China has been spying on the U.S. from Cuba for years, Biden administration official says

The official said that Beijing has had an eavesdropping post in Cuba for years, that China upgraded the facility in 2019, and that it was a problem the Biden administration “inherited.”

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China has been spying on the U.S. from Cuba for years, according to a Biden administration official.

The admission came days after the Biden administration denied a Wall Street Journal report on Thursday that China and Cuba had reached an agreement to put an electronic eavesdropping facility in Cuba — calling the story inaccurate.

But on Saturday, the administration said that China has had a listening post in Cuba for years, that it was a problem the administration had “inherited” and that China had even upgraded the facility in 2019.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with President Joe Biden at the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov. 14.Alex Brandon / AP

“When this administration took office in January 2021, we were briefed on a number of sensitive [People’s Republic of China] efforts around the world to expand its overseas logistics, basing, and collection infrastructure globally to allow the [People’s Liberation Army] to project and sustain military power at greater distance,” the administration official said.

The Chinese government was considering sites around the world, said the official, and it upgraded its intelligence collection facilities in Cuba in 2019, which the official said was “well documented in the intelligence record.”

“This is an issue that this administration inherited,” the official added. “It was our assessment that, despite awareness of the basing efforts and some attempts to address this challenge in the past administration, we were not making enough progress and needed a more direct approach.”

As for why the White House, Pentagon and others all flatly denied the Journal’s reporting despite knowing that China has been spying from Cuba for years, the official said the Journal story was inaccurate because it called the eavesdropping a new development.

“This is an ongoing issue, and not a new development, and the arrangement as characterized in the reporting does not comport with our understanding the official said.

Cuban officials also denied the Journal report, saying they oppose any foreign military presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Friday that he was “unaware” of any Chinese spy facility in Cuba and accused the U.S. of hypocrisy.

“The U.S. is the global champion of hacking and superpower of surveillance,” he said at a regular briefing in Beijing.

A story published Saturday morning by NBC News questioned whether the Biden administration has been intentionally downplaying provocative moves by China as it tries to arrange high-level diplomatic talks between the two nations.

President Joe Biden ordered officials to address the Chinese spying from Cuba early in his term and their efforts “have slowed the PRC down,” the administration official said, using an abbreviation for China’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China.

“The president directed his team to come up with an approach to address this challenge. Within months, we did so, and we have been executing on that approach quietly, carefully, but with results ever since,” the official said. “We’ve engaged governments that are considering hosting PRC bases at high levels and exchanged information with them.”

“Our experts assess that our diplomatic efforts have slowed the PRC down. We think the PRC isn’t quite where they had hoped to be,” the official added. “There are still challenges, and we continue to be concerned about the PRC’s longstanding activities with Cuba. The PRC will keep trying to enhance its presence in Cuba, and we will keep working to disrupt it.”