Moscow and Havana have reportedly reached an agreement to reopen what was once Russia’s largest foreign base — the signals intelligence facility in Lourdes, Cuba.
The facility that was initially built in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis, was closed in 2001 due to “financial problems and under U.S. pressure,” according to Russia’s much-maligned news network RT, but other sources say the 28 square-mile area with 1,000-1,500 Russian engineers, technicians, and military personnel previously working at the base, was closed to save money and to warm relations with the U.S. after the September 11 attacks.
But now, apparently the Kremlin wants to train it’s closest spying eyes back on the U.S.
The SIGINT facility at Lourdes was among the most significant intelligence collection capabilities targeting the United States, according to Global Security. When it was operational, the Cuban facility was manned by thousands of military and intelligence personnel tasked with intercepting signals transmitted to and from the United States mainland and territories. The mission also included providing communication for the Russian vessels in the western hemisphere.
Built less than 100 miles from Key West, Florida, the facility at Lourdes was jointly operated by FAPSI — Russia’s Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information — and Cuba’s intelligence services.
According to RT, Russia considered reopening the Lourdes base in earnest since 2004 and just finalized a deal with Cuba last week during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the island nation.
When then-Russian President Vladimir Putin closed the facility in 2001, he primarily blamed financial concerns. “The development of the armed forces to a new technological level will require money, and we are going to have to find it,” Putin said. ”Standing up to international terrorism has considerable military implications.”
When the announcement was made in 2001, independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said: “This is a major change in Russia’s defense policy. Closing [Lourdes] is saying that the Cold War is over and Russian wants to ally with the West. Putin’s decision will cause a major upset in the Russian military.”
Reopening the facility is another sign that relations with the U.S. aren’t what they were before the Obama Presidency. “The decision to return to Cuba can be explained by Russia’s long strengthened financial capabilities, as well as cooling of relations with the US,” sources in the Russian power structures said, according to the Voice of Russia.
Global Security adds that the facility has been used by Cuba to jam American broadcasts to other nationals:
“On 15 July 2003, a US government-funded broadcasting agency condemned Cuba for allegedly jamming US international broadcasts to Iran. A statement released by the Broadcasting Board of Governors — an independent federal agency which oversees all U.S. non-military international broadcasting, including the Voice of America — called the Cuban action “a ‘deliberate and malicious’ effort to block Iranian audiences from getting access to truthful news and information.” The jamming was reportedly first detected on 06 July 2003, on the date of VOA’s launch of a daily half-hour Persian language television news and analysis program.
In 2001 President Bush said the closure of the Lourdes facility was a welcome decision and “both nations are taking down relics of the Cold War and building a new, cooperative and transparent relationship for the 21st century.” Thus far, the Obama White House has not commented on the alleged reopening.
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