WASHINGTON (Reuters) — China has reached a secret deal with Cuba to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island roughly 100 miles from Florida, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing U.S. officials familiar with classified intelligence.
Such a facility would allow Beijing to gather electronic communications from the southeastern United States, which houses many U.S. military bases, as well as monitor ship traffic, the newspaper reported.
The U.S. Central Command headquarters is based in Tampa. Fort Liberty, formerly Fort Bragg, the largest U.S. military base, is based in North Carolina.
The countries have reached an agreement in principle, the officials said, with China to pay Cuba "several billion dollars" to allow the eavesdropping station, according to the Journal.
"I cannot speak to this specific report, but we are well aware of—and have spoken many times to—the People's Republic of China's efforts to invest in infrastructure around the world that may have military purposes, including in this hemisphere," John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.
"We monitor it closely, take steps to counter it, and remain confident that we are able to meet all our security commitments at home, in the region, and around the world," he said.
The Chinese and Cuban embassies in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The agreement between the two U.S. rivals, both ruled by Communist governments, has caused alarm in the Biden administration, the newspaper said, posing a new threat in the country's backyard.
The reported deal comes as Washington and Beijing are taking tentative steps to soothe tensions that spiked after a suspected Chinese high-altitude spy balloon crossed the United States before the U.S. military shot it down off the East Coast in February.
It could also raise questions about a trip to China that U.S. officials say Secretary of State Antony Blinken is planning in coming weeks, months after Washington's top diplomat scrapped the visit over the spy balloon incident.
"The threat to America from Cuba isn't just real, it is far worse than this," Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), a vocal China and Cuba hawk, said on Twitter.
A cash infusion would likely be welcomed in Communist-ruled Cuba, where the economy is sputtering with inflation, fuel shortages, plunging farm production, and a cash crunch drag on output that continue to fan discontent in the Communist-run island nation.
The intelligence on the plans for a Cuba station was gathered in recent weeks and was convincing, the Journal reported. The officials said it would allow China to conduct signals intelligence, including emails, phone calls, and satellite transmission.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Matt Spetalnick; editing by Nick Zieminski.)