The evening of February 16, Hector Alejandro Cabrera-Fuentes, a Mexican citizen, was arrested by the FBI and DHS/CBP for acting within the United States on behalf of a foreign government without notifying the attorney general. That’s legalese for acting as a “support asset” for Russian intelligence and conducting an operational activity within the U.S. on behalf of Russia intelligence.

The dirty deed

In early-February 2020, Fuentes traveled to Moscow, met with a Russian intelligence officer, and was tasked to travel to Miami, again, for the sole purpose of confirming the residence of an individual identified in court documents only as “U.S. Government Source.” Fuentes was to confirm the source’s vehicle, license plate number, and where in the condominium complex the source parked their vehicle.

This was not the first time Fuentes had traveled to Miami on behalf of Russia intelligence. He had previously traveled to Miami with the sole operational task of renting a specific apartment in Miami-Dade County, FL. The Russian intelligence officer had directed Fuentes to make sure he did not rent the apartment in his own name, and to keep the rental secret from family members. Following this operational activity in 2019, Fuentes traveled to Moscow and shared the information concerning the (unidentified) apartment rental arrangements and details.

For this trip, Fuentes first traveled to Mexico City. He then traveled to Miami on February 13, and drove via a rental car to the address provided by the Russian intelligence officer. At the address, he tailgated into the condo-complex behind an authorized vehicle. The tailgating garnered Fuentes the attention of the security guard. When the guard approached Fuentes, Fuentes’ wife stepped out of the vehicle and took a photo of the target vehicle and parking location within the complex.

When confronted by the security guard, Fuentes provided a name of an individual with whom he was purportedly visiting. The security guard did not recognize the name as being associated with a residence of the building, and directed Fuentes to leave the building/parking garage.

Fuentes and spouse departed, having successfully completed their operational task – confirmed the location of the U.S. government’s source, confirming the source’s parking spot within the complex, and make/model, license plate number.

Recruitment of Fuentes

Fuentes, according to court documents, was recruited by Russian intelligence in 2019. Where the recruitment occurred is not provided, it could have been in Singapore, Frankfurt or in Moscow, where he is known to have traveled. Regardless, Fuentes has been operational on behalf of Russia from at least 2019, according to the court documents.

Fuentes arrest

Fuentes and spouse made their way to Miami International Airport the evening of February 16, for a return flight to Mexico City. Prior to departure, DHS/CBP inspected the phone of Fuente’s spouse and found the close-up image of the source’s license plate in the “recently deleted folder” of her smartphone. Fuentes admitted asking his wife to take the photo.

CBP then reviewed Fuentes’ smartphone and on the phone noted his use of WhatsApp. This application which provided point-to-point encryption, was how Fuentes communicated with his spouse and through which she provided Fuentes a copy of the source’s vehicle’s license plate.

Upon further questioning, Fuentes admitted having been recruited by the Russians and directed to conduct operational activity on behalf of Russia and at the direction of the Russian intelligence officer. Court documents indicate messages between Fuentes and his Russian handler clearly demonstrate Fuentes’ operational relationship, with the Russian initiating and directing their meetings.

The Unknown about Fuentes

According to open source information, Hector Alejandro Cabrera-Fuentes holds a Phd from Justus-Liebig University’s Institute for Biochemistry Medical Facility which he received in 2014. His Linkedin profile goes on to identify him as the President of the “Mexican Global Network” in Singapore. In addition, he obtained a master of science in microbiology and molecular biology from Kazan State University in 2009. The profile identifies both Singapore and Frankfurt Am Main, Germany as locations where he is resident. It is possible that Fuente’s relationship with Russian intelligence predates the 2019 dates provided in the criminal complaint.

Russian support assets

The use of support assets is rather common within the world of human intelligence (HUMINT). Such assets are used by Russia to acquire vehicles, pick up mail from sources, rent apartments, conduct research, and possibly conduct surveillance. In this instance, we see that Fuentes was tasked in 2019 to rent an apartment in the Miami-Dade area.

Couple this with the task to confirm the location of a U.S. government source and it doesn’t take much of an analytic brain to connect the dots that the apartment could serve as a launching pad for a team targeting the source in much the same manner that Sergei Skripal was targeted in the United Kingdom.

Alternatively, the apartment might be a SIGINT platform to monitor another location. Or, perhaps as a safe house for Russian intelligence to meet assets or deep-cover officers working within the United States.

More will be revealed in the coming weeks. Fuentes is scheduled to be arraigned on March 3.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com