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Castro’s Top Spy By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 29, 2002


“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 statement 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 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?


Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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