Details of Cuba's case against U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross leak out

A U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba slipped three satellite phones, three laptops and 13 Blackberry phones into the island, a court document in his case showed.

Alan P. Gross delivered the equipment to synagogues in Havana, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba so that Jews could sidestep government controls on access to the Internet, the document noted.

He did not tell the recipients that a U.S. government program outlawed in Cuba had paid for the equipment, it added, and used two unwitting U.S. Jews to slip some of the gear into the island.

The Obama administration has repeatedly urged Cuba to free Gross as a humanitarian gesture. Cuba has said it wants a similar U.S. gesture toward five Cuban spies convicted in Miami as part of the “Wasp Network.”

The document, which appears to be the court ruling that found Gross guilty of actions against Cuba’s “independence or territorial integrity” last March, was first published last week by the Miami blog Café Fuerte.

Gross’ Washington attorney, Peter J. Kahn, said it showed there was no evidence that Gross was subverting the Cuban government, but declined to confirm its authenticity.

The 18-page document, summing up the evidence against Gross, 62, a humanitarian aid specialist from Potomac, Md., revealed some of the details of his case for the first time but left many questions unanswered.

Gross made five trips to Cuba in 2009 as part of his $258,274 contract with the Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc., which had a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to carry out pro-democracy work in Cuba, according to the filing.

Cuba has outlawed cooperation with the USAID programs, saying they are designed to subvert its government. U.S. officials say they only help pro-democracy activists but are “discreet” to avert Cuban retaliation.

The filing repeatedly noted that satellite phones bypass government controls and are difficult to detect because they link directly to satellites overhead. The Internet in Cuba is censored, slow and expensive.

Gross delivered the book-sized satellite phones, laptops, Wi-Fi routers and other communications gear to the three synagogues to give them independent access to the Web, the document added.

But he declared the satellite phones as “modems” when he landed in Havana, told some recipients that the equipment had been donated by the U.S. Jewish community and did not caution the two Jews that the gear they slipped into Cuba might land them in trouble, according to the filing.

Gross cooperated with Cuban investigators, and two USB memory sticks seized when he was arrested Dec. 3, 2009 contained documents detailing at some part of his involvement with Cuba, the document added.

During a visit in 2004, he allegedly delivered a video camera to Jose Manuel Collera, then a top-ranking Freemason who declared last year that he had been a Cuban intelligence agent since 2000. The filing gave no further details on this previously unknown Gross trip to Cuba.

Gross delivered the camera on behalf of the Pan American Development Foundation, which receives USAID funds for its Cuba programs. PADF is regarded as an arm of the 34-nation Organization of American States, although it is technically independent.

Marc Wachtenheim, at the time head of PADF’s Cuba programs, paid Gross $5,500 to buy a satellite phone, a laptop and a cell phone in 2007, the filing added. It did not say if Gross travelled to Cuba, if the gear was delivered or how.

Wachtenheim, now head of his own company, said he could not comment on his work for PADF but criticized Gross’ incarceration as unfair and defended the Cuba programs.

“Giving someone a laptop is not a crime anywhere in the civilized world — only punished in countries such as North Korea, Iran and Cuba,” he wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald.

Gross was contracted in 2008 by Development Alternative Inc. to set up the three Wi-Fi nets in Cuba. And on March 30, 2009, he made the first of five trips to Cuba that year, according to the document.

It does not say when Gross came to the attention of Cuban police. But if it was not through Collera, those five trips would have made him a target. Only Cuban Americans and some organized groups, not individuals, could legally visit the island in 2009.

Gross’ seized documents repeatedly noted that his work was risky and at one point warned that if the satellite phones were discovered “it would lead to the confiscation of the equipment and arrest of the users.”

Kahn argued, however, that the document “is further confirmation of what we have said all along — the Cuban authorities cannot point to any action intended to subvert their government.”

“All this document evidences is that it was the USAID program that was on trial in Cuba,” he added.

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