Ana Montes, a Cold War spy who passed secrets to Cuba, is freedThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
For almost 17 years, Montes collected classified information from the US government and passed it on to intelligence officers in Havana. She revealed the identities of at least four American officers operating undercover in Cuba, provided classified photographs and documents, and warned Cuban authorities that the United States was monitoring several of its military installations. The Washington Post reported in 2002
Montes gained access to sensitive information in her role as a senior analyst for Cuban affairs at the DIA, the agency responsible for providing military intelligence to foreign countries, where she had worked since 1985. Within seven years, she had been promoted to the agency’s top official for Cuba and was responsible for sharing classified information from the US government about Havana with other federal agencies.
Unknown to his colleagues, who declared her the “Queen of Cuba”, Montes passed this information directly to Cuban officials.
“She is one of the most damaging spies the United States has ever uncovered,” Michelle Van Cleve, executive director of national counterintelligence under President George W. Bush, told House subcommittee in 2012.
“After 16 years of spying on behalf of Cuba, she compromised everything, almost everything, that we knew about Cuba and how we operated in Cuba and against Cuba. So the Cubans were well aware of everything we knew about them and could use it to their advantage,” added Van Cleve.
Van Cleve, who led the internal assessment of damage from Montes’ actions, told the House panel that the former analyst also used his position to influence DIA colleagues’ assessments of Cuba.
According to federal prosecutors, Montes was motivated by ideology, not financial incentive. She was never paid for anything other than expenses, they told the court.
“I obeyed my conscience, not the law,” Montes told the judge who in 2002 sentenced her to 25 years in prison following her conviction for conspiracy to commit espionage. “I believe that our government’s policy toward Cuba is cruel and unjust, profoundly unneighborly, and I felt a moral obligation to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it,” she said.
“She covertly and without remorse systematically compromised classified information related to the national defense of the entire country,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Woltz Jr. said at the time.
Senior Cuban officials publicly praised Montes after being captured by the FBI, posing as an ideological ally.
According to the FBIMontes communicated with his Cuban handlers via shortwave radios, computer diskettes and pagers, The Post reported in 2001.
Federal agents were granted court permission in 2001 to enter Montes’ apartment, where they found a shortwave radio, an earpiece and a laptop. They secretly copied the computer’s hard drive and recovered the deleted text, revealing evidence that provided the basis for the charges against Montes, according to an FBI affidavit.
Agents began following Montes and watched her make short calls to pay phones outside the National Zoo, gas stations and other locations in Northwest Washington and Maryland, apparently sending encrypted messages to pagers, the affidavit said.
Montes was arrested on September 21, 2001 at Bolling Air Force Base, the DIA headquarters in Washington, and FBI agents led her out of the building in handcuffs.
“She was just a very effective spy, quiet, kind of nondescript, and devastating to US national security because of it,” Jim Popkin, author of new book of Montes, said Washington Post Live in an interview Thursdaythe day before her release.
According to Popkin, Montes kept a low profile at DIA, rarely removing documents and instead preferring to store sensitive information.
“It was all in her head, and so the working day ended around five o’clock. She would come home, maybe train and live in an apartment in Cleveland Park on Macomb Street, and so she started her night job of entering this classified information into her Toshiba laptop,” Popkin said. “Nearly 17 years of classified information that she entered almost daily, and then she would take it, put it on discs and meet whenever it was convenient and safe with her handlers in Washington or Cuba.”
According to the FBI, authorities were first made aware of Montes in 1996 when one of her DIA colleagues raised suspicions “on instinct” that she was acting for Cuban intelligence. Montes was interviewed by a security officer, but no action was taken, the FBI said.
Four years later, when the security official learned that the FBI was working to identify a suspected Cuban agent believed to be operating in Washington, he contacted the FBI about Montes and prompted its agents to open an investigation against her.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled in 2002 that upon her release, Montes must be placed under supervision for five years, during which time her Internet and computer use will be monitored and unauthorized contact with foreign governments prohibited. Any conditions surrounding her release Friday were not immediately clear.
Shane Harris and Carol D. Leonig contributed to this report.
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