But Sen. Bob Menendez, a powerful Cuban American Democrat from New Jersey, stepped in to defend the programs in the spring of 2011 and persuaded the White House to roll back most of the changes, Schneiderman wrote.
Havana grew chary at the same time, he added, as Raúl Castro faced domestic opposition to his economic reforms and a U.S. jury acquitted Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile blamed for several Havana bombings, of lying to U.S. immigration officials.
Mired in mistrust and miscalculation, each side seemed to be waiting for the other to blink, he wrote. Eventually, however, the United States appeared to step back from an opportunity to free Gross from jail and strike a blow against the antiquated politics of the Cold War The Cuban-American lobby had won.
Schneidermans article drew harsh criticisms from those who favor the USAID programs like Cardenas, who was the agencys deputy assistant administrator during the George W. Bush administration.
The article showed the heroic efforts of some Obama administration officials to give the Castro regime everything it wanted for Gross, he wrote in a column published in several Web sites. Offering to gut a democracy program because a dictatorship opposes it sends a terrible message to authoritarian regimes around the globe.
Cardenas also described Armstrong as an unabashed promoter of U.S.-Cuba normalization and added, Lets hope this Fulton Armstrong-led fiasco puts an end to any more appeasement attempts.
Armstrong was the CIAs top Latin America analyst 2000-2004, was assigned to the Clinton White House and later to NATO in Europe. A colleague at the Pentagon, Cuba analyst Ana Belén Montes, was arrested in 2001 for spying for Havana and is now serving a 25-year sentence.
After retiring from the CIA in 2008 he became a senior staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and left in 2011 to become a senior fellow at American Universitys Center for Latin American and Latino Studies in Washington. He did not return an El Nuevo Herald email requesting an interview for this story.
A senior Senate Republican aide with first-hand knowledge of USAIDs Cuba programs meanwhile said that Schneiderman exaggerated the role Armstrong played in the effort to win Grosss release in 2010 and 2011.
My talks with DOS [Department of State] yielded the contrary, that DOS was annoyed at Fulton, wanted him to butt out, the aide, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald.
His efforts actually made it harder ... for the DOS to get Gross out, because Fulton set unrealistic expectations that the Cubans believed and that were politically impossible in the US, the aide added.
Cuban officials have now made it all but clear that it will release Gross early only if the U.S. government frees five Cuban spies convicted in a Miami trial in 1998 as part of the Wasp network.
The Obama administration has said repeatedly no swap is possible because Gross is not a spy. Schneiderman wrote that Cubas offer is a position that many think is negotiable.