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U.S. expels Venezuelan diplomat in Miami

By the CNN Wire Staff
January 9, 2012 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington was informed of the decision Friday, a State Department spokesman said.
The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington was informed of the decision Friday, a State Department spokesman said.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says the U.S. must do more to "counter Iranian plots"
  • There was no immediate response from the Venezuelan government
  • U.S. State Department: Livia Acosta has been declared persona non grata
  • She has been Venezuela's consul general in Miami since March 2011

Washington (CNN) -- Venezuela's consul general in Miami has been declared to be persona non grata and must leave the United States, a State Department spokesman said Sunday.

Spokesman William Ostick declined to comment on specific details behind the decision to expel Livia Acosta Noguera, who has headed Venezuela's consulate in Miami since March 2011.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington was informed of the decision Friday, Ostick said in a written statement, and the State Department said Acosta must depart the United States by Tuesday.

It was unclear Sunday whether or not she was still in the United States.

There was no immediate response from the Venezuelan government.

Last month, a group of American lawmakers said they had "grave concerns" about Acosta and called for an investigation after the Spanish-language TV channel Univision aired a documentary alleging that she was among a group of Venezuelan and Iranian diplomats who expressed interest in an offer from a group of Mexican hackers to infiltrate the websites of the White House, the FBI, the Pentagon and U.S. nuclear plants.

The evidence that the plot was real, according to Univision, are secret recordings with diplomats who ask questions about what the hackers can do and promise to send information to their governments.

Univision interviewed a purported Mexican whistle-blower -- a student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico named Juan Carlos Munoz Ledo. The student told Univision he was recruited by a leftist professor who wanted to wage cyber attacks on the United States and its allies.

Munoz told Univision he secretly recorded a meeting in 2008 with Acosta, who was then the cultural attache of the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico. According to a recording Univision aired as part of its report, Acosta is heard saying that she can send the information gathered by the hackers straight to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez has called the report "lies."

One of the Iranian diplomats told Univision that although he, indeed, was presented with a hacking plot by the Mexican group, he turned it down, in part because he thought they were CIA agents.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, David Rivera, Mario Diaz-Balart and Albio Sires asked the State Department to require Acosta's "immediate departure" from the United States if the Univision report proved true.

Ros-Lehtinen, who is chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, cheered the decision to declare Acosta persona non grata on Sunday, but said the United States must do more to "counter Iranian plots in the Western Hemisphere."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on a four-nation Latin American tour this week, a visit the Florida Republican said serves "as a somber reminder that our enemies are welcomed by our undemocratic neighbors."

"We must strengthen our regional alliances to confront the onslaught of anti-democratic forces in Latin America whose goal is to undermine our nation," Ros-Lehtinen said.

A State Department spokesman said last month that the United States did not know about the alleged plot, but that it found the Univision allegations "very disturbing."

However, "we don't have any information, at this point, to corroborate it," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

CNN's Rafael Fuenmayor, Jill Dougherty, Juan Carlos Lopez and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.

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