While the headlines and cameras focused on Alan Gross, the American federal worker who Cuba released from jail Wednesday, intrigue swirled around another prisoner who also was set free and put on a plane to the United States.
White House officials described the second man – who had spent 20 years in jail in Cuba – only as “an intelligence asset” who had provided crucial information to the United States that had paved the way for the prosecution of Cuban spies working within this country.
Several times, in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday before President Barack Obama’s announcement about Gross’s release and a major shift in U.S.-Cuba policy, the White House officials said they would not identify the “intelligence asset.”
But now, several media outlets are reporting that the unidentified man who was swapped as part of the deal between Cuba and the United States is very likely Rolando “Roly” Sarraff Trujillo, a former cryptographer in Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence who did cover work for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Newsweek, the Washington Post, The Miami Herald and The New York Times were among the outlets that pointed to Trujillo as the U.S. spy who was released after 20 years in the Cuban jail.
Newsweek quoted Chris Simmons, a former Defense Intelligence Agency specialist on Cuba, as saying: “I know of all the Cubans on the list of people in jail and he is the only one who fits the description…I am 99.9 percent sure that Roly is the guy."
Simmons added that Trujillo was “an expert on cryptography for the Cuban Ministry of Interior who was arrested in 1995 and sentenced to 25 years in jail.”
The Miami Herald, also quoting Simmons, said that Trujillo, now 51, and two other Cubans supplied the CIA with a trove of information, making it possible for the U.S. agency to decipher Cuban spy codes, read secret reports and track down and arrest those doing espionage for Cuba inside the United States.
“He just destroyed their communications,” Simmons said of Trujillo.
An Internet search for Rolando Sarraff Trujillo turned up a website called RolandoSarraff.com that described in Spanish a man who has been in jail for nearly 20 years and who “is suffering a cruel imprisonment…He has always declared himself innocent.”
The site, which includes numerous posts attributed to “relatives” of his, says he endured harsh treatment “for the simple fact that he thought differently and wanted democracy in his homeland, or at least the most basic human rights.”
The website had a post on Thursday that said when relatives went to see Trujillo in jail, they were told he was no longer there and had been moved, though they said they were not told where he now was. They said that he had failed to call his family, which he did daily, the site said.
The site said the family hoped that he was among the many political prisoners who were being released by the Cuban government as a result of the U.S.-Cuba deal.
The site also includes a lot of poetry signed by Trujillo.
White House officials on Wednesday described the unnamed spy as someone who had risked his life and wellbeing to provide crucial information to the United States.
Obama said he was “one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at a press briefing Wednesday: “We recovered a highly valued intelligence asset, probably the most highly valued intelligence asset on Cuban soil in American history. And that individual is now on American soil.”
In their secret negotiation with Cuban government officials about the release of Gross, U.S. officials made it clear that they did not want to treat getting back the American – who was arrested five years ago after he attempted to bring computers to Jews living in Cuba and was charged with espionage – as an even exchange of spies.
They demanded that Gross be released on humanitarian grounds, based on his fragile health, and that the long-jailed spy who had helped the United States be released as a swap for three of five Cuban spies who were in U.S. jails, having been convicted in 2001 of infiltrating military installations and spying on Cuban exile groups.
Two of the so-called “Cuban Five” already had been released after serving their sentences.
In Cuba, three men who were providing intelligence to the CIA drew the suspicion of Cuban authorities, who put them under surveillance. The Cuban nationals contacted the CIA asking to be rescued, say published reports.
Two of the men managed to flee Cuba. The Herald said: “One, José Cohen, lives in South Florida, where he’s a top Amway salesman. He did not respond to Herald emails asking for comment. The other has never been publicly identified.”
“Sarraff, however,” The Herald said, “was arrested and has been in prison ever since.”
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