Miami Herald Posted on Wed, Jan. 25, 2006
Couple spied on president of FIU, FBI says
Accused Cuban spies targeted the president of Florida International University, according to a government affidavit.
BY OSCAR CORRAL AND JAY WEAVER
Carlos M. and Elsa Alvarez spied on Florida International University President Modesto ''Mitch'' Maidique, giving details in at least one report to their Cuban intelligence handlers about a White House invitation Maidique received, according to a government affidavit obtained by The Miami Herald.
FBI agents executed a search warrant at FIU Jan. 12, and seized the Alvarezes' computers from their respective offices. That search was a follow-up to the FBI's discoveries in the Alvarezes' home computers, which were linked to those at their offices, according to an FBI affidavit.
The document offers a first glimpse at the information the FBI believes the Alvarezes -- charged with failing to register as foreign agents -- provided to Cuban intelligence agents over the last three decades.
Cristina Mendoza, FIU's general counsel, said university officials sealed off the couple's campus offices and university police have stood guard around the clock. Mendoza said the FBI agents, at the university's request, scheduled their search for the night of Jan. 12 so they would not disrupt the campus during the day.
Mendoza said the FBI has not asked to talk with Maidique, who was close to the couple. They allegedly gathered information about Maidique and other leaders in Miami's exile community.
The Alvarezes' home computers turned up the White House invitation report, as well as others.
''Both Carlos and Elsa Alvarez reported on prominent university-level academics in South Florida,'' the affidavit said. ``These targets included colleagues of the Alvarezes at FIU, and included Modesto Maidique . . . This information has been verified by data taken from the home computer of the Alvarezes, which shows them reporting on the activities of President Maidique, including an invitation he received to attend a function at the White House.''
FIU spokesman Mark Riordan said Maidique declined to comment on the affidavit. Maidique has been to the White House at least a dozen times over the years, Riordan said. Earlier this month, U.S. authorities accused Elsa Prieto Alvarez, 55, and her husband, Carlos Alvarez, 61, of operating as covert agents for Cuba for decades. U.S. prosecutors said Carlos Alvarez, an associate professor at FIU, had spied for Cuba since 1977 and his wife, a psychology counselor at the university, since 1982.
The Alvarezes' home computers were linked to their office computers, and the FBI believes the Alvarezes could ``electronically access student records and faculty information via home and office computer.''
Carlos Alvarez traveled to Cuba and other countries under the auspices of FIU and other academic institutions. ''While on these overseas trips, and using the cover of FIU academics, Carlos Alvarez would meet with their handlers or supervisors from the DI [Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence] to receive new assignments and tender reports on completed assignments,'' the affidavit said.
The affidavit also sheds light on the requests Cuba sent to Carlos Alvarez to recruit students. Alvarez voluntarily reported to the DI that one of his students was an FBI analyst. Alvarez feared that his DI status might be compromised if his superiors found out that he was interacting with an FBI employee.
The affidavit also attempts to link the professor's recruitment efforts to Puentes Cubanos, or Cuban Bridges, a nonprofit group that is not affiliated with FIU.
''Moreover, in 2002, the DI assigned Carlos Alvarez to begin screening and evaluating students, some of them at FIU, that would be traveling to Cuba as part of an exchange program known as Puentes Cubanos,'' the affidavit said. ``The DI was interested in which of these exchange students would be amenable to recruitment by the DI. Although Carlos Alvarez stated that he never received a follow-up request for actual names of potential recruits, he has stated to FBI agents that he would have provided that information if asked.''
The affidavit does not give a date for Maidique's White House invitation. But Maidique has been a strong supporter of the last three Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush. Miami Herald archives show that Maidique, a member of the current president's education advisory panel, attended an East Room ceremony at the White House in January 2001.
The Alvarezes used their FIU colleagues to gather information on other people ''of interest'' to the Cuban government, the affidavit said.
''In one instance, Carlos Alvarez inquired of another FIU professor regarding a meeting between a third professor and a member of the Clinton administration who was believed to favor increased academic exchanges between the United States and Cuba,'' the affidavit said.
Anti-Castro exile leaders were shaken by the new details.
''My God, that's something!'' said Brothers to the Rescue Founder Jose Basulto, whose group has been infiltrated by Cuban spies.
FIU officials said the FBI interviewed the university's information technology manager before the Jan. 12 search and plans to return to the campus to interview other employees.
Agents compiled the seized materials on two one-page inventory lists and gave them to the university.
Miami Herald staff writer Luisa Yanez contributed to this report.