Biden’s Misguided Cuba Policy, Castro’s Master Spy, and the Danger of Wishful Thinking

The Daily Signal, January 13, 2023

Biden’s Misguided Cuba Policy, Castro’s Master Spy, and the Danger of Wishful Thinking

By John Suarez

Ana Belen Montes, ten captured members of the WASP Network, and Fidel Castro

The Biden administration’s Cuba policy does not bode well for US interests. A return to the policy of the Obama administration, it is based on a misreading of history and targeted misinformation spread by agents of influence in Washington.

The reality is that Cuba’s dictatorship is a criminal enterprise that has spent more than six decades destabilizing democracies in the Americas. They have succeeded in ending the democracies of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia

Without well-placed spies in Washington, that would not have been possible.

A spy for the Fidel Castro dictatorship for 17 years, Ana Belen Montes, was released on Jan. 6 from a federal prison facility in Fort Worth, Texas, having served only 21 years of a 25-year prison sentence. Officially, the reason for the shortened prison stay was due to good behavior. Montes, a Puerto Rican, has moved to Puerto Rico.

In her first statement out of prison, Montes, unrepentant, repeated the same narratives she advanced while working for the Castro dictatorship.

Castro’s master spy

In 1984, while Montes was a 27 year-old master’s degree student at Johns Hopkins University and working for the Justice Department, she was recruited by Cuban intelligence. After graduating in 1985, she began working for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

During her 17 years of spying for Cuba, a state sponsor of terrorism, her analyses for the US government downplayed Havana’s threat.  Montes whitewashed Havana’s six-decade record of terrorism (including on U.S. soil), drug trafficking, brutality against Cubans, repression in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and genocide in Ethiopia.

Havana’s Directorate of Intelligence, Cuba’s primary state intelligence agency, also successfully infiltrated the CIA, the State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, in addition to having Montes at the DIA. Infiltrators conducted influence campaigns,compromising the identities of US spies, and passed secrets to Havana. These secrets were then sold to other enemies of America. 

Montes revealed secrets that led to the deaths of 65 Central American soldiers, and at least one American soldier. In March 1987, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas killed Greg Fronius, a 27-year-old American soldier, because Montes leaked secrets to Havana.

In June 1985, they brutally killed four U.S. Marine embassy guards, two other American civilians, six Salvadorans, and citizens of other countries as they sat at a sidewalk cafe near the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. 

In February 1996, Montes facilitated a meeting between U.S. government officials and retired U.S. Navy Adm. Eugene Carroll to relay recent Cuban threats. Now deceased, Carroll had become a left-wing activist, and this meeting allowed him to shape public opinion in favor of Cuba while vilifying the anti-Castro Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue

In his book, True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba’s Master Spy, U.S. counterintelligence officer Scott Carmichael wrote that the meeting set up by Montes was an “influence operation”—a covert attempt to influence public opinion.

In 1997, Montes drafted a Pentagon report claiming Cuba had a “limited capacity” to harm the U.S., which Castro referred to as “an objective report by serious people.”

Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Montes was chosen as a team leader to examine the effectiveness of U.S. Air Force bombing in Afghanistan. Officials  were beginning to question Montes’ allegiance to the US and feared that if she obtained the Pentagon’s war plans for Afghanistan, she would pass them to Havana’s Directorate of Intelligence. Given Havana’s long history of selling secrets to enemies of the U.S., it was likely that the Castro regime would pass the war plans on to the Taliban.

This risk hastened her arrest on Sept. 21, 2001.

Lasting damage and terrorism

The “most damaging non-human intelligence she provided to the Cubans,” according to retired FBI agent Peter Lapp, 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.”

Although the information was unrelated to Cuba, investigators believe Castro passed it on to other regimes hostile to the United States. According to DIA analyst Chris Simmons, selling secrets is a profitable business for Havana.

A full decade after Montes’ arrest, her debunked claims that Cuba posed no threat to the US were still being cited by governmental advocates of removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

During her tenure in Washington, Montes successfully buried the following facts:

  • Cuba was first added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in March 1982, when the State Department confirmed that Havana was using a drug ring to smuggle arms and money to Colombia’s  M-19 terrorist group.

  • M-19 members stormed Colombia’s Palace of Justice in November 1985. Eleven of Colombia’s 25 Supreme Court justices were among the hostages killed. Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s current president, was an M-19 member in the 1980s.

  • “In the Arab world, some 3,000 [Cuban advisers] can be found in Libya and Algeria, among other things training terrorists and Polisario guerrillas,” wrote John Hoyt Williams in The Atlantic in 1988. 

State sponsor of terrorism

The Castro regime in Cuba has continued to sponsor and harbor terrorists to the present day, despite vehement denials, and shows no signs of abating. Today, Havana works with Hamas and other Islamist terrorist organizations, Latin American terrorist groups, as well as terrorist regimes in Iran and North Korea, and is backing Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Given the damage to the US, one would expect Montes to serve life in prison. The record shows Montes was a traitor who supported a terrorist regime that killed Americans and U.S. allies while harming U.S. interests. Instead, she struck a deal for only 25 years and was released early.  At minimum, given the harm she caused and her lack of repentance, Montes should not have been released before serving her full sentence.

Law enforcement dialogue with a lawless regime?

The State Department announced on January 12, 2023, less than a week after Montes’ release, that it was resuming a “law-enforcement dialogue” with the stated goal of bringing “transnational criminals to justice.”

This “dialogue,” first initiated by President Barack Obama in 2015, was unfruitful and ended with the Trump administration. During the initial three-year dialogue, none of the terrorists or fugitives from American justice held by Havana were handed over to the U.S.

Additionally, the phrase “law-enforcement dialogue” is inaccurate. In Cuba, there is no rule of law. To keep power, there is a dictatorship and a repressive security apparatus. There is no such thing as “law enforcement.”

This was evident during the nationwide protests last July, when political police beat down, clubbed, and shot nonviolent protesters in the back. This evidence of police lawlessness came to light when Cuban witnesses were tried and sentenced to 20 years in prison for merely documenting the murders and abuse. 

Where might this Biden policy of thawing relations with Cuba lead? 

On Oct. 14, 2016, the Obama administration issued a presidential directive on “United States-Cuba Normalization,” which included a problematic instruction:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support broader United States government efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, with intelligence community elements working to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts.

Comparing this presidential directive from 2016 and Biden’s planned “law-enforcement dialogue” to bring “transnational criminals to justice,” it’s clear that the Biden administration is using it as a blueprint for its unfolding Cuba policy. This policy, however, ignores the nature and history of the regime in Havana and threatens not only American lives and property, but also the very fate of democracy in the Americas.

John Suarez is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba and a human rights activist.