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Former career US diplomat charged with secretly spying for Cuban intelligence for decades

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Manuel Rocha, who was formerly ambassador to Bolivia, was accused of engaging in “clandestine activity” on Cuba’s behalf since at least 1981, the year he joined the U.S. foreign service. While the case was short on specifics of how Rocha may have assisted the island nation, it provided a vivid case study of how Cuba and its sophisticated intelligence services seek to target, and flip, U.S. officials.

First word came to Latin America correspondent Goodman from a trusted source who called on a Friday evening to say the FBI had arrested Rocha earlier that day at his home in Miami but details were under seal.

Goodman had interviewed Rocha years before and turned quickly to reporting out Rocha’s 25-year State Department career. He enlisted Washington-based Tucker to see if his national security sources could help shake anything loose about the case.

Their break came Sunday — with the case still sealed — when sources gave them enough information to report that Rocha was arrested on federal charges of being an agent of the Cuban government. Their urgent story, which included extensive background on Rocha’s diplomatic stops in Bolivia, Argentina, Havana and elsewhere, staked out AP’s ownership of the case.

More details followed the next morning with another AP break, when Goodman and Tucker obtained the sealed case affidavit from highly placed sources nearly an hour before it was filed, allowing them to trounce the competition with a fast news alert and urgent series.

AP’s story filled in the details that Rocha met secretly with Cuban contacts for decades, praised the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro as “Comandante,” called the U.S. the “enemy” and threw off suspicion by portraying himself to colleagues and friends as a hardline, anti-Cuba, Donald Trump devotee. Goodman went to the packed courtroom, where Rocha wept as the charges were read.

AP’s initial break on Rocha’s arrest was out a full 12 hours before the next-closest competitor, The Miami Herald. The second-day story with details was out 52 minutes before the Justice Department sent a release to tell the rest of the media that the charging papers had been filed, with outlets including The New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, Fox and Bloomberg forced to credit the AP.

AP’s first-day story alone garnered nearly 250,000 views, and Tucker’s tweet about it got more than 740,000 engagements and over 4,000 likes and retweets. Goodman was interviewed about the story by the popular public radio program, The World, and the case was featured on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update segment.

For putting AP far ahead in revealing what the Justice Department called one of the highest-reaching infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent, we are pleased to honor Goodman and Tucker with Best of the Week — First Winner.

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