The Department of Justice filed a criminal complaint where former U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha is accused of being an agent of the Cuban government from November 1981 through December 2023, a period of more than 40 years providing Cuba access to U.S. secrets. Rocha appears to have been recruited prior to 1981 by Cuban intelligence while living in Chile during the early 1970s.  Subsequently, under the direction of Cuban intelligence, he applied for and obtained employment within the Department of State (DOS) and became a career Foreign Service Officer from 1981 through 2002, where he culminated his career as the United States Ambassador to Bolivia.

Every increasing access

Rocha’s Foreign Service career path took him to ever increasing assignments of responsibility where his access would have provided  commensurate access to information of interest to Cuban intelligence. The complaint identifies a number of junior assignments in the Americas and then six more  senior assignments :

  • First Secretary U.S. Embassy in Mexico City – February 1989 through November 1991
  • Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – November 1991 through July 1994
  • Director of Inter-American Affairs on the National Security Council (area of focus Cuba) – July 1994 through July 1995
  • Deputy Principal Officer at the U.S. Interests Section , Havana Cuba – July 1995 through July 1997
  • Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina – July 1997 through November 1999′
  • Ambassador to Bolivia, U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia – November 1999 through August 2002.

Rocha’s access to United States policy and doctrine discussions may be viewed as a boon to Cuba. It must be highlighted that not only did he have access to U.S. policy at the point of creation vis-a-vis Cuba and the Americas as a whole, but he also was in the position to create requirements for the intelligence community both within State, and especially during his period within the NSC. The requirements once satisfied would have served to identify the depth and breadth of U.S intelligence access to Cuba’s secrets.  Post DOS retirement, the complaint continues how he was retained for a number of years as a consultant by the U.S. Southern Command as an expert on Cuba.

Uncovering the mole within the State Department

The detailed  compliant references how the United States learned of Rocha’s role as a covert asset of Cuban intelligence in November 2022. How this information was obtained is not provide.

Shortly thereafter, the FBI organized a sting operation from late-2022 through December 2023, where Rocha was contacted by an FBI undercover officer posing as a Cuban intelligence official. The meetings with this officer were memorialized with both audio and video recordings. During these meetings Rocha shared his fealty towards the Cuban leadership and the Cuban revolution; detailed his 40-plus years of espionage on behalf of Cuba and willingness to continue. A consensual interview with agents from the DOS Diplomatic Security Service occurred on December 13 at which time Rocha was asked about his contact with the undercover FBI officer (who Rocha believed to be from Cuban intelligence). Rocha denied any knowledge and when confronted with a photo of a meeting, conceded that the individual had met him once, and then declined to answer questions.

“This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “We allege that for over 40 years, Victor Manuel Rocha served as an agent of the Cuban government and sought out and obtained positions within the United States government that would provide him with access to non-public information and the ability to affect U.S. foreign policy. Those who have the privilege of serving in the government of the United States are given an enormous amount of trust by the public we serve. To betray that trust by falsely pledging loyalty to the United States while serving a foreign power is a crime that will be met with the full force of the Justice Department.”

“Like all federal officials, U.S. diplomats swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Acting as an agent for Cuba – a hostile foreign power – is a blatant violation of that oath and betrays the trust of the American people,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI will continue to rigorously defend against foreign governments targeting America, and we will find and hold accountable anyone who violates their oath to the United States, no matter how long it takes.”

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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