Opinion

Dust off the red phone, the Russians are coming back to Cuba

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Cuba,Spying,Spencer Brown

Forget your reset button, Hillary Clinton -- the only button to be worried about now is the one that allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to spy on the U.S. from a Soviet-era spy base in Cuba.

Although Putin has denied the reopening of Moscow's Cuban intelligence connection, Reuters confirmed through a Russian security source that Russia has reached a "provisional agreement with Cuba" to reopen a "big" base that had been used for gathering intelligence and communications through the Cold War.

While you don't need to go sweep the cobwebs out of your fallout shelters just yet, it's worth keeping an eye on what Russia does in Cuba. The base which is located at Lourdes, near Havana, is only about 100 miles off the Florida Keys. It was opened around the time of the Cuban missile crisis and was closed down fairly recently in 2001. At the time of the closing, Russia called it a goodwill gesture towards the United States, and our government blamed the closure on the high cost and low return from the base.

Covering 28 square miles, the facility was operated by a few thousand technicians and became the "most sophisticated Soviet spy base outside the Eastern Bloc," according to naval historians. They also report that the base could monitor phone conversations in the southeastern U.S., space activities at Cape Canaveral, and transmissions of U.S. military and commercial satellites.

While the exact mission of the reopened base is not known, when it was last functional, it was used to intercept signals to and from the United States. Being so close to the United States, Russia's Cuban operation would "quite significantly" increase Moscow's ability to gather U.S. intelligence.

With more sanctions against Russia announced Wednesday, it's not surprising that Russia is desperate to keep an eye on what's going on in the West. And Cuba is an important ally. Putin recently agreed to erase 90 percent of Cuba's $32 billion Soviet-era debt bill.

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