Friday, December 29, 2000; Page A15
MIAMI, Dec. 28 -- Encrypted communications between the Cuban government and five accused Cuban spies were intercepted in early 1996 but were not decoded in time to enable the authorities to alert the exile group Brothers to the Rescue that Cuba was planning to shoot down its airplanes, the FBI said in a court filing.
The messages, which were sent over shortwave radio and intercepted by the FBI, have been declassified for the trial of the five Cubans. They are charged with being members of a spy ring that targeted South Florida military installations and infiltrated anti-Castro exile groups.
Some of the messages contained warnings that, in retrospect, clearly signaled the planned shooting down of two unarmed planes over international waters on Feb. 24, 1996. Four members of Brothers to the Rescue, an exile group that regularly searched the waters for Cuban refugees, were killed in that incident, which heightened U.S.-Cuban tensions.
However, the FBI was not able to decipher the messages until more than six months after the attack, the court filing said. The FBI broke the code with the help of encryption programs on computer disks that its agents seized or copied during clandestine searches of the defendants' apartments.
The FBI motion, filed Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney's office, aims to enforce a judicial gag order on witnesses during the trial of the five men. The motion was a response to a report last Saturday in the Miami Herald that said the FBI had intercepted the coded radio messages more than a week before the air attack but did not share the information with exile groups or the White House. The report, distributed by the Knight Ridder news service, also appeared in The Washington Post.
The Miami Herald article quoted a potential defense witness, Richard Nuccio, who was President Clinton's adviser on Cuban affairs at the time of the attack, as saying that he was "flabbergasted" and "furious" to learn of the intercepts.
The FBI court filing said Nuccio's comments and the article were "incorrect" and unfair to the government's case because jurors might read them.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard told jurors to stay away from media coverage of the trial. The judge also told lawyers for the defendants to "instruct their witnesses they are not to talk to each other or to the media."