolaños, a retired Cuban spy who now heads the Cuban Interests Section in the United States, ahead of the trip. The bureau is the communist nation’s diplomatic outpost in Washington, D.C. and experts believe it houses members of the nation’s clandestine services.
McAuliffe would later attend a party hosted by Bolaños at the Cuban Interests Section.
His meeting with Bolaños prior to the Havana junket likely triggered increased attention from the Directorate of Intelligence, Cuba’s spy agency, during the trip, according to Chris Simmons, a former top U.S. Army counterintelligence official specializing in Cuba.
"Given the Directorate’s intimate understanding of the American political arena, it undoubtedly awarded McAuliffe a level of attention fair beyond normal business travelers since his return to politics was virtually assured," Simmons wrote last week.
Bolaños is officially "retired," Simmons noted, but he reportedly "maintained close ties with staff members of two of Cuba’s five spy services as well as the Superior Institute of Intelligence (ISI), where the regime’s civilian intelligence officers are trained."
Simmons boasts in his online bio that he was "deeply involved with the majority of U.S. Counterintelligence successes against Cuba" from 1996 to 2004.
"You can take what he says to the bank," Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author who is critical of the Castro regime, said of Simmons’ analysis.
"This is old hat," Fontova told the Washington Free Beacon in an email, noting that he documented instances of Cuban espionage involving high-profile American officials in his book, The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro.
Fontova pointed specifically to quotes from Cuban intelligence officers who say they were tasked with eavesdropping on famous Americans.
"My job was to bug visiting American’s hotel rooms […] with both cameras and listening devices. And famous Americans are the priority objectives of Castro's intelligence," Cuban intelligence defector Delfin Fernandez told Fontova.
Recording devices in hotel rooms are a common tactic, Fontova noted. Simmons said McAuliffe’s room was likely bugged.
"McAuliffe and his entourage subsequently remained under Cuban Intelligence control when they stayed at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba," he wrote.
"Featuring a staff rife with DI informants, the Hotel Nacional is known to be wired for video and audio surveillance of foreign guests."
"My assumption, as someone who worked in the federal government for 25 years, is that Cuban intelligence tracks every significant U.S. official who sets foot on the island," said Roger Noriega, an American Enterprise Institute scholar specializing in the Western Hemisphere.
"Any trip coordinated by the Cuban regime, as in this case, would have been closely monitored and manipulated," he said.
American officials who travel to Cuba "think they are doing business with just another country, but the Castro regime is a hostile state that is always seeking advantages against the United States and US officials," Noriega said.
Bolaños is technically retired from Cuba’s clandestine services but Noriega says the Cuban Interests Section operates as a de facto espionage outpost in the United States.
"The majority of the personnel at the Cuban interests section in Washington, who prowl the halls of Congress every day, are intelligence officers," Noriega said.
The year after his Havana junket, McAuliffe attended a party at the Cuban Interests Section, hosted by Bolaños. "I don't know where the cigars came from," McAuliffe later joked when asked about the Cohibas offered to party guests.
The party was "not political at all," Bolaños insisted. Simmons suggested it was a means for Cuban intelligence officers to meet, and potentially "recruit," high-profile Americans.
Since leaving the DI, Bolaños has been at the center of several diplomatic controversies.
He was asked to leave Mexico, where he served as Cuba’s ambassador, after the Mexican government accused him of holding unauthorized meetings with communist groups there.
McAuliffe’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Simmons’ analysis.
The candidate has associated with other individuals under scrutiny for potential ties to foreign espionage services.
A Chinese businessman looking to invest in GreenTech Automotive, McAuliffe’s nascent electric car company, was flagged by federal authorities for his alleged ties to the Chinese government.
Gulf Coast Funds Management, GreenTech’s primary investor, sought a visa for Zhenjun Zhang under the Department of Homeland Security’s EB-5 program, which grants visas to foreign investors.
Zhang is a vice president of Huawei Technologies, a Chinese company "whose connections to Chinese intelligence have been documented by the House Intelligence Committee," according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa).
A report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence warned U.S. companies against doing business with Huawei due to those apparent ties, and its refusal to cooperate with an investigation into them.