Venezuela’s top diplomat in Miami has been linked to an alleged cyber-terrorism plot against the U.S. in collusion with Iran and Cuba that already has prompted alarmed members of Congress to schedule hearings.
Livia Antonieta Acosta Noguera – the current Venezuelan consul in Miami – was the second secretary at the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico in 2006 when a leftist professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico allegedly began to recruit student hackers to build a cyber-weapon to attack the White House, the FBI, the Pentagon and U.S. nuclear sites.
The plot, initiated by the Cuban embassy, eventually drew in diplomats from Iran’s radical Islamic regime and Venezuela’s revolutionary socialist government led by Hugo Chavez, according to a documentary broadcast by the U.S.-based Spanish-language television channel Univision.
The documentary featured secret audio and video recordings by an instructor, Juan Carlos Munoz Ledo, and students who infiltrated the hackers and captured meetings between the computer engineering students and faculty, and Iranian and Venezuelan ambassadors in Mexico.
The Venezuelan diplomat Acosta was taped asking for information about the planned attacks that she could give to Chavez through his head of security, Gen. Alexis Lopez.
In response to the report, a hearing has been scheduled by the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., to investigate the “threat to the United States posed by Iran’s diplomatic and espionage activities in Latin America.”
In the House, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has pledged to hold hearings.
In addition, Ros-Lehtinen has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for an investigation into Acosta and for the diplomat’s dismissal from the U.S. if the allegations are verified.
“If true, these actions demonstrate [Acosta's] willingness to undermine U.S. interests and the potential threat to our national security posed by [her] activities,” the letter said.
State Department spokesman William Ostick said U.S. officials can’t corroborate the report yet, but he called it “disturbing.”
Chavez, who openly has developed close ties with Iran’s mullah-led regime, dismissed the report as “lies.”
|Livia Antonieta Acosta Noguera
The plot allegedly began in 2006, the year Tehran awarded Chavez the High Medal of the Islamic Republic of Iran during a state visit.
Iran’s ambassador to Mexico at the time, Mohammed Hassan Ghadiri, acknowledged he was approached by the Mexican group, but he claimed in an interview in the Univision documentary that he turned down the offer because he thought the Mexicans were CIA agents.
A Univision translation of a secret recording, however, shows him telling the Mexican students he was interested in the plot because it was “very important to know about what [the United States has] in mind, [whether it will] attack Iran or not.”
Ghadiri acknowledged to Univision that he consulted with Tehran about whether the Iranian government should support the attacks.
“They proposed this, and we told them that this is not our job. We rejected it,” he said. “We don’t have any interest in doing those types of things.”
The Univision documentary’s director, Gerardo Reyes, countered Ghadiri, arguing a “good ambassador with good intentions would have thrown [the hackers] out and contacted the Mexican authorities.”
“Instead, he listened to them, he asked questions, he made suggestions,” said Reyes.
The recordings show Acosta wanted to deliver to Chavez the access codes to computer systems of nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons arsenals.
Among the facilities to which the group sought access were the Turkey Point, Fla., Nuclear Generating Station and Arkansas Nuclear One, a two-unit plant in Russellville, Ark.
Acosta is heard in a meeting expressing approval when Munoz Ledo tells her he has found the computer passwords to “every nuclear plant in the USA.”
Acosta says, according to a Univision translation, “Oh, look, that’s good!” and speaks of giving the information to Chavez.
The Univision documentary said the recordings hint at Acosta’s close relationship with the Iranian Embassy in Mexico and its ambassador, Ghadiri, “an ambitious diplomat who moved across Mexico to expand the influence of Islam.”
Iran recruiting cyber-warriors
The alleged plot mirrors a general movement by Tehran to recruit jihadists and train them as cyber-warriors.
As Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin reported today, jihadists calling themselves “Cyber-Hezbollah” organized a conference in September in Tehran called “Clicks of Resistance” on the occasion of the Holy Defense Week, which marks the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980.
Gholam-Reza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Passive Resistance Organization, announced the establishment of the “Cyber War Headquarters of the Islamic Republic” to act against Tehran’s perceived threats.
Jalali has said that the Stuxnet computer worm, which attacked Iran’s nuclear development program last year, brought an awareness of the effectiveness of cyber warfare.
The Stuxnet incident prompted increased coordination and cooperation in cyber warfare between Iran’s various security and intelligence apparatuses, including the Passive Resistance Organization and the Ministry of Intelligence. Agencies related to internal security and the judiciary also have taken part in cyber warfare training.
Meanwhile, WND reported in February that Chavez imprisoned a former presidential opponent, Alejandro Pena-Esclusa, who has warned of efforts by the socialist regime to work with Iran to arm Venezuela with strategic weapons that threaten not only Latin America but the U.S.
Pena-Esclusa was jailed on charges of terrorism after Chavez’ political police, the SEBIN, or National Bolivarian Intelligence Service, burst into his family home in July 2010 and arrested him for possession of explosives. Pena-Esclusa’s wife claims the agents planted the explosives in their daughter’s desk drawer. Amid pressure in Venezuela and internationally, Pena-Esclusa was released from prison July 20 but remains under house arrest as he awaits trial.
John Haskins, a senior fellow for the public understanding of law, propaganda and cultural revolution at the Inter-American Institute, which is pressing U.S. officials to demand Pena-Esclusa’s release, called him “among the most effective and respected anti-Marxist, anti-terrorist leaders in the Western Hemisphere.”
Haskins has warned that Chavez is using his vast petroleum reserves to finance the purchase of arms beyond what Venezuela needs for legitimate national defense and is acting as a base for countries such as Iran to potentially stage missiles aimed at the U.S.
Chavez also has offered Russia bases for its strategic bombers, submarines and warships.
“If this madness is not soon stopped,” Pena-Esclusa wrote in 2009, “there will be another missile crisis, but this time involving the whole hemisphere.”
U.S. security experts have confirmed that Tehran plans to base in Venezuela long-range Shahab-3 missiles capable of reaching the U.S. that can carry conventional, biological and chemical warheads.
Chavez also is known for his close collusion with the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, a Marxist narco-guerrilla drug network pushing drugs into the U.S. FARC also is working closely with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups to peddle massive amounts of drugs into Africa to raise funds for their terrorist activities.
‘To undermine American society’
A group of Venezuelan organizations in the U.S. has issued a statement urging U.S. officials to “take seriously the risk posed by” Acosta and Venezuela’s consular staff “to the security of the United States.”
The statement said there apparently “is sufficient evidence showing the links of the Consul Acosta with Iran to undermine American society.”
“This is not due to chance but a conceived strategic plan to carry out intelligence operations and facilitate the conditions for terrorist acts within the United States,” said the statement signed by Jose Antonio Colina, president of Veppex; Patricia Andrade, director of human rights for the Venezuela Awareness Foundation; Luis Rafael Monch, director of UnoAmerica-USA and Elio Aponte, president of Orvex.
The statement said it “is alarming that to achieve its objectives, [Acosta] entered the U.S. with diplomatic immunity to act with impunity from U.S. soil to ensure that attacks on the United States were effective.”
The Venezuelan leaders in the U.S. said they have evidence that Acosta is an active official of Venezuela’s intelligence service, the SEBIN, and is suspected of performing espionage against Venezuelans in Miami.
Colina also has sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton on behalf of his group, Veppex, the Organization of Venezuelans in Exile Political Persecuted.
“Their real mission on U.S. soil is espionage and continued persecution of Venezuelan nationals who come to the United States seeking protection,” the letter says.