A Chinese spy base in Cuba that could intercept electronic signals from nearby U.S. military and commercial buildings has been in operation since or before 2019, when the Chinese base was upgraded, according to a Biden administration official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said the spy base was a problem the Biden administration inherited from former President Donald J. Trump. After Mr Biden took office, his administration was briefed on the base in Cuba and plans China was considering to build similar facilities around the world, the official said.
The existence of an agreement to build a Chinese spy facility in Cuba, first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal as well as NewsMadura and other news outlets, prompted a strong response from Capitol Hill. In a joint statement, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the panel’s top Republican, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, said they were “deeply disturbed by reports that Havana and Beijing are working together to promote the United States.” States and our people.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby denied the reports at the time, saying they were “not accurate.” He added that “we are really concerned about China’s relationship with Cuba, and we have been concerned about China’s activities in our hemisphere and around the world since day 1 of government.”
But a US official familiar with the intelligence cited in Thursday’s reports insisted that China and Cuba had reached an agreement to improve existing espionage capabilities.
Carlos F. de Cossio, a deputy foreign minister of Cuba, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the latest reports about espionage facilities were “defamatory speculation.”
Some critics of the Biden administration in Congress questioned the motives for the administration’s response.
“Why did the Biden administration previously deny these reports about a CCP spy base in Cuba? Why did they play down the CCP’s ‘silly’ spy balloon?” Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of the House Select Committee that deals with strategic competition with China, said in a statement Saturday, referring to the Chinese Communist Party by its initials.
The Biden administration has been working to counter China’s continued efforts to gain a foothold in the region and elsewhere, a government official said, primarily by establishing diplomatic contacts with countries that China has been pursuing as potential hosts for such bases . The official added that the government had delayed China’s plans but declined to give details.
While Beijing’s global efforts to build military bases and listening posts have been documented before, the reports detail the extent to which China is moving its intelligence-gathering operations ever closer to the United States. Cuba’s coastline is less than 100 miles from the nearest part of Florida, close enough to enhance China’s technological capability to conduct intelligence by monitoring electronic communications in the southeastern US, which is home to several military bases.
China and the United States routinely spy on each other’s activities, and Cuba’s proximity has long made it a strategically valuable foothold for American adversaries, perhaps most famously during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union attempted to store nuclear missiles at the island during the Cuban missile crisis.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, Wang Wenbin, said Friday in response to the reports: “The US is the world hacking champion and surveillance superpower.”
The reports also surfaced at an awkward time for the Biden administration, which has sought to normalize relations with China after a protracted period of heightened tensions. Last year, several diplomatic, military and climate agreements between the two countries were frozen after President Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan over objections from Beijing, which considers the self-governing island part of its territory.
High-level meetings, including an official trip by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, were canceled again earlier this year, after a Chinese spy balloon was tracked across the United States by people on the ground near sensitive military sites.
Mr Blinken is now due to travel to Beijing for meetings on June 18, and it is unclear whether revelations about a Chinese spy facility so close to US soil could complicate those plans. Other issues hover over the journey including growing calls for China to release Yuyu Dong, a prominent journalist who has been detained since February last year and awaits trial on charges of espionage that his relatives believe are false. Mr. Dong, a former Nieman fellow at Harvard, transparently met US and Japanese diplomats and journalists in Beijing for years.