President Barack Obama described him as "one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba."
He spent 20 years in a Cuban prison. On Wednesday, he was finally free.
Obama didn't name the agent the day the U.S. government announced a major foreign policy shift on Cuba, but he's since been identified as Rolando Sarraff Trujillo.
In this undated photo provided by the Sarraff family shows Rolando Sarraff Trujillo in an unknown location. After the speeches on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro, the Villa Marista prison staff in Cuba told the Sarraff family that Rolando had been freed at dawn. Before his downfall, Sarraff a U.S. spy in Cuba, helped the U.S. crack the "Wasp Network," in Florida, a Cuban spy ring that included members of the Cuban Five, the last three of whom were released in exchange for the Cuban spy. (AP Photo/Courtesy Sarraff family)
Sarraff, now in his 50s, was arrested for espionage in Cuba in November 1995. His work for the CIA, still classified, is still relatively unclear, but former Defense Intelligence Agency official Chris Simmons told the New York Times that Sarraff worked to crack the encrypted codes of messages that were sent from Cuba to its spies in the U.S.
Those efforts led to the arrests of a network of spies discovered in the U.S. The office of the director of national intelligence called Sarraff's work "instrumental" in identifying the Cuban operatives, who were prosecuted for espionage.
Sarraff was sentenced to 25 years in prison; Simmons said the he believes Sarraff was not executed because his parents were officials in the Cuban government. Jose Cohen, with whom Sarraff worked, was sentenced to death but escaped the country on a raft. Cohen now lives in Miami and works as an Amway salesman.
“They sentenced me to death and then sentenced him to 25 years to serve as a lesson for everybody else,” Cohen told the New York Times.
Cohen did not offer any further details regarding his work with Sarraff, saying it was too dangerous to talk about without more proof of Sarraff's release.
“Here’s what I can tell you about Roly: He is a person who loves liberty. He was jailed unjustly," Cohen said. “He sacrificed his life. When he gets here, he will tell his story.”
The U.S. released three of the operatives in exchange for Saraff and American subcontractor Alan Gross, who was held inside the communist country for five years.
"Securing his release from prison after 20 years – in a swap for three of the Cuban spies he helped put behind bars – is fitting closure to this Cold World chapter of U.S.-Cuban relations," the office of the director of national intelligence said.
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