The Latell Report
Cuba Transition Project
(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- The Latell Report analyzes Cuba's
contemporary domestic and foreign policy, and is published periodically.
It is distributed by the electronic information service of the Cuba
Transition Project (CTP) at the University of Miami's Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS).
More About Cuban Spy Ana Montes
For sixteen years Ana Belen Montes spied for Cuba from increasingly
responsible positions at the Defense Intelligence Agency. If Havana has
ever run a higher level or more valuable agent inside the American
defense establishment that has never been revealed.
When she was arrested in late September 2001, Montes was about the
equivalent in rank to a colonel. She had access to sensitive
compartmented intelligence. Strangely, for one so openly enamored of
Fidel Castro, her superiors considered her one of the best Cuba analysts
anywhere in government.
Despite the importance of her case, some of the most tantalizing
questions about her spying have never been publicly answered. Could the
calamity of her treason have been avoided? What was learned about Cuban
intelligence tradecraft? How was she discovered? And, of enduring
concern, did she work with other American spies thus far undetected or
Thanks to researcher Jeffrey Richelson and the National Security Archive
new light has finally been shed on the Montes case. Because of their
efforts, a 180 page study completed by the Department of Defense
Inspector General in 2005 has recently been declassified. It is heavily
redacted; many pages–including the CIA's extensive comments—blacked out.
Yet, a quantity of surprising new details are now on the public record.
Montes's decision to spy for Cuba was "coolly deliberate." Enticed by a
Cuban access agent in Washington, they traveled together to New York in
December 1984. Montes met with intelligence officers posted under cover
at the Cuban mission to the United Nations.
She "unhesitatingly agreed" to work with them and to travel to Cuba
clandestinely as soon as possible. The following March she went there
via Spain and Czechoslovakia. The Pentagon report does not state the
obvious: while there she must have received specialized training in
Then, with Cuban encouragement, she applied for a job at DIA. A standard
background investigation was conducted, but we now know that serious
concerns about her suitability were raised. Without elaboration, the
Pentagon report indicates that they included "falsification of her
Master of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins (University) and her
trustworthiness." DIA did not require applicants to submit to a
pre-employment polygraph exam. So, a trained Cuban espionage agent with
a problematic past was cleared and hired. She began work in September 1985.
After her arrest Montes insisted that she did not work for Cuba, but
with Cuban officials she enormously respected. They felt "mutual respect
and understanding;" they "were comrades in the struggle." She believed
that the Castro government "does not hurt people" and that she had the
"moral right" to provide information to Cuba.
Her handlers apparently were skilled in manipulating and controlling
her. She said they were "thoughtful, sensitive to her needs, very good
to me." They went to "special lengths to assure her they had complete
confidence in her." They allowed her a long, loose leash, easier because
they were not paying for her extraordinary services.
Initially in New York, and later at her request in the Washington area,
she met with her handlers as often as once every two or three weeks,
usually on weekends. Everything about her second covert trip to Cuba is
redacted in the Pentagon report. Perhaps it was for training in
polygraph countermeasures, because, according to the report, she later
"encounters and beats the polygraph."
In 1991 Montes underwent a seemingly routine security reinvestigation.
She was asked about foreign travel, and lied. Questioned about
inaccuracies in her original application for employment, she confessed
that she had misrepresented an incident in her past. Feigning innocence,
Montes claimed that she "did not understand the seriousness of being
truthful and honest at the time."
Her questionable case was then reviewed at a higher level. The
adjudicator reported that "while Montes seemed to have a tendency 'to
twist the truth' to her own needs and her honesty was still a cause of
concern, adverse security action was unlikely." Again, she had slipped
through. Her high level clearances were recertified.
Brazenly, she submitted a freedom of information request for her own
government records. She must have been concerned that something adverse
had been discovered. Investigative material was released, going back to
her previous employment at the Department of Justice. She gave the
surprised Cubans copies of the released documents.
None of this seems to have contributed to her eventual unmasking. But
how was she discovered? Surprisingly revealing information seeps through
the Pentagon's report. "We got lucky," a counterintelligence official
observed. An entirely blacked-out section entitled "Serendipity"
suggests the same.
By April 1998 a coordinated search for a Cuban spy was underway,
according to the report. At first it was thought most likely the quarry
was a CIA employee. But soon investigators were following a crucial
clue: the unknown spy had apparently traveled to the Guantanamo naval base.
The breakthrough had seemingly come earlier, however. According to the
Pentagon report, Montes was informed shortly after her arrest that
investigators "had information from a senior official in the Cuban
intelligence service concerning a Cuban penetration agent that
implicated Montes." It seems that this information propelled the
investigation that resulted in Montes's arrest and incarceration.
Did she work with other American spies? The report is ambiguous; it
states that after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 pressure
rose to arrest Montes. The FBI preferred to wait, however, in order "to
monitor Montes's activities with the prospect that she may have
eventually led the FBI to others in the Cuban spy network."
Was this judgment the result of careless drafting and editing? Or did
government censors let a critical bit of information slip through? If
there was evidence of a larger Cuban spy apparatus operating at that
time it may be a long time before more is known.
It is clear now, however, that Montes's apprehension was not just the
result of excellent intelligence work. American prosecutors were lucky.
She told investigators after her arrest that a week earlier she had
learned that she was under surveillance. She could have decided then to
flee to Cuba, but said delphically that "she couldn't give up on the
people (she) was helping." She is serving a 25 year prison sentence.
Brian Latell is the author of Castro's Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the
CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Palgrave Macmillan,
2013). A former National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, he is
now a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban &
Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.
Source: The Latell Report - Misceláneas de Cuba -