China and Cuba have reached a secret agreement for China to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island, in a brash new geopolitical challenge by Beijing to the U.S., according to U.S. officials familiar with highly classified intelligence.
An eavesdropping facility in Cuba, roughly 100 miles from Florida, would allow Chinese intelligence services to scoop up electronic communications throughout the southeastern U.S., where many military bases are located, and monitor U.S. ship traffic.
Officials familiar with the matter said that China has agreed to pay cash-strapped Cuba several billion dollars to allow it to build the eavesdropping station and that the two countries had reached an agreement in principle.
The revelation about the planned site has sparked alarm within the Biden administration because of Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. mainland. Washington regards Beijing as its most significant economic and military rival. A Chinese base with advanced military and intelligence capabilities in the U.S.’s backyard could be an unprecedented new threat.
On Wednesday evening, John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said he couldn’t comment on the details of The Wall Street Journal’s reporting but noted that the U.S. was monitoring and taking steps to counter the Chinese government’s efforts to invest in infrastructure that might have military purposes.
On Thursday, after publication of this article, Kirby said, “This report is not accurate,” without providing any details. He added: “We remain confident that we are able to meet all our security commitments at home and in the region.”
Cuba’s Embassy in Washington said Thursday that the article was “totally mendacious and unfounded information.” The Chinese Embassy had no comment.
U.S. officials described the intelligence on the planned Cuba site, apparently gathered in recent weeks, as convincing. They said the base would enable China to conduct signals intelligence, known in the espionage world as sigint, which could include the monitoring of a range of communications, including emails, phone calls and satellite transmissions.
Cuba has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. since it became a Communist dictatorship after the 1950s revolution. The dictator Fidel Castro, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, sent a cable to his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, asking him to consider a nuclear strike on the U.S.
In the decades that followed, the island fomented destabilizing and violent revolutionary movements across Latin America in an attempt to spread Communism and anti-U.S. ideology. Its behavior moderated after the end of the Cold War, but it remains the lone Communist dictatorship in the Americas.
For the Cuban regime, the agreement with China would bring badly needed cash but risks angering the U.S. and provoking further isolation diplomatically and economically. Cuba relied on generous subsidies from the Soviet Union until the U.S.S.R. collapsed, plunging the island into economic depression. In the 2000s, it began to rely on Venezuela for aid until that country’s economic implosion in recent years. Analysts say Cuba’s military-backed regime might now be hoping China can be a new lifeline.
Beijing has been building closer diplomatic and economic ties to the island. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with Xi in Beijing in November.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union operated its largest overseas signals intelligence site at Lourdes, just outside Havana. The site, which closed down after 2001, reportedly hosted hundreds of Soviet, Cuban and other Eastern Bloc intelligence officers.
There were reports in 2014 that Russia would reopen the Lourdes station, but that doesn’t appear to have happened, and its current status couldn’t be determined. Read it all: photos, satellite views HERE.