Inside the Wasp's Nest

Page 3 of 7

Hernandez continued to hone his pseudo-persona. In another report to Havana, he described his efforts to refine his Puerto Rican mindset by ordering a subscription to a Puerto Rican music magazine. "If someone asks me today as a Cuban how high the Pico Turquino [mountain] is, I swear on my mother that I do not remember. But if I am Cuban, I would have to know who the Doctor of Salsa is, even if I do not like music because everyone talks about him. It is the same with Puerto Ricans.... The most famous Puerto Rican artists are broadcast wherever Spanish is spoken, and it is very difficult not to have references to them, however “anti-music' you claim to be. I would say, for example, if you ask any Puerto Rican today who Olga Tañon's husband is or who he left to go with her, and he tells you he does not know, there is no way you take the “weird' label off of him."

The pensive operative also had to prepare to play the role of another Puerto Rican, one named Daniel Cabrera, his escape identity. To help him in this effort, Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence had provided Hernandez with a fraudulent U.S. passport, a U.S. Social Security card, and a Puerto Rican driver license in Daniel Cabrera's name. Along with it was yet another detailed legend. "After assuming the new identity, he must attempt to leave the country, as quickly as possible.... Avoid airports in New York, Washington, Miami, and Los Angeles. These are among airports with the tightest security in the U.S. They are not to be used upon initiating escape plan travel." Option number one called for proceeding to another state by land, taking a flight to San Antonio, crossing the Mexican border at Juarez, then traveling by bus or plane to Mexico City. A second option was to fly to Nicaragua from another state. Another possibility was to cross the U.S.-Canadian border by land. "Once in Buffalo, try reaching Canada via Niagara Falls at the border crossing at Rainbow Bridge."

But Hernandez didn't get to play Daniel Cabrera.

Just playing Gerardo Hernandez the spy, and not getting caught, was challenging enough. By 1995 he had gained a reputation among some of his colleagues in the Cuban intelligence service for being a tad absent-minded. One seized document refers to a mishap Hernandez had with his secret computer program during a 1995 trip to Mexico. The message was signed "Amador," apparently the name of someone at the Directorate of Intelligence in Havana. It was sent to Horacio, a code name for Ricardo Villareal, another Wasp Network supervisor who worked alongside Hernandez before moving to another assignment (and avoiding arrest). In the message Amador relays instructions from the "technical department": Spies are to use a new computer program and under no circumstances use the one they had been using. That is because Hernandez reported that thieves had taken his computer. "As you should know," Amador wrote, "when Giro [Gerardo] went to Mexico, his set was stolen (now I really don't know if they were stolen or if he lost them)."

Meanwhile back in Miami, Hernandez was having pager problems as well. A few months earlier he had gone to great lengths to find a beeper store that didn't require him to use his name on the application. He used some brilliant subterfuge. "I visited several beeper stores before going to the place where I ended up buying it," he informed. "Based on the legend that I had prepared for this, I was looking for a place that was neither too expensive nor too cheap, and employed by men. Believe it or not, all the stores I went to had at least one female employee." But one day he located a Beepermania store that was staffed only by a young male clerk. "I told him [the beeper] wasn't for me ... but for a female. The guy gave me the prices and an application form to fill out. I told him that I was going to pay for the entire year and immediately asked whether it had to be in my name or if I could use hers, making clear that I was getting a beeper for a woman that I wanted to keep in touch with who wasn't my wife but an affair. He said that I could use her name, and while I looked over the requirements on the form, I told him that I'd have to return because I didn't have her driver's license number. The guy openly said that if I was going to pay for the entire year, I could fill out the information I knew and that I shouldn't worry about the rest." On the application he jotted a woman's name and the telephone number of a motel in Hollywood. "The beeper and service came out to $145.99 for the year."

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Kirk Nielsen
Contact: Kirk Nielsen