Columnist Shapiro falsely smears Obama nominee as “alleged former spy for Fidel Castro”

In a smear piece attacking the National Council of La Raza, columnist Ben Shapiro falsely described Mari Del Carmen Aponte, a former board member of the group whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, as “an alleged former spy for Fidel Castro.” In fact, the FBI reportedly cleared Aponte of allegations that she had been recruited as a Cuban spy.

FBI reportedly debunked Shapiro-forwarded claim Aponte was a “former spy for Fidel Castro”

From Shapiro's December 16 syndicated column:

If you were president of the United States, would you hire an alleged former spy for Fidel Castro to be ambassador to El Salvador, a country teetering on the brink of hard-core socialism? President Obama just did.

On Dec. 9, Obama nominated Mari Del Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador, despite the fact that in the late 1990s, the FBI discovered that she was working with Cuban intelligence officers. According to Insight Magazine, “When the FBI eventually questioned her about her involvement with Cuban intelligence, she reportedly refused to cooperate.”

Why would Aponte escape the Obama administration's scrutiny? Because she is a former board member of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest Hispanic advocacy organization in the United States, with 300 affiliated community-based organizations, many of which run like local ACORN offices.

But the FBI cleared Aponte of “rumors” of Cuban recruitment. A February 12, 1999, Miami Herald article stated that President Clinton had nominated Aponte to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998, but she withdrew her nomination after she became “entangled in rumors that Cuban spies once tried to recruit her” and “the spy tale began circulating in Washington gossip circles.” The article reported that "[t]he FBI has cleared" Aponte of the allegation, which was first forwarded by a Cuban defector "[w]ithout offering any evidence" to support it. From the article:

The FBI has cleared a former White House volunteer entangled in rumors that Cuban spies once tried to recruit her, and President Clinton will nominate her to a top government job, officials say.

“The agents who vet people's backgrounds gave her a clean bill of health,” White House National Security Council spokesman Bob Nash said of Washington lawyer Mari Carmen Aponte.


Clinton had nominated Aponte as ambassador to the Dominican Republic last year but she withdrew Oct. 25, citing “personal reasons,” after the spy tale began circulating in Washington gossip circles.

Months earlier, the FBI had given her a top-security clearance for the ambassadorial post even though the bureau was aware of the Cuban spy tale, Clinton administration officials confirmed.

One Aponte friend said she withdrew after staffers at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Jesse Helms, R-N.C., vowed the panel would ask her tough personal questions as part of her confirmation process. A committee spokesman declined comment.

The spy tale dates back to 1993, when Florentino Aspillaga, an intelligence agent with Cuba's Interior Ministry who had defected in 1987, told it to Miami's Diario las Americas newspaper.

Without offering any evidence, Aspillaga alleged that Cuban spies were trying to recruit Aponte through her Cuban-born boyfriend, Roberto Tamayo, who was known to frequently visit the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington.

What Aspillaga apparently didn't know was that Tamayo, a Washington businessman, was also in contact with the FBI.

“Tamayo was a valuable source of information about some of the personalities within the Cuban Interests Section,” retired FBI counterintelligence agent Ed Joyce told The Washington Times last month.


Aponte's friends said that as soon as she learned of Aspillaga's allegations, she went to the FBI to inquire about Tamayo, and later arranged a meeting between him and the FBI agents.

She broke up with him in 1994, after he insisted on going on a trip to Cuba over her objections, the friends said.

Publication Shapiro cites for Aponte claim had previously stated it “could not confirm” allegations

Shapiro's claim taken from unconfirmed “confidential intelligence memo.” Shapiro's claim that Aponte “reportedly refused to cooperate” with the FBI is taken from a February 22, 1999, Insight on the News article, which cites a “confidential intelligence memo delivered to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms of North Carolina” as the basis of the allegation. The Insight article refers to an earlier article that first repeated the allegations in the confidential memo. According to that March 23, 1998, article (accessed via Nexis), “Insight could not confirm” the allegations in the memo regarding Aponte.

Insight on the News was a biweekly magazine published until April 2004 by News World Communications, the company controlled by Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church that also operates The Washington Times and the wire service United Press International; it was succeeded by a web-only publication that has since been shut down.

Insight had history of making false, dubious claims. As Media Matters for America has detailed, the Insight website reported in January 2007, citing no named sources, that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton was responsible for spreading information that Obama, then her opponent in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, “spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.” The accusation that Obama attended a madrassa as a child was immediately debunked by CNN, among others.