What Did Alan Gross Do in Cuba?

Reports Show Accused Spy Knew the Risks He Was Taking

Happier Days: Alan Gross, with his wife, Judy, in Jerusalem in 2005.
Gross Family
Happier Days: Alan Gross, with his wife, Judy, in Jerusalem in 2005.

By Paul Berger

Published February 15, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Alan Gross, the American Jewish contractor jailed in Cuba, has maintained for more than two years that he was guilty of nothing more than naiveté when he smuggled contraband electronic equipment into the communist nation.

But official trip reports he filed for an American government agency, revealed by The Associated Press on February 12, paint a picture of a man who knew the risks he was taking. “Detection of satellite signals will be catastrophic,” Gross warned in a report that filtered back to the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to AP.

When he was arrested, Gross, a resident of suburban Washington, was carrying a high-tech cell phone chip more commonly used by the CIA or the Defense Department.

American Jewish organizations that campaign on Gross’s behalf say that the revelations will not harm the fight to free the 62-year-old, who was jailed for 15 years in 2009 and is in poor health. “At this point, if you’re passionate about Alan’s release, these new facts, or supposed facts, just muddle the water more,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

“The bottom line is, he remains a man who is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit,” Halber said.

The Cuban government has accused Gross of being a spy and of working to undermine it. Gross’s supporters say he was just a development worker trying to improve Internet access for the Cuban-Jewish community.

USAID paid a subcontractor, who in turn funded Gross. The communist regime considers USAID’s mission in Cuba illegal so, according to AP, Gross used American Jewish humanitarian trips to the island as a cover for his work.

Bruce Yudewitz, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Florida’s Jewish Federation of Broward County, told the Forward on February 14 that he believed there was ”some connection“ between Gross and a single trip his organization took to Cuba.

The following day, Yudewitz said he could “not confirm or deny whether [Gross] made any connections” with members of the federation group.

“He didn’t travel with us, as far as I can tell,” Yudewitz said. “I don’t know who else was on the plane, or if he showed up at one of the places we went to visit.”

Though Cuba remains a dictatorship, the island’s Jewish community has lived relatively freely in recent decades. Cuban Jews are allowed to immigrate to Israel and are able to practice Judaism.

During the past 20 years, American Jewish organizations have built a relationship with the Castro regime that has allowed them to make regular trips to the island, bringing with them “humanitarian supplies” such as medication, kosher food and religious items.

“I’m hopeful that the latest details won’t harm the humanitarian work being done on the ground by Jewish organizations,” said Moishe Smith, a former president of B’nai B’rith International who has traveled to Cuba on such missions.

Steve Schwager, executive vice president and CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, told the Forward, “JDC’s cultural and religious work with this community continues unaffected.”

But just how Gross’s capture has affected the delicate relationship between the Cuban government and Jewish groups is difficult to determine. American Jewish officials and members of the Cuban-Jewish community must tread a fine line between telling the truth and not offending the Cuban government.

Gross was sent to Cuba under a $500,000 contract to work for USAID.

In addition to using Jewish missions to Cuba as a cover, Gross even asked fellow American Jewish travelers to smuggle electronic equipment into Cuba and then give it back to him at his hotel, the AP said.

The cell phone chip found on Gross when he was arrested would have allowed a user to make satellite phone calls without being detected.

Such activity seems to go beyond the picture painted by Gross’s supporters of a man interested in only helping Cuba’s Jews.

Nevertheless, Jewish groups continue to back Gross.

“Our position has not changed, nor is there reason for it to change,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which has campaigned on Gross’s behalf. “I have credibility in our government and the [Gross] family, and don’t have credibility just because an AP story appears. Let’s move on.”

Foxman insinuated that the AP report was based on misinformation put out by the Cuban government, a “totalitarian, antidemocratic, dictatorship” that “fosters and has fostered [international] anti-Semitism, which is an enemy of Israel and the Jewish people.”

“Why should I take [the Cuban government’s] word,” Foxman asked, “as opposed to our government, the secretary of state, members of Congress and [Gross’s] family?”

Halber said Gross was being painted as a “James Bond” figure so that he can be used as “a pawn” to secure the release of the Cuban Five, Cuban agents arrested in the U.S. in 2001 on spy charges.

He said the increased publicity could work in Gross’s favor and that vigils outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington would continue.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.