June 6, 2015
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Recently I was asked about this issue in an interview for Radio Miami. After I got the recording I tried to send it to EL HERALDO’s readers, but the sound file never went out due to technical problems.
Comrade Pedro Pablo Gómez, one of EL HERALDO’s main collaborators, said that something had to be done so that you could have the interview, so I decided to send you copies of Chapter 8 from by book DIPLOMACIA SIN SOMBRA, which provides a more detailed description of everything than the interview itself.
Since June 6 also marks another anniversary, that of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior, I would like to publish it in honor of the institution that has been a safeguard against those enemies who, together with the CIA and other U.S. agencies, have tried to overthrow our Revolution.
Always faithful to their principles, the top leaders of the Cuban Revolution decided to give the American government details of an assassination attempt that a U.S.-based extreme right-wing group had planned against President Ronald Reagan.
Nothing was requested in return, and nothing was given to us except a thank-you which, all things considered, heralded no change whatsoever in U.S. Cuba policy. What really matters is that once again Cuba rubbed its main enemy’s nose in the values of our Revolution.
8.- THE ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION OF REAGAN
Like every summer day in New York, it was a very hot Saturday on the morning of 1984. From the window of my 34th floor apartment at 1623 Third Avenue, I could make out the East River, its waters quiet and almost motionless. Since it was almost 9:00 AM. on a Saturday, there was little traffic on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Expressway, or FDR, as everyone calls it to save words.
I had planned to get up late that morning because the night before I had hosted a “dominoes party” with compañeros from the Cuban diplomatic delegation, one of the most frequent pastimes among those of us living in that inhospitable land. At 8:00 AM., even before I could have any breakfast, a diplomatic compañero, the “clavista” called me on the phone and told me to drop by the office because “he had a cold and needed some aspirin”. Such was the password for any urgent message requiring my presence there at once.
Naturally, I tried to make sure that the “cold visit” was worth my while, as I would usually visit the UN Mission to read and send wires and check how work was going, but I would never go there so early on a weekend. When I asked the “clavo” how bad it was, he started to cough and told me he had just taken his temperature and he had 104 degrees, so I didn’t wait any longer and left for the Mission as soon as I got dressed without even waiting for the coffee that my wife Sarah was making.
That morning it took me barely twenty minutes to get to the Mission, a lot less than usual, given “el clavo”’s cold and the little traffic of an early Saturday morning. When the elevator doors opened on the floor where my office was, “el clavo” was right there waiting for me and, without a word, came into my office with me. Only then he said, “Boss, listen, this is really hot. I’ll be in my office awaiting your orders”.
As soon as I started to read the two-page wire I realized that Dominguito, “el clavo”, was right: the message was burning hot. It said that Havana had got word that someone was planning to shoot President Ronald Reagan the following Tuesday, when he was going to visit North Carolina as part of his re-election campaign.
The information was quite complete, as it included the names of those involved; the day, time and place of the assassination attempt; the type of weapons that the terrorists had, and where they kept them, in addition to their meeting place and a brief transcript of what they had discussed in their latest meeting. The same wire had my orders: I was to give that information at once to the United States government.
I immediately thought that the fastest way would be through Robert Muller, Head of Security of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations, with whom I would come into contact now and then to talk about things regarding the Cuban diplomats and their host country. Muller was a responsible, experienced and professional official whose demeanor revealed that he was close to or worked for the American security agencies. No one better than him to pass on intel to the relevant authorities as soon as possible.
As it was to be expected on a Saturday at that time of day, it was the official on duty who answered my phone call. I identified myself, and he was so surprised that an official from the Cuban Mission was trying to get hold of Security Head Muller so urgently, and on a Saturday morning to boot, that he refused to oblige until I told him what was so urgent. Besides, under no circumstances would he give me Muller’s private number. I tried to convince him that, for starters, I could not tell him anything over the phone. I gave him a number of reasons that he should put me through to Muller, but to no avail. Then it occurred to me to use logic, and I told him, “Think about it. Look, do you think that a member of the Cuban Mission would try to find Muller at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning without a truly good reason?”
It seemed that my point was thought-provoking, and after a few seconds he said he would call Muller at home and give him my number, but other than that, no promises. Good enough, I said, gave him my number. Then, while I waited for Muller’s call, I thought of Bernard Johnson, a security sfficer with the State Department, except that Johnson lived in Washington, so I would once again have to use my powers of persuasion to find him, this time through the official on duty. Moreover, even if I did, he would need at least four hours to meet me in New York. There was also FBI officer Larry Wacks, but it was the same problem, I only had their office numbers.
My phone rang as I was preparing the version of the message that I would take to the meeting. It was Muller, finally getting back to me. After the usual social pleasantries, I told him that I needed to see him ASAP to give him the heads-up about an extremely important issue. Muller remained silent for a few moments and then told me: “Nestor, it’s Saturday morning; my son is the opening pitcher in today’s Little League game at 9:30; there’s no way I can skip it”.
“Bob”, I said, “I understand how important that is to you and your son, but I assure you, what I got is very important; I’m asking you to come see me. This is not Little League, but Major League stuff.”
I was insistent, and Muller kept saying, “I live in the southern part of Staten Island; I have to cross the island and take the ferryboat to rendezvous with you, and that would take me one hour. Do you think all that and missing my son’s game is worth the trouble?”
“I believe so, Bob”, I replied. “We can meet at the Irish pub on 37th and 3rd, two blocks from the Cuban Mission. According to what you say, it could be at 10:30”. And he said, “OK, Nestor, you win, but it better be good!”
Muller came in through the door at a quarter past, wearing sneakers, jeans, a white T-shirt and, of course, a baseball hat. Actually, barring the hat, I was pretty much wearing the same, so we looked like two friends who had met there to have a few beers.
We shook hands, I invited him to seat, and then I gave him a pad and a pen. You’re coming from home, I said, so I thought you might not bring anything to take notes and you’d better make sure you don’t miss a thing. As soon as he was ready to write, I told him: “Write the title first: assassination attempt on President Reagan.”
Muller didn’t move his hand; he just raised his eyes from the pad and looked me in the eye. I told him, more slowly this time, “Attempt on President Reagan’s life.” From then on, I started to give him, for security reasons, a modified version of the message we had received, but without overlooking a single detail and making sure that all the important data were correct, namely the names of those involved, the place and time of the attack, and the type of weapons they would use.
Once I finished dictating the English version of the wire to him, I told him that my government had instructed me to transfer the information as soon as possible and that I had chosen him, a professional security officer, to do so.
Muller read everything he had written down to make sure nothing important had been left out, and then asked if it was everything I had. I said that’s it, and he went on saying, “I can’t go to the ball game now, because Washington needs to know this right away”.
Before he left, without having as much as a sip of the beer in front of him, he told me that the Secret Service would probably want to meet with me. No objections there, I replied, they can find me at the Mission or at home, for I had no plans to go out. Muller headed for the door, but after a few steps he turned around and said, “Thanks, Nestor, this was really good”.
I went back to the Mission and wrote a wire describing our meeting, mainly at what time I had passed on the intel and what Muller had said about the Secret Service’s likely interest in meeting with me. If they did, I would send a new wire with details about the briefing.
At around 1:00 p.m. I called Sarah at the apartment, where she had stayed ever since I had left in a hurry. She had good news: lunch was ready. Everything was fine at the Mission, so I left for home. On the way there I was followed by two cars. It seemed that my unusual moves or my calls to the US Mission to the UN had been cause for concern.
At around 4:00 p.m. I got a call at home from Secret Service agents who had traveled to New York. They had probably seen Muller and now wanted to see me. I told them I would be waiting for them at home. Needless to say, I didn’t have to give them an address, nor did they ask for one. I was sure the cars were just running a check on me, because the Secret Service never called the Mission. It was obvious they knew I was at home.
Half an hour later, Rubin, the Puerto Rican doorman of my building, called to ask whether he should let in “two gentlemen” who said I was waiting for them. I said yes, and five minutes later they were in my apartment. The first thing they commented was that the building had good security measures, since in Washington they would have made it to the apartment without a problem, while here in New York the doorman had requested my permission even after they had shown their Secret Service badges.
They were two young white men wearing similar crew cuts and standard suits. It was easy to tell what they did for a living just by their looks.
The briefing was based basically on double-checking what I had told Muller, since they had brought a copy of his report. As I had anticipated their visit, I had a version of the wire received from Havana that I had dictated to Muller. A review of both documents confirmed that nothing had been left out.
The questions that the two agents asked were the usual for these cases. First, they wanted to know who had given the information and how it had reached me. The answer was simple: I didn’t know who had received it or how Havana had got it to me. They nodded assent, and one of them said that they understood if we didn’t want to disclose the informer’s identity.
Then they wanted to know whether it would be possible to get more information about the whole thing. I said maybe, but I couldn’t know for sure; however, I would tell them at once if I received more details. They left their cards and instructions to call them directly and not through Muller. The matter was obviously too sensitive to be dealt with through intermediaries.
After they left, I returned to our Mission to report to Havana my meeting with the Secret Service. Two different cars followed me all the way there. They had just replaced the ones tailing, but it was clear that the order to keep an eye on me was still in force.
The following Monday we learned that the FBI had arrested some people in North Carolina on a number of charges, none of which was related to an assassination attempt on President Reagan, who had traveled to that state as scheduled. Everything was under control.
By the end of the week, Muller called me to the Mission and invited me to lunch, so we met at the restaurant for delegates in the U.N. building. He started by ask me to convey his appreciation to the Cuban government for the information they had provided, and told me that they had arrested the hit team and checked the my information. Then we moved on to less formal subjects, and I learned that his son was a good southpaw and had won his game on Saturday.
 The person in charge of encoding or decoding messages and information (T.N.)
 Cuban slang for the “clavista” (see note 1) (T.N.)