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Former U.S. Ambassador Accused Of Being Secret Agent For Cuba; IDF: Troops Now "In The Heart Of Khan Younis" In Southern Gaza; Explosion Levels VA Home Where Police Tried To Serve Warrant. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 05, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We first reported the breaking news yesterday of the U.S. Ambassador turned alleged to Cuban spy. Now, this morning, we're learning more about 70 -- what 73-year-old man Manuel Rocha allegedly told federal agents in the undercover sting that exposed him. Rocha was U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia in the early 2000s. And now, is accused of betraying the United States for decades. Here's Attorney General Merrick Garland in announcing the charges yesterday.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent. Specifically, the criminal complaint alleges that for over 40 years, Rocha acted as a covert agent of the Cuban government.


BOLDUAN: 40 years. Rocha will be in court again tomorrow for a pretrial detention hearing. But before then, let me bring in former CIA operative Bob Baer for more on this.

It's pretty wild. I mean when you hear the Attorney General there, kind of laying out how far this went, how long this went on, about how much damage could Rocha have done?

ROBERT "BOB" BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, exactly, Kate, it's not about a time he spied for the Cubans. It's where that information went, which was no doubt to Russia. Eventually, the Cubans have a very close relationship with the KGB.

But more than that was the access this man had and that the White House or Southern Command the Pentagon, he probably saw about every intercept capability we have. And this is not to mention all the backchannels he knew about between the White House and various governments around the world.

He was in a position to help the Russians and the Cubans defeat us in South America, and in other parts of the world. This is a spy disaster, which we haven't seen in modern times. I mean, this is much worse than Hanssen, the FBI agent, or Ames, the CIA agent.

BOLDUAN: Wow. With that in mind, what is the intelligence community doing now that this hole, this gap, this massive leak has been exposed?


BAER: Well, they're going to do a damage assessment, Kate. And the damage assessment will involve interrogating this man. And if he comes up with a confession, he'll describe why he passed the Cubans. And only then will they know.

I assume the worst is that he simply copied documents from -- that came across his desk, which is absolutely devastating. It's -- you know, as an ambassador, he saw intelligence that most foreign service officers and CIA people don't see. This is why it's so disastrous. We're going to be looking at the damage of this for years and years.

BOLDUAN: Wow. I'm going to read a couple of things and get your take, Bob. According to a recording of a meeting cited in the court documents surrounding all this, this is what he allegedly said. I always told myself, the only thing that can put everything we have done in danger is someone's betrayal, someone who may have met me, someone who may have known something at some point.

That's allegedly what Rocha told undercover agents. DOJ says that they were first operating on a tip that led them to him. Add this all up. What do you think it -- what does it indicate to you?

BAER: Kate, it's always a spy who catches a spy. That means there was a defector to the CIA. Maybe a Russian, maybe a Cuban said, hey, we have a great source. He was a former ambassador. I don't know his name, but he gives enough detail that was led the FBI.

It's undoubtedly some sort of someone's come-across lines to describe his position. And this usually happens. And it happened with Hanssen, it happened with Ames, and right down the line. It takes a spy to catch a spy.

BOLDUAN: The motivation behind why someone betrays their country is always a question and is always something that makes me scratch my head. Rocha allegedly also said in this meeting -- in this recording, that my number one concern, my number one priority was any action on the part of Washington that would endanger the life of the leadership or the revolution itself. Does that sound like someone who was recruited or sound like someone who sought recruitment?

BAER: He was an ideological recruit. He believed in the Cuban Revolution. He was upset apparently about the Pinochet coup in 1973. He probably was directed at that point if -- in time in fact, that he was in touch with the Cubans as far back as then to join the State Department to burrow his way up into the administration.

And it just -- it was a brilliant operation on the part of the Cubans. Let's face it. Brilliant.

BOLDUAN: Wow. Bob, it's always good to see you. Thank you so much for coming in. John.

BAER: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. New satellite images show Israeli armored vehicles in southern Gaza as the IDF says its troops are now in the heart of the city where Hamas is strongest. But a house blown sky high. This can be felt for miles and miles. New reporting of what caused the explosion with police right there standing by.



BERMAN: This morning, Israel says its troops are in the heart of the Southern Gaza City of Khan Younis. This is where Hamas militants are said to currently be the strongest. We've also seen satellite images from Southern Gaza that appear to show Israeli tank and armored vehicle formations. I can push in to show you what one looks like right there. There are at least three setups like this in -- sorry. In this one satellite image here, you can see them situated right here, right here, and right here.

All right, with me now is CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Let's talk about Khan Younis. Israeli troops said to be in this very populous southern Gaza City, Cedric. What is it do you think they're doing right now?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. So, good morning, John. The biggest thing that they're doing is rooting out as many of the Hamas fighters that they can. I -- the -- Khan Younis is seen as one of the big strongholds of Hamas. And they're going door to door, house to house, building to building, and rooting them out.

They're using a lot of different elements of their power, including those tanks that you just showed in those satellite images. So, the tanks are moving forward. They're basically kind of a protective measure for them. But they're also using air as well as naval forces in order to actually achieve some of the goals that they have, which basically break down to capturing as many terrorists or killing as many of them as possible.

So, that's basically what they're doing. They're still bent on destroying Hamas in a -- in an operational sense. And Khan Younis is the basic next target for them. And like you said, they're already in there.

BERMAN: Talk to us, Colonel, about the tunnel situation now. The IDF released a video which I can show you if you push in here a little bit, of some of their operations around tunnels in southern Gaza. You can see how they're operating in and around it. And this comes as there continues to be new reporting that Israel is considering flooding the tunnels with seawater. What's your view here? LEIGHTON: Yes. So, that is a technique that the Egyptians also used against Hamas a few years ago. So, this is something that both Israel and Egypt have done before. There was some talk, even at the beginning of this war, that the tunnels would be flooded at some point in time.


So, basically, what the Israelis are doing, they've basically destroyed about 500 or so of 800 tunnel shafts that they've been able to find. They are also moving into these areas where they believe they can not only find command and control nodes and weapons caches and things like that, but they're also, of course, looking for the hostages. So, if they're deciding to flood the tunnels, they probably believe that the hostages are not to be found in those specific tunnels. I think it's going to be a little bit of time before we see them doing something like that, like flooding the tunnels, but it's something they could certainly do. And it's probably not as far off as we think.

BERMAN: Cedric, when we're talking about Southern Gaza right now, this is where people have been told to move to. At least in the beginning part of the Israeli invasion into Gaza, they were told to move south. And then on December 2, they were told to move out of this area in southern Gaza. And then just on December 3 and 4, they were told to move out of Khan Younis, that area in red, right there.

Can you conduct war like this? Is this something that is possible where Israel can tell people to move from this sector one day to another sector one day, and then again and again and again? Is that sustainable?

LEIGHTON: Well, not over the long term. I mean, it's certainly something that can be tried at the very beginning. One of the problems though, that you have, John, is the fact that the communication systems are at best somewhat haphazard in Gaza right now. And in many cases, the internet is down. So, one of the things the Israelis did was issue this map with about 2000 or so different districts on it, that had digital codes associated with them.

And that was supposed to be the basis for the Israelis to send out information, telling people to either leave certain areas or go to certain areas. I'm not sure that that specific aspect has been successful. But the basic idea is that the Israelis are moving in a dynamic fashion throughout all of Gaza. And so, the civilian population is basically subjected to all of these different moves.

In essence, what we're seeing is the movement of their military forces from north to south. And that then means the areas that were once set aside in kind of a haphazard way for civilian refugees, those areas are now combat zones or rapidly becoming combat zones.

BERMAN: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you as always for your help. Sara.

LEIGHTON: (INAUDIBLE) SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Up ahead. More witness intimidation worries in Georgia. Why one of Donald Trump's co-defendants in the Georgia election subversion case could soon see her bail revoked? Also, police in Arlington, Virginia now looking for answers after officers watched a home blow up as they were trying to serve a search warrant at that residence. Details on that investigation. Ahead.



BOLDUAN: Also, on our radar this morning, one of Donald Trump's co- defendants in the Georgia elections subversion case could soon find herself behind bars even before trial. The source says the Fulton County D.A. is considering trying to revoke the bail of Trevian Kutti after she posted a video on Instagram making disparaging remarks apparently about a witness in the case, a former Georgia election worker. In the video, Kutti even says that she was "going to eff her whole life up when this is done."

The D.A.'s office says her remarks violated the terms of her bond agreement. Her attorney though, defending the post saying she didn't do anything wrong. Now, beyond this, Kutti is charged with pressuring the same Fulton County Elections worker back in early 2021, and she has pleaded not guilty. Sara?

SIDNER: Overnight, a huge explosion leveled a home in Arlington. It could be felt miles away in Washington, D.C., where police were trying to serve a search warrant to the home. Virginia police say they were investigating a man who fired a flare gun dozens of times from the home. And a short time after police arrived at that house, authorities said they heard more shots being fired from inside and then things took a turn.



SIDNER: Good grief. CNN's Gabe Cohen joins us from Arlington, Virginia. Gabe, what do you know now about this investigation? You're in a sort of different place kind of looking down on where this all happened.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara. First, let me show you the view we have now. If you take a look behind me, that is the house or at least what's left of it. Just a couple of feet -- a hundred feet in the distance there, you can see the rubble which was smoldering all morning.

And to give you a sense of just how powerful this blast was, we are in this backyard again across this road, and there is debris all over these yards. Really, all over this neighborhood. You can tell from the video this was an unbelievably extreme blast that didn't just level that house, had shattered windows across this area, it could be felt in D.C., heard in D.C., five miles down the road where people could see smoke rising from this area. And this morning, this is a very active scene. You can see some of the people -- law enforcement walking around behind me. We saw ATF and FBI agents who have been combing these yards, combing a field just behind where we're standing looking for any evidence they may find.


And look, there are a lot of unanswered questions at this hour, Sara. What caused the blast specifically? And we're trying to learn more about the man who was inside this -- that house. Police haven't even confirmed as of this morning whether or not he's alive.

But look, we do know that the dramatic scene started hours before the blast. Four hours before the blast actually happened, police arrived in this area, saying that the man who lives in that house had barricaded himself inside. He was shooting flares 30 to 40 of them across the neighborhood.

Eventually, police got a search warrant. They tried to enter the house. Witnesses though, said that they could hear gunshots that the man was firing, and then that blast went off.

We has -- have obtained a new video from a neighbor that shows that moment. It is a new video just obtained by CNN. Take a look.



SIDNER: Well, you guys can see that there. It looks like fireworks. You got to wonder, Gabe Cohen, what was in that house to make it explode that way. Thank you so much. And thank you for joining us.

BERMAN: Yes. And when debris ends up in trees, you know, there's a real problem there.


BERMAN: Thank you all for joining us. "INSIDE POLITICS" is up next.