Biden Admin Stands by Misleading Denial of Chinese Spy Activity in Cuba

'We were as forthcoming as we should have been'

John Kirby (Reuters)
June 12, 2023

The White House was being as "forthcoming" as possible last week when it denied, and then admitted, that China was using Cuba as an intelligence-collection hub, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Monday from the White House.

Kirby acknowledged that China has for years been developing "intelligence-gathering capabilities in Cuba" and "elsewhere in the hemisphere" to spy on the United States. Kirby's comments come days after he flatly dismissed a Wall Street Journal report that China had struck a deal with Havana to set up an eavesdropping base in Cuba as "not accurate."

Biden administration officials first backtracked over the weekend, admitting that China has been using Cuba as an intelligence-gathering hub since the last administration—but quibbling that the Journal story framed the spy operations as a new development.

During a White House press briefing on Monday, Kirby defended his decision to initially deny the story, saying the "sensitive nature of this information is such that we just simply couldn't go into more detail even before the first story appeared."

"We were as forthcoming as we should have been at the time the first stories appeared," he said. "I wasn't about, in any way, shape, or form, to violate operational security by talking in any more detail."

He also objected to the notion that his reversal was a "walk-back" and claimed that the Journal story was still "inaccurate" because the eavesdropping operations weren't new.

"The fact that we came out a couple of days later and provided some clarifying information should not be taken, as I've seen in some of the press reporting, as some kind of walk-back," he said.

Kirby said it was "not a new development that China's been trying to achieve some intelligence-gathering capabilities in Cuba, and, frankly, elsewhere in the hemisphere." He added that the Biden administration has "taken some steps to try to mitigate the vulnerability" and that "we're confident that we can continue to protect our nation's secrets in this hemisphere and beyond."