BUENOS AIRES – Just like his hero, revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Guillermo Gaede wanted to travel to Cuba in his teen years, but he could not obtain a visa. Years later, as a Silicon Valley engineer, he found another way to collaborate with Fidel Castro: he became a spy.
In the documentary “El Crazy Che,” Pablo Chehebar and Nicolas Iacouzzi follow Gaede’s unlikely path from a Buenos Aires suburb to service as a secret agent, first for Cuba and then for the United States, and to his time in prison for industrial espionage.
The filmmakers say they stumbled onto Gaede’s story by chance.
“We wanted to film a documentary about Argentine scientists working abroad,” Chehebar told Efe. The search led them to Gaede in Germany, where he has been teaching physics for more than a decade.
After investigating Gaede’s story, the filmmakers abandoned the original project and focused on recounting the story of “this ‘self-made’ man who wanted, in his half-crazy fashion, to be a spy, doing things nobody would imagine,” Chehebar said.
Gaede’s unorthodox approach is reflected in his initial attempts to offer his services to Havana, which involved showing up unannounced at the Cuban Embassy in Buenos Aires and, later, at the Czechoslovakia’s mission in Washington.
On both occasions, he offered to deliver – free of charge – the secret technology for the manufacture of integrated circuits produced by Advanced Micro Devices, his then-employer.
Gaede finally established a link with Cuban intelligence and the data he passed on eventually earned an invitation for him and his wife to visit Cuba for a two-week vacation that would include a meeting with Fidel Castro.
“Bill,” as he is known, tells in the documentary that the visit dealt him “a great disappointment” and demolished his idealistic vision of socialism, prompting him to approach U.S. intelligence services with an offer of assistance to topple Castro.
“There is a fantasy vision of the secret services as something where everything is neat and perfect, even beyond the exaggeration of Tom Cruise, who doesn’t even sweat,” Chehebar said. “In reality everything is much more normal, at least in Guillermo’s story.”
Having left AMD in 1993, Gaede got a job with Intel, a position he used to steal details of the making of the Pentium chip, information he peddled to representatives of China and Iran.
That caper landed him in a U.S. prison, which he where he got the nickname “El Crazy Che.”
Gaede pleaded guilty under provisions of the National Stolen Property Act – and federal laws against mail fraud, but his case inspired new legislation, the Industrial Espionage Act of 1996.
Deported from the United States after serving his 33-month sentence, the Argentine decided to move to Germany and start a new life, although those who know him best – including family members – believe that if an opportunity arose, Gaede would do it all again.
“I didn’t plan to do it. Circumstances led me to do it,” Gaede says recalling his childhood, and with a big smile for the camera he adds: “I wanted to be a musician, that’s all I wanted.”