Obama administration efforts to bolster the sharing of critical intelligence data with Cuba is likely to benefit Iran, which has been quietly bolstering its foothold in the country with the communist government's approval, according to conversations with members of Congress and other sources familiar with the matter.
A little noticed Obama administration directive on Cuba, released Oct. 14, instructed the U.S. director of national intelligence to assist and cooperate with Cuba's intelligence services.
The directive has raised red flags on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are concerned that Cuba will pass along critical U.S. intelligence to the Iranians, who have made moves in recent years to extend their influence in the communist country and other Latin American countries hostile to the United States.
Iran's interest in Cuba was on fully display earlier this year when Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, went on a goodwill tour throughout Latin America that included stops in Cuba and Venezuela, among others.
The goal of this visit, sources told the Washington Free Beacon, was to solidify Iran's growing terrorist network in the region and ensure the Islamic Republic maintains its presence along America's doorstep.
"The Castro regime has shown no inclination to end its anti-American activities, including espionage," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) told the Free Beacon. "The Castro regime in August and September 2016 deepened ties with Iran through high level visits, and there are reports that Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah has established a base in Cuba."
"The director of national intelligence, General James R. Clapper, testified in February 2016 that the Castro dictatorship remained an espionage threat at the level of Iran, behind only China and Russia," Diaz-Balart added. "Under these circumstances, President Obama's directive to encourage intelligence sharing with the Castro regime is reckless, dangerous, and contrary to U.S. national security interests."
Iran has been interested in Latin America for years, but now has the resources to pursue a footprint in the region as a result of the cash windfall provided by last summer's comprehensive nuclear agreement.
Hezbollah, the terror organization funded and directed by Iran, has had assets in the region for some time.
Iran's longer-term goal is to establish an intelligence network in the region via various cultural centers and religious establishments that act as a front for Tehran's spy operation.
The Obama administration's move to share intelligence with Cuba is likely to be celebrated by Iran, according to congressional sources tracking the matter.
"President Obama's instruction to DNI Clapper last week to look for ways to cooperate with Cuba on intelligence issues poses an unconscionable threat to the security of the American people," Victoria Coates, national security adviser for Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), told the Free Beacon.
"The administration tried to bury it under enthusiasm for easing restrictions on the rum and cigars American tourists can buy from Fidel and Raul Castro, but the reality is the Castros are aggressively pursuing a closer relationship with Iran, the mullahs just refinanced Cuba's debt with the assets they got from the president's nuclear deal, and Cuba's close ally, Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, visited Iran this week," Coates said. "Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is re-establishing Russian intelligence assets in Cuba 90 miles from the United States."
"What possible confidence can we have that anything we share with the Castros won't immediately be telegraphed to Tehran and Moscow? This simply makes no sense," Coates added.
Intelligence released by the State Department and posted on WikiLeaks as part of an email dump from Hillary Clinton's personal email server shows that Hezbollah was moving into Cuba as far back as 2011.
"During the week of September 5, 2011, extremely sensitive sources reported in confidence that the Israeli Intelligence and Security Service (Mossad) has informed the leadership of the Israeli Government that Hezbollah is establishing an operational base in Cuba, designed to support terrorist attacks throughout Latin America," according to source intelligence contained in the Clinton emails.
"While this operation is aimed particularly at Israeli diplomatic and business interests, these sources believe that Hezbollah supporters have been instructed to also begin casing facilities associated with the United States and the United Kingdom, including diplomatic missions, major banks, and businesses in the region," the sources claim. "These individuals believe that the Hezbollah military commanders in Lebanon and Syria view these U.S. and U.K. entities as contingency targets to be attacked in the event of U.S. and British military intervention in either Syria or Iran, at some point in the future."
Congressional sources have also been tracking Iran's involvement in Latin America for some time.
Iran has opened an embassy in Chile in recent months and its presence has come with an uptick in Hezbollah operations.
"A Hezbollah member was picked up in Brazil, an explosive device was found near the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, and Hezbollah members are reportedly traveling on Venezuelan passports," a senior congressional aide told the Free Beacon when Zarif was in the region. "It was not too long ago that Venezuela offered flights to Iran and Syria, and as of last week, Hezbollah cells were found in the West Bank where Venezuela lifted its visa requirements for Palestinians."
"So potential terrorists who want to cause the U.S. harm can travel easily to Venezuela, and once there, they can get to Nicaragua or Cuba without passports or visas, which poses a national security risk for our nation," the aide said.