The television film showed people identified as "diplomats from the United States" wandering in woods outside Havana, looking suspicious. They picked up bags and briefcases, made marks on benches and dropped off some sort of electronic gear.
It appeared that they had no idea they were being watched--but they were on "Candid Camera," Cuban-style.
The television show was the first of a nationally broadcast, six-part series aimed at detailing alleged spying by the CIA in Cuba. The programs have set off a round of charges and countercharges between Havana and Washington over competing intelligence activities.
From the Cuban side, the account of alleged CIA espionage portrayed a spy-vs.-spy saga of heroic Cuban double agents duping the CIA for as long as 20 years, feeding false information to money-crazed American agents and blocking U.S. plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
U.S. officials assert that the campaign is nothing more than an attempt to make life dangerous for legitimate American diplomats in Havana and elsewhere, divert attention from Cuba's domestic problems and counter the impact of the recent defection of at least one Cuban official to the United States.
In any case, the television programs contributed a major share of this year's buildup to today's annual celebration of the 1953 start of the revolution that eventually brought Castro to power on Jan. 1, 1959. As is customary, President Castro will make a speech marking the anniversary of his revolt's beginnings.
The controversy also marked another dip in already unfriendly relations between Washington and Havana. "There seems to be no possibility but further hostility," one Western diplomat said.
The charges and countercharges have led to the withdrawal by Washington of at least two officials from the U.S. Interests Section here. The State Department, in turn, called on Cuba to withdraw two of its diplomats from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, charging that all members of the Cuban mission "without exception" belong to the Cuban intelligence service. The Cuban officials reportedly left Washington on Friday.
Cuba called the action a "vulgar reprisal."
Interests sections were established by each country in the capital of the other in 1977, ending the full rupture of official ties that occurred in the early 1960s. The sections--diplomatic missions in everything but name and protocol--operate formally under the flag of a third country.
The current dispute began July 6 when Cuban television broadcast the first in a series called "The CIA War Against Cuba." That first installment named dozens of U.S. diplomats as being CIA agents. The next two programs featured Cuban double agents who said they had "penetrated" the CIA.
The fourth described sophisticated communications equipment purportedly used in Cuba by the CIA. The fifth charged the CIA with economic sabotage and the sixth accused it of engaging in chemical warfare.
Late Friday, 10 self-described Cuban intelligence agents told reporters at a press conference how they had fooled the CIA.
"We all infiltrated in such a way that the CIA never realized we were agents of Cuban Security," said Dulce Maria Santiesteban, one of the 10.
Santiesteban said the CIA recruited her in 1976 in Spain. "I went by the code name 'Regina' for the CIA and 'Anny' for Cuban intelligence," Santiesteban declared.
The Cubans showed off radios hidden in a briefcase, a picnic basket and two toolboxes. They said the radios and encoders, model RS-804, were given to them by the CIA. They also displayed false, hollow rocks in which they said the CIA left money at drop-off points in Cuba.
Castro Called Target
All 10 asserted that the CIA was trying to kill Castro. They detailed no specific plots but claimed that CIA contacts inquired repeatedly about the travel habits and health of the Cuban president. "They said that killing (Castro) would destroy 90% of the revolution," said Ignacio Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said he used his job as cabin inspector for Cubana Airlines to cover his work as a Cuban intelligence agent and was known as "Julio" to the CIA and "Isidro" to his Cuban superiors. Both he and his wife, also described as a double-agent, made contact with CIA agents in Spain and Panama, Rodriguez said.
Others claimed they met CIA contacts in places as far away as India and Japan.
There was some confusion over the reason the Cuban government decided to expose its own double-agent network, since the alleged "penetration agents" presumably could have continued to provide important intelligence to Cuba as well as a steady outlet for disinformation to the United States.
At first, the agents said that their dual role had been detected by the CIA and that their usefulness thus had ended. Then they said that they went public merely to expose CIA intrigue. Finally, they said the Cuban government thought they might be in danger of exposure, so it was decided to beat the CIA to the punch and finger American agents.
Spreading Dengue Fever
"All the balance (of the operation) is in our favor," Rodriguez said. "We have created danger for the (U.S.) agency. The CIA will have a hard time placing its agents in other countries."
The 10 asserted that the CIA had spread several tropical maladies in Cuba, including a deadly outbreak of dengue fever during the 1970s. The outbreak reportedly killed 81 children. They supported the charges only by repeating questions they said their CIA contacts had asked about health conditions in Cuba, in one case in anticipation of an eye disease they said once broke out on the island.
"We look at the CIA as a kind of Herod that kills our children," said Eduardo Sagarosa, a physician.
The rest of the Cuban double agents identified themselves as Juan Luis Acosta, a tuna boat captain; Antonio Garcia, a merchant mariner; Orlando Argudin, an official of the Sugar Ministry; Jose Abel Gonzalez, a foreign trade official; Calixto Marrero, a member of the Ministry of Trade; Miguel Angel Lopez, an official of the Bank of Cuba, and Eduardo Leal, a communications expert. Leal said he won a commendation medal and diploma from the CIA at the suggestion of the agency's late director, William J. Casey.
All said they worked for Cuban intelligence before making contact with the CIA, suggesting wide participation of Cuban intelligence in a variety of Cuba's government agencies.
'Acts of Harassment'
In all, the Cubans have accused 151 permanent and temporary employees of the U.S. Interests Section here as having spied in Cuba at one time or another over the past 10 years.
Washington protested the television programs and other publicity as "acts of harassment." U.S. representatives here contend that the Cuban government began harassing the interests section last December following Cuban complaints that U.S. spy planes were flying over Cuba.
Naming of the alleged CIA agents especially disturbed Washington because some of the persons named now work at U.S. embassies elsewhere and could become targets of terrorist attacks, American sources here said. In a diplomatic protest sent July 14 to the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the State Department complained that those named "have been the object of irreparable damage occasioned by . . . public defamation."
Foreign diplomats here speculated that the accusations against the United States are in part designed to whip up nationalistic sentiment in the face of hard times. Cuba is going through economic difficulties because of chronically low prices for its exports, especially sugar.
The recent, well-publicized defection of a high-ranking Cuban air force officer also embarrassed the Havana government, the diplomats said.
The defector, Brig. Gen. Rafael del Pino, flew a light plane to the United States on May 28. Besides probably revealing Cuban military secrets to the Americans, Del Pino made public statements critical of Cuba's government. His comments were broadcast over Radio Marti, a daily broadcast by the U.S. Information Agency directed at Cuba from transmitters in Florida.
There are also reports of another recent defection, that of a Cuban intelligence agent named Carlos de la Rosa in Vienna. The self-styled Cuban double agents at Friday's press conference declined to confirm De la Rosa's defection, but they said a "desertion" took place not long ago in Eastern Europe.
Del Pino's defection and the reported case of De la Rosa came at a time when Cuba is beset with some local political tensions. Castro has announced a "rectification" campaign against functionaries who apparently disagree with Havana's current economic policies.
Castro is promoting patriotism as an engine for economic progress after a period when Cuba experimented with profit-making. Reports published here about the double agents invariably include comparisons between the "self-sacrificing patriotism" of the Cubans and the supposed money-centered attitudes of CIA contacts.
"The CIA thinks everyone has a price," one of the Cuban agents said Friday.