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Former US Diplomat Charged With Spying for Cuba for Decades

FILE - The State Department building is pictured in Washington, Jan. 26, 2017.
FILE - The State Department building is pictured in Washington, Jan. 26, 2017.

A former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, has been charged with spying for Cuba since at least 1981.

Rocha, 73, was arrested in Miami on Friday and charged with multiple federal crimes, including acting as an illegal foreign agent and using a fraudulently obtained passport.

According to the complaint, Rocha met with Cuban intelligence operatives and gave false information to U.S. government officials about his travels. Prosecutors said Rocha concealed his identity as a foreign agent in efforts to protect himself, so he could continue engaging in "clandestine activity" for the Cuban government.

The United States requires individuals acting for the benefit of foreign agencies to register with the U.S. Justice Department.

Rocha, a Colombian born, naturalized U.S. citizen, held several positions within the U.S. State Department, giving him "unique access," to non-public government information, prosecutors said.

Rocha joined the department in 1981 and worked his way up to becoming the top U.S. diplomat in Argentina between 1997 and 2000, and later the ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002.

Rocha's arrest comes as the Justice Department ramps up criminal enforcement of illicit foreign affairs.

Since last year, the FBI has been running a series of undercover operations that include an FBI agent pretending to be a Cuban contact. In an undercover meeting in Miami last year, Rocha exposed that he had been instructed by the Cuban government's intelligence services to "lead a normal life" and that he had created the "legend," or artificial persona, "of a right-wing person," according to a recording of the meeting cited in court documents.

In the meetings with the undercover FBI agent, Rocha repeatedly referred to the United States as the enemy and used the term "we" to describe himself and Cuba.

Rocha was expected to make his initial appearance in court on Monday. It was not clear whether he had a lawyer.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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