The Biden administration on Saturday confirmed that China is working to increase its spying efforts in Cuba, calling it an ‘ongoing issue’ that predates the current president, after officials initially said reports that Beijing had secured a deal to build a new spy base on the island 90 miles from the U.S. were inaccurate.
‘This is an ongoing issue, and not a new development, and the arrangement as characterized in the reporting does not comport with our understanding,’ an administration official told Fox News on Saturday.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday that China and Cuba have reached a secret agreement for China to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island, allowing Chinese intelligence services to ‘scoop up electronic communications throughout the southeastern U.S., where many military bases are located, and monitor U.S. ship traffic.’
The report, citing officials familiar with the matter, said that China had agreed to pay Cuba several billion dollars to allow it to build the eavesdropping station. The report says U.S. officials described the intelligence on the plans as ‘convincing.’
However, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Thursday that the report on the China-Cuba base is ‘not accurate.’ The National Security Council separately told Fox News that the WSJ report and a Politico report on the subject are inaccurate, but it did not elaborate.
On Saturday the administration official said that the administration had been briefed on a ‘number of sensitive PRC efforts around the world to expand its overseas logistics, basing, and collection infrastructure globally to allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distance’ in January 2021.
The official said China had considered a number of sites spanning the Atlantic Ocean, Latin America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific.
‘This effort included the presence of PRC intelligence collection facilities in Cuba,’ the official said. ‘In fact, the PRC conducted an upgrade of its intelligence collection facilities in Cuba in 2019. This is well-documented in the intelligence record.’
The statement also appeared to criticize the Trump administration for its handling of China’s efforts in Cuba.
‘This is an issue that this Administration inherited. 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,’ the official said.
The official said that President Biden had directed his team to address the challenge, and that the administration has been working on that approach ‘quietly’ and ‘carefully’ with a strategy that ‘begins with diplomacy’ and has been seeing results.
‘We’ve engaged governments that are considering hosting PRC bases at high levels and exchanged information with them,’ they said.
‘Our experts assess that our diplomatic efforts have slowed the PRC down,’ the official added. ‘We think the PRC isn’t quite where they had hoped to be. 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.’
The official added that the administration remains confident that it is able to meet security commitments at home and in the region.
The report of the base in Cuba had sparked concern from both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress
‘The United States must respond to China’s ongoing and brazen attacks on our nation’s security. We must be clear that it would be unacceptable for China to establish an intelligence facility within 100 miles of Florida and the United States, in an area also populated with key military installations and extensive maritime traffic,’ Senate Intelligence Committee members Mark Warner, D-Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a joint statement. ‘We urge the Biden administration to take steps to prevent this serious threat to our national security and sovereignty.’
In an interview with Fox News Digital on Friday, Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, said the move from Beijing was a sign it was preparing for conflict with the U.S.
‘The most valuable part of a conflict is information. The person that controls the information, the person that intercepts the information. If you can control the information of the conflict, you’re controlling that conflict. China understands that. The United States certainly understands that,’ he said.
Fox News’ Danielle Wallace, Jennifer Griffin and Patrick Ward contributed to this report.