Ex-US diplomat confessed spying for Cuba to undercover agent, FBI says

DOJ says former US ambassador Manuel Rocha perpetrated 'one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent'

Manuel Rocha
Manuel Rocha in 2001
(Image credit: Gonzalo Espinoza / AFP via Getty Images)

Former top U.S. diplomat Manuel Rocha, arrested Friday, served as a "clandestine agent" of Cuba for his entire 20-year career in the State Department and the two decades after, the Justice Department said in charges unsealed Monday. Rocha, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Colombia, served in embassies across Latin America, ending his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002. He also worked as a Latin America expert at the National Security Council in the mid-1990s and as adviser to the commander of U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2012.

Attorney General Merrick Garland called the Rocha case "one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent." Rocha currently faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, but more charges will likely be filed.


Rocha's arrest "stunned his friends and colleagues in U.S. diplomatic and intelligence circles," The Washington Post reported. John Feeley, a former U.S. ambassador to Panama and friend and protégé of Rocha's, called the charges and the sting operation leading up to them "a real John le Carré story." Rocha played his part so well "he deserved an Oscar," Feeley told The Wall Street Journal, "but he's going to get a jail cell."

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The charging documents say the FBI, working off a tip before November 2022, had an undercover agent contact Rocha pretending to be his new handler from Cuba's General Directorate of Intelligence. In three secretly recorded meetings at a Miami food court, Rocha confessed to working for Cuban intelligence for "almost 40 years," repeatedly referred to the U.S. as "the enemy," and got "pissed off" when the undercover agent, "Miguel," questioned his loyalty to Cuba, the documents recount.

"The Dirección wants to ensure that you are still a Compañero of ours," Miguel told Rocha in their final meeting, according to the FBI's translation from Spanish. "Are you still with us?" Rocha said that question made him "angry," because "it's like questioning my manhood. … It's like you want me to drop them … and show you if I still have testicles." In all three meetings, the FBI said, Rocha "repeatedly described and celebrated his activity" as a Cuban agent. "What we have done … it’s enormous … more than a grand slam," Rocha allegedly said in the second meeting.

The U.S. government is trying to assess the damage from Rocha's actions.

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