WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States has named a special "manager" for its intelligence operations against Cuba and Venezuela, in effect putting the two Latin American nations on a par with "axis of evil" states confronted on multiple levels by the administration of President George W. Bush.
North Korea and Iran are the only other countries that have been assigned so-called "mission managers," who supervise intelligence operations against them on what the office of national intelligence director called "a strategic level."
In a statement released Friday, the office of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said the manager would be responsible "for integrating collection and analysis on Cuba and Venezuela across the intelligence community" and "ensuring the implementation of strategies" that have not been disclosed.
"Such efforts are critical today, as policymakers have increasingly focused on the challenges that Cuba and Venezuela pose to American foreign policy," the statement said.
The director's office said the manager would also be asked to ensure "that policymakers have a full range of timely and accurate intelligence on which to base their decisions."
The document did not say what kind of decisions US officials could be making with regard to either of the targeted countries.
For the moment, the task of handling the Havana-Caracas axis fell to 32-year Central Intelligence Agency veteran J. Patrick Maher, whose previous job was deputy director of the CIA's Office of Policy Support.
His biographical sketch supplied in the announcement indicates he was one of the architects of the CIA's current counterterrorism strategy in violence-torn Colombia and managed the agency's operations in the Caribbean basin.
It was not immediately known whether he was directly involved in planning the 1983 US invasion of Grenada in response of a feared Cuban-backed leftist takeover of the island nation.
The statement made it clear, however, that Maher would be only an "acting" manager while search for a permanent candidate for the job was under way.
The decision to name an interim mission manager appeared to betray a sense of urgency in the Bush administration now that Cuba has entered a period of political uncertainty due to an illness of its longtime communist leader, Fidel Castro.
Castro stunned the world on July 31, when he announced he had temporary ceded his presidential powers and the Communist Party leadership to brother Raul Castro, the defense minister, following his gastrointestinal surgery.
Earlier Friday, Raul Castro announced the mobilization of tens of thousands of troops in response to activities by those he called US "war hawks."
The Bush administration has bolstered its propaganda broadcasts to the island in the wake of Castro's illness. Earlier, it announced a plan to spend 80 million dollars in new money to bring about a pro-Western government in Cuba.
On Friday, it rejected the Cuban transition plan, with State Department spokesman Tom Casey insisting that "some kind of dynastic succession on the island are certainly things that are not only not acceptable to us but we think in the long run aren't going to be acceptable to the Cuban people either."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a key ally of Castro and the chief supplier of oil to Cuba, said he believed Maher's appointment was also linked to presidential elections that are scheduled in Venezuela for December and that Chavez is widely expected to win.
"This shows us that the empire does not rest, that it is hatching a plan for December or a period before December," the Venezuelan leader told reporters. "But whatever it is, we will thwart it."