The recent expulsion of two accredited Cuban diplomats at the United Nations in New York featured some novel characteristics.
In the long-standing confrontation between the US and Cuba, Cuban diplomats for the first time were not sanctioned for espionage, or as commensurate retaliation for the expulsion of US diplomats from the island. Rather, the accusation was the exercise of activities having a harmful "influence" on the interests of the United States. While the measure may be interpreted as part of the growing bilateral tension spawned by Cuba'sinterference and intervention in Venezuela, it should not be considered more of the same.
The order to leave the US territory was accompanied by an ancillary sanction: they were restricted to the island of Manhattan. This proviso, previously imposed on Cuban diplomats in New York during much of the Cold War, was reinstated.
This additional limitation sends a message: the work of accredited Cuban UN diplomats, whether it be espionage or the exertion of influence, is not going to be facilitated, as they will not be allowed to move freely throughout the USA.
Barring diplomats from a hostile country for acting as agents of influence is not more of the same. In fact, it marks a milestone in open societies. The war against democratic societies by regimes such as Cuba's is not confined to the military or economic sphere. It is all-inclusive. For totalitarian regimes, it is a priority to cultivate narratives amidst the population, and enemy elites, that weaken their convictions and institutions, inducing them to commit foreign and domestic policy errors. A good example is the case of Ana Belén Montes.
Spies and agents of influence
The most effective, harmful and lasting effect of the prominent spy Ana Belén Montes's work was not to steal classified information from the Pentagon. From her position as an intelligence analyst, her greatest success was sowing, in that institution, and in the intellectual and intelligence circles in which she moved, a perception of the Cuban regime as benign.
The central thrust of her work was to disseminate the notion that the Cuban regime did not pose a threat to the security of the United States.
In the US there are still those who assume that Cuba does not pose any danger to national or regional security, except by causing disorderly and massive waves of migration, such that Washington should help stabilise, not overthrow, the regime on the island. That idea was successfully sold to the Obama Administration. "The important thing is to stabilise them,"
one of the architects of the "thaw" was heard to say.
For six decades, Cuban espionage has identified and co-opted "fellow travelers" and "useful fools", not only among the military, but also at universities, publishing houses, and among journalists, artists, and any sector with the capacity to broadcast their messages and influence perceptions in decision-making circles and the general public. And, except when they have been recruited or trained directly by Cuban intelligence, not even those co-opted themselves are aware of the way in which their ideas on key issues for the Island's regime are carefully planned and manipulated based on pre-established criteria.
From the Comintern to the narco-state
That art and strategy of subversion emerged in 1919 at the First Congress of the Third Communist International held in the USSR, and the Communist parties and their intelligence services have used them ever since. The foreign relations departments of the former draw up the general propaganda directives, while the latter expand them by including their operational methods to direct the clandestine apparatus responsible for carrying out influence work in other countries.
It was Willi Münzenberg who established the hierarchical division of influence work, which includes propaganda, character assassination, the spreading of what we now call fake news, and more. Agents dedicated to this influence work are a formal part of an intelligence apparatus, or planted as clandestine agents in a profession where they can spread the narratives they are directed to. Then there are those people who are manipulated by these agents of influence: "travel companions" and the masses of "useful fools."
It was also Münzenberg who conceived of the organizational structure to carry out this influence work: a dense network of publications, bookstores and groups of writers, journalists, artists, academics and others spinning cobwebs to catch the unsuspecting. Upon Münzenberg's recommendation, these organizations were christened with "innocent" and attractive names like the Committee for Peace and Disarmament, Solidarity Association, or Youth Festival. Münzenberg always insisted on the importance of the participants in these groups never knowing that they were puppets of a plan beyond their
In this new era in which states and terrorist groups are expanding their recruitment of "useful fools" via the Internet, and other public forums, democracies are obligated to set clear limits allowing them to preserve their security. This is especially true when some totalitarian states from the Cold War have mutated into modern criminal coalitions that –as in the case of Cubazuela– harbor a conception of total, asymmetric and permanent war, sowing narratives being an essential weapon in this effort.
The expulsions of the two Cuban diplomats and the restrictions on the movement of other accredited UN representatives sends a message of containment to Cuba: being an open society does not necessarily entail behaving like a naive flock of sheep.