China Has Operated Spy Facilities In Cuba Since At Least 2019, White House Says

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The White House clarified Saturday that China has operated a spy base in Cuba since at least 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal, following reports that Beijing reached a tentative agreement to set up a new operation somewhere on the island country.

The White House on Friday had characterized as “inaccurate” the WSJ’s first report of a planned Chinese surveillance outpost in Cuba focused on intercepting electronic communications, including emails and radio transmissions, in the southeast U.S. However, White House officials told the outlet Saturday that the Biden administration has worked to tamp down on China’s repeated attempts to spy on the U.S. since Biden took office, and said China has had a surveillance operation in Cuba since at least 2019.

“This is an ongoing issue, and not a new development, and the arrangement as characterized in the reporting does not comport with our understanding,” the White House told the WSJ, referencing the outlet’s prior reporting. (RELATED: University Housing Biden Center Took Funds From Firm Controlled By China’s ‘Supreme Organ Of State Power,’ Docs Show)

After coming into office, the administration received briefings in 2021 from intelligence officials regarding Beijing’s global intelligence agenda, including efforts to establish surveillance sites in the the Atlantic Ocean, Latin America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and the Indo-Pacific, according to the WSJ.

“This effort included the presence of PRC intelligence collection facilities in Cuba,” the administration official, granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, said, according to Politico. “In fact, the PRC conducted an upgrade of its intelligence collection facilities in Cuba in 2019. This is well-documented in the intelligence record.”

That effort is ongoing as of today, the White House said.

Beijing “will keep trying to enhance its presence in Cuba, and we will keep working to disrupt it,” an official told the WSJ. The U.S. has taken steps to “slow down” China’s progress in creating an intelligence foothold around the world, including in Cuba, adding that the Trump administration efforts were deemed insufficient.

“This is an issue that this administration inherited,” the official said, Politico reported.

“We think the PRC isn’t quite where they had hoped to be,” the White House added, according to Politico. “Our experts assess that our diplomatic efforts have slowed the PRC down.”

Information on the Chinese spy operation and Cuba’s role in planning appeared in classified intelligence reporting only in recent weeks, the WSJ reported, citing people familiar with the matter. That intelligence has been shared with some lawmakers on intelligence committees.

Republican Rep. Michael Warner of Ohio, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said the reports have been contradictory in a statement to Politico following the Saturday report.

“In less than 48 hours, officials from the Biden administration have contradicted themselves multiple times about whether or not the Chinese Communist Party is spying on the United States. This is unacceptable,” he told the outlet.

China is “not aware” of a new spy base in Cuba, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Friday, accusing the U.S. of “chasing shadows and meddling in other countries’ internal affairs.”

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