CIA Critic Agee Reportedly Paid by Cuba


Philip Agee, a renegade CIA officer who has conducted a long-running public crusade against the agency, has taken money repeatedly from the Cuban intelligence service, according to a high-ranking Cuban defector, an ex-CIA chief and a top CIA official.

The money was provided to Cuba by the KGB, the former Soviet spy agency now reorganized under Russia’s control, specifically to support Agee, said Florintino Aspillaga Lombard, who served as a major in Cuba’s Direccion General de Inteligencia (DGI) before his defection. Altogether, payments funneled to Agee could total “a million dollars or more,” Aspillaga said in a recent interview.

Now 57 and living in Germany, Agee flatly denies he has taken Cuban money. “My relationship with Cuba has been solidarity with the revolution, not espionage,” he insisted in one of several telephone interviews.


One of a dozen or so former CIA officers who have become vocal critics of the organization, Agee is probably best known to the public--and most hated within the agency. He is blamed by many U.S. officials for exposing a CIA station chief, Richard S. Welch, who was later murdered by leftist terrorists in Athens in 1975.

President Bush, a former CIA director, last year heatedly attacked Agee as “a reckless ideologue” who blew Welch’s cover. “I don’t care how long I live,” Bush pledged in comments to retired intelligence officers, “I will never forgive Philip Agee.” Agee denies any responsibility for Welch’s slaying.

In addition to the information provided by Aspillaga, a second Cuban defector has told the CIA that Agee received funds from Fidel Castro’s government in return for his anti-CIA work, according to sources.

Based on the defectors’ statements, former CIA chief William H. Webster and an agency official have given legal depositions accusing Agee of having been paid for his efforts to discredit and disrupt CIA activities.

In the court documents, Webster declared that Agee has been a “paid consultant to, and otherwise assisted, one or more hostile intelligence services” since at least 1983, and perhaps earlier. Agee’s repeated public statements identifying CIA officers and operations have endangered agents and jeopardized their activities, Webster said.

In a separate document, CIA officer Lee E. Carle declared that “Agee has been a paid adviser to the Cuban government.” He said the agency received this information “from two reliable human sources who have provided accurate information in the past.” One of those sources, Carle noted, also stated that Agee had trained Nicaraguan officials “in the detection of U.S. intelligence personnel and activities.”

Such payments, if they occurred, would seriously undermine Agee’s credibility as a critic of alleged U.S. intelligence abuses. Agee, who travels on a German passport, gives lectures attacking the CIA at least a dozen times a year on American college campuses and before liberal audiences.

Agee was born to wealthy conservative parents in the Washington suburb of Takoma Park, Md. He was educated by Jesuits and was graduated from Notre Dame in 1956 during the period of fierce anti-communism in the country. He joined the CIA the following year and served in Latin America.

Agee quit the CIA in 1968, and in 1971 began his crusade to expose CIA officers and operations through public lectures, magazines and books. Over the next seven years, he identified more than 160 alleged CIA operatives in foreign countries from Australia to Singapore, according to government statements. In 1978, he and other CIA critics launched Covert Action magazine to replace Counter-Spy, which folded after identifying Welch.

Among Agee’s more recent anti-CIA activities was his role in a successful effort to drive a CIA officer off the campus of UC Santa Barbara in 1987. The officer, George Chritton, was serving as a “CIA officer in residence” at the university when Agee and others began denouncing him at campus rallies and in speeches. Under pressure from students and faculty, the university withdrew his one-year appointment before its expiration.

The statements by Webster and Carle were submitted as part of the U.S. government’s effort to continue denying Agee a U.S. passport. Agee’s U.S. passport was lifted in 1979 because of his anti-CIA efforts. The Supreme Court upheld the revocation, and a federal appeals court denied Agee’s suit for reconsideration. Agee then applied for a new passport last year.

In its latest reply to Agee, the U.S. government offered for the first time to provide “competent evidence” to establish “clearly and unambiguously” the accuracy of allegations against Agee, including his acceptance of money from Cuba.

The CIA apparently was prepared to allow the defectors to testify. Aspillaga, in an interview with The Times, expressed his willingness to appear in open court.

Late last year, Agee withdrew the passport application. His lawyer, Melvin L. Wulf, said the move was not made in response to the government’s declaration of intent to produce evidence but because Agee, through his wife, had received a German passport. Wulf characterized all charges against Agee as “lies.”

The CIA had no comment on any aspect of the matter, and the State Department, which has jurisdiction over passport cases, refused to make available the most recent written exchanges unless Agee waived Privacy Act restraints. Agee said he would not waive his privacy rights.

Aspillaga, who defected in 1987, insisted that Agee is likely to continue to get paid by the same sources despite the demise of the Soviet Union.

“Agee got big money,” Aspillaga said, “big money. When he was in Cuba . . . he lived like the Shah of Iran. And I’m sure he is still getting money from Cuba.

“For now and for a couple years into the future, you still must put up with extremists in the (former) KGB and other former (Soviet) Bloc intelligence services. They still have sufficient funds worldwide, squirreled away in proprietary and front companies, to fund such activities, even if they are not specifically ordered now by the Russian government.”

In addition to the funds he received, Aspillaga charged, Agee was supplied with “political lines or themes” to espouse in books and speeches.

Agee also was allegedly provided with the names of U.S. intelligence officers and agents so he could publish them, and he was told to omit other names if the Cubans and Soviets hoped to recruit those officers as double agents, the defector said.

Agee apparently was unaware, however, that the Cuban money he received came from Moscow, Aspillaga said, adding that he believed Agee to be “anti-Soviet.”

Agee, whose Cuban code name is “Curiel,” received “a great deal of money” during his nearly two decades of writing and speaking against the CIA, Aspillaga said. He said that payments to Agee were “always in cash,” adding that “he only likes green.”

In one instance, Agee was given $30,000 in West Germany, Aspillaga said, but he complained it was too little. Funds also were given to him in Nicaragua, Britain and Havana, the defector said. Each payment was in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, he said.

Aspillaga said that Agee not only harassed the CIA in his lectures and writings but also identified “CIA agents in countries in which they worked and other agents they knew about in the socialist countries.”

Agee also helped Cuban officers understand the various parts of the U.S. intelligence community, he said, and identified CIA and FBI officials who might be recruited as well as “journalists who were considered liberal.”

Agee characterized Aspillaga’s accusations as part of a new U.S. campaign against Cuba. Washington has permitted Aspillaga to be interviewed, he said, because it wants “to create new tensions with Cuba as an excuse for aggressive actions against Cuba.”

Aspillaga, 43, was deputy chief of a DGI section that handled double agents--people the CIA believed were working for the United States but in fact were working for Cuba. As a relatively high-ranking official, he discussed the operations of other DGI sections with their chiefs, including some who worked personally with Agee, he said.

Aspillaga claims that the top DGI officer in charge of efforts to harass and penetrate the U.S. government, Col. Enrico Sicard La Brada, was a close friend who discussed his casework, including providing funds to Agee.

While Aspillaga’s information about Agee is secondhand, U.S. sources said his credibility has been well established by the information he has provided over the past five years. “His material has been largely substantiated,” one source said, “and in no instance was any found wrong or misleading.”

The claim that Cuba served as a conduit for payments provided by the Soviets could reflect contrasting perceptions of the two countries by some U.S. officials and observers. A number of scholars, retired U.S. diplomats and congressmen have insisted that Cuba is more of an annoyance than an actual threat and have opposed U.S. efforts to bring down Castro’s regime.

As a result of this somewhat more sympathetic attitude toward Cuba, U.S. officials say that Cuban intelligence agents have operated more effectively here than the Soviets, even when they were doing work for the Soviets. “Cubans aren’t seen as bad guys like the Soviets were,” said one U.S. officer.