A CIA spy jailed for nearly 20 years in Cuba before being sent to the U.S. on Wednesday is almost certainly a communications specialist who worked for the Cuban Interior Ministry before being arrested in 1995, a former U.S. intelligence officer tells NBC News.
The spy, who funneled secrets to his U.S. handlers before being exposed, was not publicly identified by U.S. officials. But former U.S. intelligence officer Chris Simmons named him as Rolando “Rollie” Sarraff Trujillo, believed to be 51 years old. Sarraff worked on the systems that permitted Cuban spies in the U.S. to communicate with officials in Havana before his arrest. He was later sentenced to 25 years in jail for espionage.
Simmons, who worked in counterintelligence in the DIA, says he has long known of Sarraff’s identity.
“I know from defectors, multiple defectors,” said Simmons, who worked several of cases that Sarraff’s intelligence had helped develop. Simmons, who runs Cuba Confidential, a website on Cuban intelligence, said that the only reason Sarraff did not face the death penalty was that his family had ties to the Cuban intelligence service.
Sarraff, whose identity was first reported by Newsweek, was believed to be part of a swap in which he and imprisoned American Alan Gross were traded for three Cuban agents held in U.S. jails. The exchange was part of a surprise deal announced Wednesday by President Barack Obama to normalize diplomatic and economic ties between the former Cold War foes.
Neither the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) nor the CIA would confirm Sarraff was the spy involved in the exchange, but the New York Times quoted an unidentified “senior American official” as saying it was Sarraff.
In announcing the moves, Obama described the spy on Wednesday as "one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba."
In a subsequent press release, the DNI stated, "He provided the information that led to the identification and conviction of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) senior analyst Ana Belen Montes; former Department of State official Walter Kendall Myers and his spouse Gwendolyn Myers; and members of the Red Avispa network, or "Wasp Network," in Florida, which included members of the so-called "Cuban Five."
Referring to the three remaining members of that ring who were freed as part of the deal for the spy and Gross, the release added, "In light of his sacrifice on behalf of the United States, 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."
A blog, reportedly set up by family who remains in Cuba, states they have not seen him nor talked to him recently despite regular communications. The blog, in Spanish, also includes images of him as a 32-year-old in 1995 and last year.