Venezuela Says It Uncovered U.S. Spy Ring

Venezuela's President Chavez reiterated accusations first made last week that the U.S. embassy in Venezuela is involved in spying. numerous low-level Venezuelan officers were accused of taking payments for information.

Caracas, Venezuela, 30 January 2006—Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said he had proof the U.S. embassy was spying on Venezuela’s military. Chavez said he knew this because, “We have you infiltrated ambassador, don’t move much because we are watching you.”

The Venezuelan President’s comments were made at the launch of a new state-owned enterprise that will manufacture industrial goods yesterday. They come after a week of spying accusations by the Venezuelan Government against the US Embassy.

On January 26, Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel said some low-ranking Venezuelan officers, “were passing information to the Pentagon." Rangel also said that most of the Venezuelan officers suspected of participating in the spy ring have left the country, but some have been detained.

The next day, Rangel said the government, “has confidential information, properly verified, that officials of the U.S. military mission are involved in that act.” Rangel said this did not surprise him as the US was, “fully involved”, in the April 2002 coup.

Alonso Medina Roa, the defence lawyer for one of the suspected officers said U.S. Naval Attaché John Correa was named as being involved. Correa is accused of bribing military officers for information.

At a speech last Thursday, Chavez said a U.S. spy case had been found. The Venezuelan President warned the U.S. that if another soldier or civilian was found, “trying to obtain information about our armed forces, we’re going to put them in prison.”

Yesterday he said, “The military officers of the U.S. embassy are involved in espionage and we have them infiltrated.” The 1961 Geneva Convention gives embassy staff immunity from prosecution.

Chavez said the information he had on the US officials was so good he knew what they eat and the colour of the furniture in the ambassador’s office. Chavez also asked the US Ambassador, William Brownfield, to “stop spying.”

Although not talking directly about the spy charges, the U.S. ambassador said on Thursday he had, “absolute trust in the people of the U.S. embassy and their desire to maintain and improve bilateral relations.”

Brian Penn of the U.S. embassy said that as of 9 am this morning, the embassy had received no official complaints or requests from the Venezuelan government about the issue.

There are 20 members of the US military mission in the country, Penn said. Only 6 of them are part of the Military group that has frequent contact with the Venezuelan armed forces.