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US expels Venezuela diplomat after cyber-attack allegations

Venezuela's consul general in Miami was ordered Sunday to leave the United States after allegations surfaced that she discussed possible cyber-attacks on U.S. soil.

The State Department said it had declared the diplomat, Livia Acosta Noguera, persona non grata and given her until Tuesday to leave the country.

Javier Caceres / AP, file

Venezuela diplomat Livia Acosta Noguera, pictured earlier.


State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Venezuelan government was notified of the decision on Friday, giving her 72 hours to depart under standard diplomatic procedure. There was no immediate reaction from the Venezuelan government.

Toner would not discuss the reason for the expulsion, but said it was done in accordance with Article 23 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. That article does not require the expelling state to explain its decision.

The move follows an FBI investigation into allegations contained in a documentary aired by the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision last month.

According to the documentary, "The Iranian threat," Acosta discussed a possible cyber-attack against the U.S. government when she was previously assigned as a diplomat in the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico.

The documentary was based on recordings of conversations with her and other officials, and also alleged that Cuban and Iranian diplomatic missions were involved.

Citing audio and video obtained by the students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Univision said Acosta was seeking information about the servers of nuclear power plants in the U.S.

After the documentary aired, the State Department said the allegations were "very disturbing" and officials said the FBI had opened an investigation into the matter.

The New York Times reported that there was no indication American officials had been able to substantiate the allegations aired by Univision.

However, it said, the decision to expel the diplomat coincided with the Obama administration's expression of disapproval for Venezuela's willingness to maintain friendly relations with Iran.

Venezuela's leader, Hugo Chavez, expelled the American ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick D. Duddy, in September 2008, charging that the United States was backing a group of military officers plotting a coup against him.

In response, the United States expelled the Venezuelan ambassador.

Despite the breakdown in diplomatic relations, the two countries continue to have deep economic ties. Venezuela is the fourth-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, the NYT said.

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The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.