The exposure and ongoing trial of a Cuban spy ring has revealed the largest espionage cell in the U.S. since the collapse of the Soviet Union, yet most of the establishment press — with the exception of the Miami Herald — has given scant coverage to the issue.

Five members of a 14-member espionage team called “La Red Avispa” — the Wasp Network — are on trial in a Miami federal courtroom following an exhaustive FBI investigation.

The Wasp Network engaged in a wide range of activities, including locating vulnerable points of entry into the state of Florida for the importation of arms and explosives, infiltration of the U.S. Southern Command, and the attempted subversion of anti-Communist organizations in the U.S.

After breaking up the network’s operations in September 1998, the FBI amassed some 10,000 pages of information on the Cuban espionage cell. Federal agents discovered that, among other projects, the members of the spy network counted planes outside a military base, attempted to send a letter-bomb to an anti-Castro activist, and placed one of their number — employed as a custodian — at the Boca Chica base of the Southern Command to observe military activity there.

Of the original 14, four fled and are believed to be in Cuba, five pleaded guilty and five have declared their innocence. Those pleading innocent said they were only keeping an eye on the anti-communist Cuban exiles.

Although the ring was engaged in classic acts of espionage, those who pleaded guilty, as well as the defendants standing trial, are not facing charges of spying, but rather are being charged as “unregistered foreign agents.”

The reputed spymaster of the Wasp Network, Gerardo Hernandez, is facing murder charges. Hernandez, who is also a captain in Cuba’s military intelligence, is charged with the deaths of four men shot down by Cuban MiG aircraft over the Florida Straits in February 1996.

The four men who were shot down had been members of the Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, which seeks to aid those opposed to the regime of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Federal prosecutors allege that Hernandez provided the Cuban government with the flight plans of the plane the men were flying, enabling easy interception.

Sentences for those pleading guilty have run from 3? to 7 years in prison, despite pleas of contrition. According to a Miami Herald report, two of the confessed spies, Linda Hernandez and her husband Nilo, profess to having found a new appreciation for God and freedom.

Hernandez recounted that her espionage career began in 1992, when Cuban intelligence directed that she and her husband were to move from New York City to Miami.

Although born in the U.S., Hernandez returned to Cuba shortly before the communist takeover, and spent her youth in Cuba, returning to the U.S. in the mid-’80s. In declaring her sorrow for her actions, Hernandez stated that the Cuban government “controlled every move and thought” of those living under it.

How deeply Cuban foreign intelligence has penetrated into the United States remains unclear. When WorldNetDaily asked about other Cuban intelligence cells in the U.S., Miami FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela refused to speculate on their existence or possible extent of activities.

Although FBI documentation on the Wasp Network is voluminous, Orihuela is unable to comment about the impact of the group on U.S. security, as trial judge Joan A. Lenard has issued a “gag order” on all aspects of the proceedings. Similarly, the U.S. attorney’s office is unable to comment on the spy trial.

When contacted by WND, Mariela Ferrentti, spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation, a leading Cuban exile group, declared “vindication of the Cuban American community” based upon what has already come to light from the investigation of the Wasp Network.

Ferrentti says what is currently known about Cuban intelligence activities is “nowhere near” the actual lengths “to which [Cuban] agents are going [in order] to wage war against the people of the U.S.”

The trial of the Wasp Network members comes at a particularly inopportune time for the Cuban government. Havana is concentrating on the abolition of U.S. sanctions against the island — described as “genocidal” by the Cuban government, despite a 5.6 percent increase in its gross domestic product this year — and the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows asylum for any Cuban reaching U.S. land.

The Wasp Network’s activities, however, take on a special relevance in light of the visit last month in Cuba of the chief of the general staff of China’s Peoples Liberation Army. While in Havana, Gen. Fu Quanyou proclaimed that he hoped his visit would “strengthen bilateral ties between both [Cuban and Chinese] armies [which are] in search of the common goal of building socialism.”

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