The arrest of immigration official Mariano Faget recalls another controversial period of the Cold War: the final years of Fulgencio Batista's regime in Cuba when the Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities gained a reputation for brutality in its fight against pro-Castro rebels.
The bureau, known as BRAC, was headed by Faget's father, also Mariano. The elder Faget had first gained fame as a Nazi hunter during Batista's first turn at power, 1940 to 1944, when he was chief of Cuba's Office of Investigation of Enemy Activities (OIEA), a counter-espionage unit that targeted Nazi and Fascist agents.
When Batista returned to power in 1952, Faget was promoted to colonel. He was placed in charge of the BRAC when it was created in 1954. After Fidel Castro took power in 1959, Bohemia magazine published the identities -- obtained from the bureau's files -- of CIA agents working in Havana.
British author Hugh Thomas, in his exhaustive book Cuba Or the Pursuit of Freedom, writes that U.S. Ambassador Arthur Gardner regarded himself as "the father of the BRAC." Thomas also says that Allen Dulles, CIA chief at the time, told him that in its later stages "most of the money" meant for BRAC "never reached the proper destination."
Jay Mallin, an American journalist working in Cuba at the time, Friday described the BRAC essentially as window-dressing for the Americans and "Batista's effort to show that he was anti-Communist."
The late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was impressed enough with Faget's work to send his congratulations for his investigation of communist activities.
But the elder Faget's most notable achievement came earlier, during his Nazi hunting days of the 1940s when he was credited with tracking down Heinz August Luning, a German spy in Havana reporting on ship movements. His reports were blamed for the sinking of several U.S. and Cuban ships by German submarines. Luning was arrested and executed by firing squad.
The BRAC was apparently less successful and more controversial.
Marcelo Fernandez, a Cuban-born political analyst, educator and historian living in Washington, D.C., said Friday that Faget had had to flee Cuba ahead of Castro's troops on Jan. 1, 1959.
"He [Faget] was one of the first to leave Cuba," said Fernandez. "He knew that he was a marked man."
His successor at BRAC, a Lt. Castano, was captured and executed, said Fernandez, who said he saw Faget in 1961 at Opa-locka airport, then being utilized by U.S. agencies questioning arriving Cuban refugees. He said Faget was working for the INS.
Fernandez recalled Faget as more sophisticated and intelligent than many of the police and was "very well connected with the CIA and FBI."
Another side of the elder Faget is described by Carlos Franqui, a former Castro propagandist who defected in the 1970s.
Franqui, a member of Castro's July 26 Movement, was captured by the BRAC in 1957.
He described the elder Faget as "a technician of torture. A scientist of the North American school: continuous blows on the head, leaving no marks, but producing tremendous pain and tension. To my inveterately poor memory was added in those days an almost total unconscious amnesia. . . . "
According to a May 29, 1972, obituary, the elder Faget was born Sept. 9. 1904, in Holguin, Cuba. He later studied at St. John's College in New York. Returning to Cuba, he was employed in several sugar mills before starting a police career with the Interior Ministry police in 1931.