CubaBrief: Ana Belen Montes was released from federal prison tonight after serving 20 years. A summary of the harm she caused the US.

Ana Belen Montes, the Pentagon’s top analyst for Cuba who was arrested on September 21, 2001 for spying for the Castro regime for 17 years was released tonight from the Federal Medical Center (FMC) – Carswell, in Forth Worth, Texas where she was being held. Montes was in federal prison for over 20 years.

Montes freed tonight, despite the date of release on the inmate aide website being January 8, 2023.

It is important to recall the damage that she did to U.S. national security, and her successful campaign as an agent of influence to downplay the threat Cuba poses to the United States, and other democracies in the region.

For example the information she passed to Havana, in 1987 it is believed got 65 U.S. allied Salvadoran soldiers in Central America killed, and at least one American.

Montes regularly briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and the State Department downplaying Cuban military capabilities, and providing their feedback to the Castro regime’s Intelligence Directorate (DI). 

Her actions during the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown on February 24, 1996, and the influence operation she conducted to direct blame away from Castro, and onto the victims, first drew the attention of investigators.

Another example, she drafted a Pentagon report in 1997 stating Cuba had a “limited capacity” to harm the United States that Fidel Castro described as “an objective report by serious people.”

Montes managed to be selected as a team leader to analyze the effectiveness of U.S. air force bombing in Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks in 2001. Officials, rightly feared, that with Havana’s long history of selling secrets to enemies of the United States that if Montes obtained the Pentagon’s war plans for Afghanistan, that the Castro regime would pass it on to the Taliban, and this sped up her arrest.

The full extent of the damage that she did to the United States remains mostly classified as can be seen in the highly redacted damage assessment prepared by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense published on June 16, 2005.

At a congressional hearing in 2012, the woman charged with the damage assessment testified Montes was “one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history.” “Former National Counterintelligence Executive Michelle Van Cleave told Congress that Montes ‘compromised all Cuban-focused collection programs’ used to eavesdrop on high-ranking Cubans, and it ‘is also likely that the information she passed contributed to the death and injury of American and pro-American forces in Latin America,’” reported Jim Popkin in The Washington Post in 2013.

Retired FBI agent Peter Lapp, who led the covert operation against Montes, found the “most damaging non-human intelligence she provided to the Cubans”  was information about “a U.S. secret satellite program” that was so sensitive “that prosecutors were banned from using it had the case gone to trial.”  Information was not related to Cuba, but investigators believe that Fidel Castro passed it on to other regime’s hostile to the United States.

Montes with her Cuban handlers conducted an influence operation so effective that even after her arrest, the misleading analysis she provided continued to be repeated by policymakers. Her claim that Cuba posed no threat to the United States continued to circulate in government a decade after her arrest, and was used as the basis to request that President Obama remove Cuba from the list of state terror sponsors in 2013. 

“The damage done by Ana Belen Montes to both U.S. National Security and in the formulation of U.S. Foreign policy cannot be underestimated, nor the reality that she was not alone in infiltrating the U.S. government to work for a foreign power. American allies and friends and at least one American soldier were killed by the treachery committed by this foreign agent. Furthermore, the disinformation provided by her DI handlers that she inserted in U.S. government reports continued to have an impact on policy long after she went to prison,” observed Ambassador Otto J. Reich, currently president of the Center for a Free Cuba and former Assistant Secretary of State and member of the National Security Council staff.

The belief that the Castro regime is harmless does not make it true.  Montes whitewashed the dictatorship’s six decade record of terrorism and sponsoring terrorism (including on U.S. soil), drug trafficking, the brutality visited upon Cubans, the role in spreading repression in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and the Castro brothers role in carrying out genocide in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, this and much more points to the ongoing threat of the Castro regime that Montes minimized.

Yes, Ana Belen Montes did great harm and we should be vigilant to the ongoing threat by the Castro regime’s spies, but our priority remains the freedom of Cuba, more immediately the freeing of over 1,000 Cuban prisoners of conscience, like Maykel Castillo Perez, so that they can be reunited with their families.

Reuters, January 6, 2023

Cuba spy Ana Belen Montes released after 20 years behind bars

An undated handout image shows Ana Belen Montes receiving a national intelligence certificate of distinction from George Tenet

(Reuters) – Ana Belen Montes, one of the highest-ranking U.S. officials ever proven to have spied for Cuba, has been released from prison early, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed Friday, after she spent more than two decades behind bars.

Montes, 65, had in 2002 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage after she was accused of using her leading position as a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) official to leak information, including identities of some U.S. spies, to Havana.

Aged 45, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

A U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent, Montes began working for the DIA in 1985 and rapidly climbed its ranks to become the agency’s top Cuba analyst.

Prosecutors said during this time Montes received coded messages from Havana over a short-wave radio as strings of numbers, which she would type onto a decryption-equipped laptop to translate to text.

She was accused of supplying the identity of four U.S. spies to Cuba, as well as other classified information.

Montes was arrested on Sept. 21, 2001, shortly before the United States invaded Afghanistan. Her lawyer, a leading espionage specialist, had argued she had cooperated without reservation.

At her sentencing a year later, Montes argued that she had obeyed her conscience and that U.S. policy to Cuba was cruel and unfair. “I felt morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it,” she said.

Ricardo Urbina, the sentencing judge, ruled she put fellow U.S. citizens and the “nation as a whole” at risk.

On her release from prison, Urbino had ordered Montes should be placed under supervision for five years, with her internet access monitored and a ban from working for governments and contacting foreign agents without permission.

Under President Joe Biden, the United States has eased some sanctions on Cuba but maintained its Cold War-era embargo on the island and stepped up restrictions on illegal migrants, arriving in record levels amid raging inflation and medicine shortages.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland and Eric Beech; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

RedState, January 6, 2022

Convicted Cuban Spy Ana Belen Montes Set to Be Released from US Prison

By Brittany Sheehan | 7:15 PM on January 06, 2023

Ana Belen Montes mugshot. Credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Convicted Cuban spy, Ana Belen Montes, nicknamed “The Queen of Cuba,” is expected to be released over the weekend from US federal prison. Montes was once the Pentagon’s top analyst for Cuban affairs for 17 years, before her arrest in 2001 for espionage.

Among the national security damages that can be linked to Montes is a 1987 attack by Marxist guerillas of a secret US military camp in allied El Salvador, costing the lives of 65 Salvadorians and one American. Aside from information leaks provided to the Cuban government, she often conducted influence operations to soften attitudes and policy toward the island, and distract blame from the Castro regime when briefing US Intelligence and other agencies.

But, as the Washington Post reported in 2013, Montes didn’t just betray her countrymen but her own family, too.

But Montes, now 56, did not deceive just her nation and her colleagues. She also betrayed her brother Tito, an FBI special agent; her former boyfriend Roger Corneretto, an intelligence officer for the Pentagon specializing in Cuba; and her sister, Lucy, a 28-year veteran of the FBI who has won awards for helping to unmask Cuban spies.

Montes’ early life history consists of being radicalized against the US government through her college years and then climbing the ranks as a Washington bureaucrat–giving her a security clearance. That’s when the Cuban intelligence service recruited her in 1984, as they are known to target college campuses. 

The Post reported:

Cuba considers recruiting at American universities a “top priority,” according to former Cuban intelligence agent Jose Cohen, who wrote in an academic paper that the Cuban intelligence service identifies politically driven students at leading U.S. colleges who will “occupy positions of importance in the private sector and in the government.

After a secret visit to Cuba in 1985, Montes was instructed to pursue positions in the US Government that would grant her access to higher classified materials, accepting a job at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s epicenter of foreign military intelligence. 

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, she was put into a leadership role on a task force to analyze US military operations in Afghanistan, risking US military plans being sold to the Taliban by way of Cuba. While internal leads prompted an investigation, Montes was pending promotion to the CIA security advisory, leading to a moratorium enacted at DIA forbidding her to work with outside agencies. Fears of her high-level roles sped up her arrest, coming just ten days after the Twin Towers collapsed in New York City. 

Montes was arrested by the FBI on September 21, 2001, and would end up taking a deal, pleading guilty to espionage in exchange for a 25-year sentence, avoiding treason charges. And, those 25 years are expected to end this weekend, shortened for “good behavior.” 

But, while Montes will be freed to set sail toward a Marxist utopia (as Cuba has tried to negotiate for her release in a prisoner swap previously) or a relative’s home back in Miami, the damages that she is accountable for are still with us. From the loss of a Green Beret to the intelligence reports that circulated for a decade after her arrest, impacting US policy by leading to Cuba being taken off the list of state terror sponsors, by Obama in 2013.

In a press release, Ambassador Otto J. Reich, currently president of the Center for a Free Cuba and former Assistant Secretary of State and member of the National Security Council staff says:

“The damage done by Ana Belen Montes to both U.S. National Security and in the formulation of U.S. Foreign policy cannot be underestimated, nor the reality that she was not alone in infiltrating the U.S. government to work for a foreign power. American allies and friends and at least one American soldier were killed by the treachery committed by this foreign agent. Furthermore, the disinformation provided by her DI handlers that she inserted in U.S. government reports continued to have an impact on policy long after she went to prison,” 

Let us not only be reminded of the harm Montes brought to Americans and our allies, but of the lasting impacts of her acts on the people of Cuba, whom she stole human dignity from while sanitizing the threats of the Cuban regime.

From the Archives

Americas Quarterly, May 1, 2013

The Spies Nobody Knows: Is Havana Harmless?

By Frank Calzon | May 1, 2013

A few weeks ago, a member of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama to urge him to delete Cuba from the list of countries supporting international terrorism. In her appeal, Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) included text from a discredited report prepared by Ana Belén Montes, a confessed spy for Havana who was arrested in September 2001 and who is now serving a 25-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

Several days ago, the Justice Department announced the indictment of another former American official charged with spying for Cuba, Marta Velázquez. Velázquez allegedly took Montes to Havana for spy training, but when Montes was reported to be cooperating with the authorities after confessing, Velázquez resigned from her job at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and fled the country. In 2004, a grand jury in Washington DC issued an indictment against Velázquez (also known by her aliases “Marta Rita Kviele” and “Barbara”), but it remained under court seal until a few days ago.

That few American policy makers are aware of the great harm done to the United States by Montes, Velázquez and other spies working for the Castro brothers can be explained by the fact that when both stories broke, more significant stories were being covered by the American press: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and last month’s terrorist attack in Boston.

Be that as it may, congresspeople are not supposed to send disinformation from the Cuban government to the U.S. president.

Some ignore the stories of Ms. Montes and Ms. Velázquez because they raise questions about an innocent, non-threatening narrative about Cuba. In order for that narrative to be credible, the Velázquez and Montes stories—as well as Cuba’s current role in the Venezuelan electoral crisis and Havana’s strong ties to Iran, Syria and North Korea—need to be discussed as little as possible.Montes was a senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency—in charge of briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president about Cuba—when she was arrested. U.S. officials say she disclosed the covert identities of several American intelligence officials and is responsible for their deaths, as well as for passing classified national defense information and other information to Cuba’s intelligence services that Cuba then shared with other anti-American governments.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, U.S. military and intelligence agencies spent years assessing the damage done by Montes, telling Congress last year that she was “one of the most damaging spies in recent memory.”

Velázquez had been a classmate of Montes’ at Johns Hopkins University and is accused of helping an intelligence agent with Cuba’s United Nations mission recruit Montes. She accompanied Montes on a clandestine training trip to Cuba and helped her gain employment with the DIA.  Besides working at USAID, Velázquez worked at U.S. embassies in Central America and held a top-secret security clearance.

The Justice Department says that Velázquez conspired with others to transmit to the Cuban government and its agents documents and information relating to U.S. national defense with the intent to injure the United States. She received instructions from her Havana handlers and transmitted classified national-defense documents to them through encrypted, high frequency broadcasts. Velázquez is now in Sweden and if convicted, she faces a life sentence.

At the time of Montes’ arrest in 2001, authorities said that they decided to arrest her quickly before she could pass on details of the 9-11 investigation to the Castro government. Then as now, Cuba was on the State Department’s list of nations supporting international terrorism. 

In her April 23 letter to President Obama, Representative Castor urged President Obama to remove Cuba from the list of countries supporting international terrorism. Castor asserted that the Council on Foreign Relations said that intelligence experts have been hard-pressed to find evidence that Cuba currently provides weapons or military training to terrorist groups. In 1998, a comprehensive review by the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Cuba does not pose a threat to U.S. national security, which implies that Cuba no longer sponsors terrorism.

Regrettably, that conclusion—which is now being ascribed to the Council on Foreign Relations and intelligence experts—was taken from a report written by Montes, a convicted spy for Cuba.

Even while sitting in prison, Montes is still the most damaging spy in recent memory. But, in a nation of short memories, maybe Velázquez can best the woman she recruited for the Castros.

Front Page Magazine, March 29, 2002

Castro’s Top Spy

By Ronald Radosh

“The Pentagon received praise from an unlikely source,” the article stated, “Cuban President Fidel Castro.” What Castro was citing was a Pentagon intelligence review leaked to the press, which had concluded Cuba posed no serious military threat to the United States, due especially to a severely weakened Cuban military. The report, Castro said, was “an objective report by serious people.” There was good reason for Castro to be pleased with the leaked report. It was prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in cooperation with other intelligence arms of the Government, and was written by Ana Belen Montes, Castro’s top spy in the United States.

The argument in the Montes draft was repeated to Congress by Gen. Charles Wilhelm, commander of the US Southern Command based in Miami, when he commented on the report that same week. “I do not consider the current Cuban armed forces to be a threat to the United States,” Wilhelm said, “it is a force that can no longer project itself beyond the boundaries of Cuba.” In addition, Wilhelm said that no evidence existed that Cuba was trying to foment any instability in the Western Hemisphere, a conclusion challenged by many Cuba watchers, who blanched at the reports that the draft urged American and Cuban military cooperation in the region.

The first draft that Montes wrote, however, was so soft that it was toughened up by then Defense Secretary William Cohen. When Cohen sent the report to Congress in May of 1998, he stressed that although the Cuban military was itself no longer a serious threat to the US, Cuba still had the potential to make deadly biological weapons. “Cuba’s current scientific facilities and expertise,” Cohen said, “could support an offensive biological weapons program at least in the research and development stage.” Moreover, Cohen expressed his concern that Castro could still use the island as a base for intelligence activities against the United States.

Montes, as Americans learned just two short weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attack, was a top level analyst and intelligence officer at the DIA, who was arrested by the FBI in midSeptember at her intelligence office in the Bolling Air Force Base, and charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Her colleagues, DIA spokesman Navy Lt. Commander James E. Brooks told me, were “stunned” at the news. Regarded as a consummate professional, virtually none of her colleagues ever guessed that she might be a spy. Nevertheless, Brooks argued that she did not fit the usual profile of a spywhich suggests, perhaps, that those responsible for counterintelligence should not put such great stock on the usual profiles.

Last week, on March 19, Montes pleaded guilty to espionage, which the Justice Department’s “Factual Proffer” in support of a guilty plea, noted that she had conducted for Cuba since 1985. The Proffer and the actual indictment offer a tantalizing hint at the extent of Montes’ harm to the United States. Montes, who held security clearances of the highest level was in fact the DIA’s chief analyst for Cuba. In that capacity, she effectively served as a Cuban doubleagent, handing over top secret information to Castro’s secret police, including “the identity of a covert United States intelligence officer as well as the planning and goals of the United States intelligence community with respect to Cuba.” The understated legalese means that effectively, Cuba’s DINA its secret police received virtually everything it needed to know about U.S. intelligence, including the names of three other US agents as well as material classified as “Top Secret.” In addition she gave the Cuban government classified reports, photos and other printed material. To help her with her work, in 1996 Cuban intelligence gave her a computer program for the encryption and decryption of messages.

Most recently, from April through May 2001, Montes communicated via a pager number provided by Cuban intelligence, to which she made longdistance untraceable calls from pay phones, using prepaid calling cards. When the pager answered, Montes would “key in a short series of numbers that corresponded to general, preestablished messages, such as ‘I received message,’ or ‘danger.’” Using shortwave radios, from which she received a series of random numbers classic encrypted transmissionsshe then decoded them later with the computer program given her by Cuban intelligence. The radio messages, broadcast on high frequencies, were sent during times Montes was instructed to be listening on a commercially purchased shortwave radio she had at home. Anything in writing was put on water soluble paper to be ready for quick destruction. Clearly, the Hollywood script is virtually writing itself.

Her most recent communication took place on September 16, five short days after 9/11. According to the indictment, “Montes used her position as an intelligence officer and, subsequently, a senior intelligence analyst, for the Defense Intelligence Agency, to gather writings, documents, materials and information, classified for reasons of national security, for unlawful communication, delivery and transmission to the government of Cuba.” Montes was so intent on fulfilling her commitment to Castro that she refused promotion and other career advancement opportunities at the DIA in order to not lose access to classified information of particular interest to Cuban intelligence.

Montes was in a position to give Cuban intelligence lots of critical information they sought. At one point, she observed wargames taking place in Norfolk, Virginia, which meant that any contingency plans the US was preparing for dealing with Cuba in moments of crisis could have been reported to them instantly. Since the Mariel boatlift crisis, which Castro precipitated, US strategy planners have worried about the possibility of Castro repeating the episode with new dire consequences for our country. Any policies devised to help prevent this happening would have been given to Castro by Montes.

The actual indictment against Montes is that of “conspiracy to commit espionage,” the exact same charge brought by the US Government against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1950. That charge, which stems from the Espionage and Sedition Act of 1917, carries with it the possibility of a death sentence for anyone found guilty. So far in our nation’s history, only the Rosenbergs received capital punishment for this offense when committed in peacetime. In their case, the prosecution specifically hoped that the threat of execution would lead either of the couple to break, and provide information that would allow the government to prosecute other members of the Rosenberg spy ring. Staunch Communist ideologues, the couple opted to go to their death proclaiming their innocence, and to become martyrs in the pantheon of Communist heroes.

Like the Rosenbergs, Montes was also an ideologically committed supporter of a Communist regime, that of Fidel Castro. Her lawyer, Plato Cacheris, who seems to be the chosen counsel for most of the recent American spies for foreign powers, offered the press a predictable leftwing rationale for Montes’ actions, which is obviously the approach Montes asked him to take. “She engaged in these activities,” he said, “because of her belief that U.S. policy does not afford Cubans respect, tolerance and understanding.” What Cacheris does not point out is that opponents of administration policy on Cuba have many different ways to argue for a change in American policy, other than betrayal of our own country and American agents to Fidel Castro’s spy service. Moreover, Cacheris added that Montes “was motivated by her desire to help the Cuban people,” and he stressed that she received no compensation. Evidently, aid to a repressive oldline Communist dictatorship is equated by her counsel to helping the Cuban people. And that she asked for no monetary compensation indicates that like Julius Rosenberg and Alger Hiss, spies of an era long past, her espionage was ideological in basis. She was, clearly, not the kin of Aldrich Ames or Robert Hannsen, both of whom were motivated by the quest for money, or, in the case of Hannsen, deeply disturbed psychological reasons. But like Alger Hiss, Montes was in many ways the perfect spy. With access to top secret intelligence agency data, she could provide the Castro regime with material of the greatest value. And as an intelligence analyst responsible for providing information to be used by policymakers, she worked both ends of the operation. In this capacity, she could also write the kind of reports that would influence the creation of a policy more favorable to the Castro regime than that advocated by antiCastro hardliners.

Unlike Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Ana Montes is evidently not going to seek martyrdom, which is why little has been heard from Havana on her behalf since her indictment. Other recent Cuban spies, such as those arrested in Miami last year the socalled Wasp’s Nest group have been the subject of rallies and protests in Cuba, and the defendants some of whom escaped before arrest are treated as heroes by the state sponsored Cuban media. The sixteen indicted members, like Montes, got their instructions via code delivered over shortwave radios. But their efforts trying to infiltrate military bases and counting military air takeoffs in Florida, hardly compared to the high level data provided by Montes. But since some of them cooperated with authorities, it is possible that Montes was found out from information they supplied. (WASP network members were among those who infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, one of whose planes was shot down in February of 1996 with the result that four of the antiCastro Cubans in the group were killed.)

Moreover, the government’s agreement with Montes rests on her continued cooperation, and depends upon whether or not she provides complete answers to all the queries they make of her. Resting over her head is that death sentence. FBI press spokesman Chris Murray confirmed to me that the legal agreement being honored depends upon her performance, and even though press reports indicate that Justice is not asking for a death sentence, any unsatisfactory performance by Montes would lead immediately to reconsideration of the plea bargain by the Justice Department.

One unanswered question is how and why Montes developed her proCastro views. Of Puerto Rican descent, Montes attended the University of Virginia, and then received her M.A. degree at the prestigious School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, where few people seem to have any distinct impressions of her. Riordan Roett, director of Western Hemisphere Studies, emailed me that he has only “vague” remembrances of her, even though she took two of his courses. Before her arrest, Montes was a regular participant at the Georgetown University Caribbean Project discussions of USCuba relations, where again, participants such as Wayne Smith, Gillian Gunn Clissold and William LeoGrande have all been quoted in different press stories about how little she spoke up and what a low keyed presence she played. It is apparent, however, that Montes was in close contact with those members of the policymaking community who strongly favor lifting the US embargo on Cuba, and who are generally regarded as softliners. Their views were most strongly reflected when Secretary of State Colin Powell, testifying before Congress last year, said that Castro has “done good things for his people,” and agreed that, “He’s no longer the threat he was.” If Castro wanted to supply those already inclined to moderate US policy towards his regime with information, what better place to do it than have his own agent within the DIA regularly attend gatherings at which those inclined to the soft line met, where her analysis clearly would meet a welcome reception.

The question left to address is whether or not the Montes assessment about the nature of the Cuban threat is correct. The possibility exists, of course, that even though she was a Cuban spy, her report on the weak state of the Cuban military is accurate, and that Castro’s Cuba no longer poses any kind of danger to American security. Sadly, that, however, amounts to so much wishful thinking. Senator Bob Graham, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, calling Montes’ actions “traitorous,” points out that “the very fact that sensitive national security information…was compromised” it in and of itself is “an indication of Fidel Castro’s continuing desire to undermine the U.S. government and the security of our people.” Graham’s early assessment, issued after Montes’ plea bargain, is worth paying attention to. Americans should recall that Cuba remains on the State Department list of nations that support terrorism, and last May 10, Castro spoke at Tehran University, where the AP reported, he told Iranians that the United States was “an imperialist king” that “will finally fall, just as your king was overthrown.” He also swore that working together, the two countries would “bring America to its knees.” His tour also took him to Libya and Syria. Some, of course, will attribute such statements to mere rhetoric, meant to bolster Fidel Castro’s standing as a leader of a world revolution against the United States.

However, last December, Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams spoke from Cuba on a solidarity trip, lending his voice to the call of those who seek an end to the US embargo. Adams’ call was ironic, given that the previous August the Colombian military arrested three IRA explosive experts who were training the Communist FARC guerrillas in the practice of detonation of car bombs. One of them, Niall Connolly, Adams admitted, was Sinn Fein’s longtime representative in Havana. And with Adams standing next to him, Castro praised IRA hunger strikers of the past, as another Cuban official proclaimed US action in Afghanistan to be a “calculated massacre of civilians.” One has to wonder, as obviously Senator Graham does, just who is Castro sharing the information he received from Ana Montes with? | March 29, 2002

The New York Times, September 23, 2001

Spy Betrayed Agents to Cuba, Officials Say

By Christopher Marquis

Sept. 23, 2001

The Pentagon’s top intelligence analyst for Cuba, accused of spying for the Havana government, identified American agents to Cuban officials and revealed details about a top secret intelligence gathering system, government officials said today.

The analyst, Ana Belen Montes of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was charged on Friday with providing secret information to Cuba for at least five years.

One indication of the level of trust that Ms. Montes enjoyed in Washington was a trip to Cuba she took in 1998 with two senior aides to Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, a fierce foe of President Fidel Castro of Cuba. Mr. Helms was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at that time.

Ms. Montes is the highest American official accused of spying for Cuba. The case could go far in explaining how efforts by the United States to penetrate Cuba’s tightly controlled society were thwarted in the last decade.

Ms. Montes also informed the Havana government when undercover American intelligence agents visited Cuba, compromising their contacts on the island, officials said.

Ms. Montes, who is 44 and single, was a fixture in foreign policy circles related to Cuba. Born at an American military base in Nuremberg, Germany, she graduated from the University of Virginia in 1979 and received a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 1988, the complaint said. In 1985, she was hired by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which provides Pentagon planners with information about foreign countries.

In 1990, Ms. Montes was one of several military intelligence officials who briefed Violeta Chamorro, then the new president of Nicaragua, about the activities and assets of the Cuban-backed Sandinista military, one participant in the briefing said.

Ms. Montes communicated with Cuban intelligence officials through coded computer and telephone contacts, the complaint said. She received instructions in numeric signals by short-wave radio broadcasts, it said.

The F.B.I. began watching her in May and built its case against her largely from materials retrieved from her home computer.

Appearing before a United States magistrate in Washington on Friday, Ms. Montes entered no plea. She is being held without bond.


By Ralph J. Galliano, Editor, Institute for U.S. Cuba Relations

April 30, 1998

WASHINGTON — First denounced as “barbaric” in a November edition of the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma, the Pentagon’s “Assessment of the Cuban Threat to United States National Security” as required under Senator Bob Graham’s (D-FL) amendment (Sec. 1228) to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998, later received high praise from Cuban dictator Fidel Castro as “an objective report by serious people.” This about-face in the opinion of the Cuban government followed a story in the Miami Herald of the yet to be released largely classified Pentagon report; the front page headline read: “Cuban military not a threat.” Prior to the report’s mandated March 31st release date, however, Marine General John Sheehan, Ret., made a week-long trip to Cuba meeting with both Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, the Defense Minister, no doubt assuaging their earlier fears over the impending release of the Pentagon’s assessment. The Cuban government’s propaganda retreat followed shortly thereafter. Sheehan, the former Commander in Chief (CINC) of the U.S. Atlantic Command with authority over the Caribbean including Cuba (before the biennial review of the Unified Command Plan transferred authority over Cuba back to the Southern Command), had in April of 1995 publicly voiced at a symposium in Miami the Cuban military’s non-threatening status to the region. His recent restatement of that position, albeit in the context of the forthcoming Pentagon assessment, should not have come as any surprise. Both Sheehan and Gen. Charles Wilhelm, CINC Southern Command Miami, provided report input.

In a mid-1997 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, it was concluded that the Cuban Revolutionary Navy (MGR) had slipped from a deep-water force to a coastal defense force due primarily to economic circumstances resulting from the collapse of its patron the former Soviet Union (see USCPR, YolA, No.7). Apparently, the delayed Pentagon report reaches the same conclusion over the capabilities of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) for essentially the same reason. This would suggest that a lifting of the embargo, bringing with it substantial economic benefits, could conceivably lead to ~ upgrading of all areas of the Cuban military especially fuel, parts, and equipment unless a change leading to a democratically elected government of Cuba as called for in the Helms-Burton Act or a dramatic change in the attitude of the Cuban Communist Party were to take place.

At its peak in the mid-1980s when Cuban military forces were on active duty abroad, particularly in Africa, DIA estimates placed the size of the FAR at 162,000 compared to approximately 50,000 today. As a result of severe economic necessity and concern over internal strife, the Cuban military has been largely integrated into the economic structure of the country especially in the areas of trade, agriculture, and tourism. Although Section 1228 of the Defense Authorization Act calls for an assessment of Cuba’ s conventional and unconventional threats to U.S. national security, media reports have focused on the assessment of the previously acknowledged yet diminished conventional military threat Cuba poses to the region.

–Senator Graham’s defense authorization amendment (see USCPR Vo1.4,No.ll) called for a review and assessment of “Cuban military capabilities” and “such unconventional threats” as migration, attacks on U.S. citizens, chemical and biological weapons, and internal strife. Among the unspecified unconventional Cuban threats to U.S.national security are: Russia’s Cuban spy base at Lourdes; Cuba’s partially completed nuclear power complex of Soviet design at Cienfuegos; and, Cuban narco-trafficking. The State Department’s annual report entitled “Patterns of Global Terrorism” refers to Cuba’s ties to narco-terrorist groups in Colombia such as the ELN and FARC (see page 5 USCPR). Likely to be included in the classified section of the Pentagon report will be “the contingency plans developed by the Secretary [of Defense] to counter any threat posed by Cuba to the United States.” Wilhelm’s Southern Command, which was relocated from Panama to Miami, would be assigned to Cuba should future U.S. military action become necessary.

SPEAKER GINGRICH AND SENATOR MACK ASK COHEN FOR REVIEW — In separate letters (reprinted below) to Secretary of Defense William Cohen dated March 31st, the originally scheduled release date for the report, both House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Senator Connie Mack urged Cohen to review the report and reconsider its conclusions. “Despite Cuba’s current economic situation, Castro is a dangerous and unstable tyrant capable of many of the same things that we know Saddam Hussein is doing. Furthermore, the Castro dictatorship is the only rogue regime 90 miles from our coastline,” Gingrich stated in his letter. In addition, Mack’s press statement reflected the sentiments of many in the Cuban-American community, “It seems that every time the [Clinton] Administration says something about Cuba, it sends the signal that it is inching closer and closer to normalization. Last week, the Administration eased restrictions on air flights to Cuba, [see USCPR Vo1.5,No.3] and now the Pentagon says Castro isn ‘t dangerous.” The Pentagon report is expected to be issued following DIA briefings.