By Antonio Maria Delgado, McClatchy Newspapers –
MIAMI — The United States has ordered the expulsion of Venezuela’s consul general in Miami after allegations surfaced that she discussed possible cyber-attacks on U.S. soil while she was stationed at her country’s embassy in Mexico.
The State Department said it declared the diplomat, Livia Acosta Noguera, persona non grata and had given her until Tuesday to leave the country.
The Venezuelan government was notified of the decision Friday, giving Acosta 72 hours to depart under standard diplomatic procedure, department spokesman Mark Toner said.
Her expulsion had been disclosed hours earlier by Roger Noriega, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, through his Twitter account.
The decision to expel Acosta was made a month after Spanish-language Univision Network broadcast a documentary about Iran’s alleged terrorist activities in Latin America, including a segment in which the consul apparently asks an alleged Mexican cyber-pirate to give her the access codes to nuclear facilities in the United States.
On the program, the alleged cyber-pirate says he provided the secret codes and the location of each of the U.S. nuclear plants to Iran, and a voice attributed to Acosta is heard to say: “You should also give me that … to send it to the president, or rather the chief of defense; the chief of presidential security is my friend.”
The recording was apparently made when Acosta worked as cultural attache at the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico, but documents obtained by El Nuevo Herald indicate that Acosta performed other functions there.
According to the documents, Acosta and Vice Consul Edgard Gonzalez Belandria, who was in charge of issuing passports at the Miami consulate, were registered in the savings bank of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (known by its Spanish-language acronym SEBIN), indications that they are on that agency’s payroll.
The automated service of the savings bank, which can be accessed by entering the user’s identity card, shows the amounts both officials have accumulated as employees of the intelligence service.
Sources close to Venezuelan security organizations said they had knowledge that Acosta was a member of SEBIN, and pointed out that she did intelligence work when she was working in Mexico.
Press reports published in Venezuela indicate that Acosta might have left the U.S. in late December, but there are no indications whether she later returned to Miami. Acosta’s whereabouts were unknown. The Venezuelan consulate was closed on Sunday..
Venezuela’s embassy in Washington said any statement about Acosta’s expulsion would come from Caracas.
Venezuela’s ministry of communication did not respond to interview requests, and President Hugo Chavez did not bring up the matter during his Sunday television program.
Acosta’s expulsion came as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected in Caracas late Sunday as part of a four-nation visit to Latin American allies.
Chavez said he would meet with Ahmadinejad on Monday. The two men are scheduled to be in Nicaragua on Tuesday to attend the inauguration of President Daniel Ortega.
“This tour of tyrants by Ahmadinejad is the most recent example of the expansion of Iranian influence in Latin America,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Noriega, the former State Department official, said in an interview recently that two high-ranking U.S. diplomats held a “cordial meeting” with Venezuela’s high representative in Washington, Angelo Rivero, to give him assurances that, despite the Venezuelan consul’s scandal, the State Department looks forward to improve cooperation with the South American country.
“Our sources in Venezuela affirm that the highest ranking (U.S.) diplomat in charge of Venezuela seemed to be more concerned about the security of the consul in Miami than any potential harm to the U.S. security,” Noriega said.