After initially calling reports “inaccurate,” an official says that the administration “inherited” the problem.
China has been spying on the United States from a base in Cuba, a Biden administration official said on Saturday, claiming that “this is an issue that this administration inherited.”
The Wall Street Journal, followed by POLITICO and other outlets, reported on Thursday that China had been in conversations with Havana to establish a new spy base in the island nation. That same day, the White House and the Pentagon said the reporting was “inaccurate,” without going into details.
On Saturday, an administration official clarified by saying that the Chinese base in Cuba has already been established, noting that it didn’t happen on their watch.
The administration official, who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject, said the Chinese spying effort has been an ongoing concern and that the U.S. has been taking steps to deal with it.
“When this administration took office in January 2021, we were briefed on a number of sensitive PRC efforts around the world to expand its overseas logistics, basing, and collection infrastructure globally to allow the [military] to project and sustain military power at greater distance,” the official said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“This effort included the presence of PRC intelligence collection facilities in Cuba,” the official confirmed. “In fact, the PRC conducted an upgrade of its intelligence collection facilities in Cuba in 2019. This is well-documented in the intelligence record.”
President Joe Biden directed his administration to address the issue. “Within months, we did so,” the official said, noting that the thrust of the engagement with Beijing over the spy post has been through diplomacy.
The official would not go into detail, but said the engagements have brought “results” and that “our experts assess that our diplomatic efforts have slowed the PRC down.”
“We think the PRC isn’t quite where they had hoped to be,” the official said. “The PRC will keep trying to enhance its presence in Cuba, and we will keep working to disrupt it.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the administration following POLITICO’s report on Saturday.
“President Biden needs to stop ignoring the threat from China,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chair of the House China Committee, slammed Biden and his team for the way they reacted to the initial reports. “Why did the Biden administration previously deny these reports of a CCP spy base in Cuba? … Without a coherent explanation, we must conclude they are deliberately misleading the American people and whitewashing CCP aggression in order to revive the counterproductive strategy of engagement.”
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), a member of that same panel, said the news of the base is “sufficiently plausible to merit congressional oversight.”
“If the CCP is using a spy facility in Cuba, as media reports have alleged, then Congress has a duty to investigate the matter rather than accept at face value the denials of the Defense Department,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
Despite the administration initially saying the reporting was inaccurate, the two leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee released a joint statement Thursday in response to the news.
“The United States must respond to China’s ongoing and brazen attacks on our nation’s security. We must be clear that it would be unacceptable for China to establish an intelligence facility within 100 miles of Florida and the United States, in an area also populated with key military installations and extensive maritime traffic,” Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) they said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to visit China as soon as next week and will almost certainly discuss this matter with his counterparts.