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Chairman Gimenez Opens Hearing on Unannounced TSA Visit by Cuban Officials: The Biden Administration Cannot “Reward the Cuban Government”

July 9, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security Chairman Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) delivered the following opening statement in a hearing to discuss the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) international operations and its interactions with adversarial foreign governments, especially with the Communist government in Cuba. This hearing comes in the wake of a visit by Cuban officials in May 2024, hosted by TSA, which included a tour of Miami International Airport (MIA) and a meeting at TSA Headquarters in the D.C. area. TSA did not notify congressional leaders of the visit.

Watch Subcommittee Chairman Gimenez’s full opening statement.

As prepared for delivery:

Today, our Subcommittee is meeting to discuss Transportation Security Administration’s International Operations and their interactions with adversarial foreign governments, especially with the Republic of Cuba, a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

May 20, 2024, marked the 122nd celebration of Cuban Independence Day, an extremely significant date for Cuban expatriates, many of whom, like me, fled their home after the Communist dictatorship takeover.

Each year on May 20, Cuban Americans remember the sacrifices made to escape communism, celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in the democratic United States, and pray for those who are still subjugated by the rule of the brutal Communist dictatorship.

However, on May 20, 2024, TSA and the State Department welcomed Castro regime agents to the home of the largest population of Cuban Americans in the United States by hosting them for a tour of Miami International Airport.

This is a slap in the face to Cuban Americans all across the country and demonstrates the Biden Administration’s soft stance on Cuba. Serious precautions must be taken while dealing with the Communist Cuban regime.

Cuba is among the chief counterintelligence and national security threats to the United States. Just 90 miles from the Florida Keys, part of the district I represent, the regime actively works to deepen ties with our adversaries by allowing the Chinese to operate spy bases and by conducting joint military exercises with Russian warships.

Additionally, Cuba’s intelligence service actively recruits spies from U.S. federal agencies, and some of their agents such as Victor Manuel Rocha, Kendall Myers, and Ana Belen Montes have spent decades passing classified information to Cuba. Their information shared to Cuba has caused countless deaths of Cuban citizens attempting to work against the Castro regime and American service members operating around the world.

Furthermore, our diplomats in Havana have been victims of anomalous health incidents that are potentially the result of a foreign intelligence service using microwave technology to target our foreign service officers—causing brain damage and long-term disabilities.

I am deeply concerned about the careless nature of this visit. It is evident that TSA and the State Department neglected to take the threat of Cuban officials on American soil seriously which leads me to believe they do not think Cuba poses any real threat to the United States.

TSA and the State Department failed to notify or coordinate this visit with the airport authority or state and local officials, and they did not notify Congress of their intention to host a State Sponsor of Terrorism on American soil.

Furthermore, TSA continued the delegation’s visit and allowed the agents access to TSA headquarters after some of my House and Senate colleagues and I sent a letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressing our outrage. To make matters worse, senior leaders within TSA, including Administrator Pekoske, were unaware of this visit, which further demonstrates TSA’s negligence and calls into question TSA’s ability to appropriately interact with adversarial foreign governments, such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Russian Federation, and the Republic of Cuba.

Unfortunately, we have been through this fire drill before with another Department of Homeland Security component. In February 2023, the United States Coast Guard hosted a Cuban Delegation that consisted of the Cuban Border Guard and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Luckily, Congress was notified about this visit ahead of time, and Chairman Green, Chairman McCaul, Chairwoman Salazar, and I sent a letter to Coast Guard leadership and were able to prevent the Castro regime agents from accessing U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters and other sensitive U.S. federal government facilities.

Immediately following this, Senator Rubio and I wrote common sense legislation that was included in the FY24 NDAA that prevents the U.S. Coast Guard from working with State Sponsors of Terrorism on all but the most critical missions such as search and rescue and counter human trafficking.

I am extremely concerned that the Department of Homeland Security lacks the proper policies and procedures across its components to appropriately interact with adversarial nation states, especially State Sponsors of Terrorism, and learn from past mistakes to take corrective actions in the future.

It is obvious that TSA and DHS must improve internal processes, better coordinate international engagements with state and local authorities, and ensure that Congress has the proper visibility into engagements with adversarial nation states.I am committed to addressing these failures and taking the corrective action that DHS has neglected to do on its own. The Biden Administration has consistently relaxed U.S. policy on Cuba, and this incident is one such example.

The United States cannot take a backseat and reward the Cuban government with special access in the U.S. while it carries out major human rights abuses on its own citizens. Thank you to our witnesses, Ms. Harvey and Ms. Fitzmaurice, for appearing before the Subcommittee. I look forward to your testimony.