|Cuban Spy Raises Finger to US
October 17, 2002
Unrepentant Spy Gets 25 Years
'I obeyed my conscience,' a former intelligence agency analyst says of
working for Cuba.
By Johanna Neuman, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- Saying she put her conscience before her country, a
former U.S. intelligence analyst was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in
prison for conspiring to spy for Cuba, becoming one of the few women in
American history convicted of espionage.
An unrepentant Ana Belen Montes — the highest-ranking operative known
to have been placed in the U.S. government by Cuba — told the court, "I
obeyed my conscience rather than the law. I believe our government's
policy toward Cuba is cruel and unfair, profoundly unneighborly, and I
morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to
our values and our political system on it."
That Montes spied for political reasons — no money is alleged to have changed
except for nominal expenses — makes her unusual among recent spies. Aldrich
H. Ames was a top CIA operative convicted in 1994 of spying for the Soviet
Union. He had disclosed the identity of at least a dozen agents who were
subsequently executed, and received enough money to buy a Jaguar and a
$540,000 home, with cash, in suburban Virginia. Robert Philip Hanssen,
the FBI agent who pleaded guilty in February last year to spying for the
Soviets, received $1.4 million
in cash and diamonds.
But the other distinctive feature of the Montes case is that, as the Defense
Intelligence Agency's top
Cuba expert, she was responsible for writing U.S. policy on Cuba, including
a famous 1998 shift
softening the Pentagon's assessment of the threat posed by Cuban President
Fidel Castro at a time
when the State Department was citing Cuba on a list of terrorist nations.
"Few spies are that highly placed," said David Major, a former FBI counterintelligence
officer who is
now vice president of the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies.
"From the Cuban
perspective, to have the person who writes American policy in your court,
we're talking about a very
influential person. In the espionage world, this is real gold."
Prosecutors say some of the material Montes turned over to the Cubans is
so sensitive that it cannot be
disclosed in open court. But it is known from court filings that she revealed
the identity of four Cubans
working undercover for the United States, disclosed information on war
games conducted by the U.S.
Atlantic Command, and gave Cuban intelligence classified files, photos
Court documents say Montes used encrypted messages to communicate with
services and received her instructions from Havana via shortwave radio.
She used coded numeric
pager messages at public pay phones throughout suburban Maryland and the
District of Columbia,
including codes for "I received message" and "danger."
The documents did not disclose why federal counterintelligence officials
grew suspicious of her — like
Ames, she passed a polygraph exam — but some in the Cuban American community
Montes, who went to work for the DIA in 1985, was tripped up by the FBI's
unraveling in 1998 of a
Cuban spy ring called the Wasp Network (La Red Avispa in Spanish).
"They noticed a pattern of phone traffic and beeper traffic that was similar
to the Wasp Network," said
Joe Garcia, executive director of the Miami-based Cuban American National
Foundation. "They snuck
into her apartment, looked in her computer, and discovered the classified
Investigators began homing in on Montes in May 2001. Aware that Cuba was
information from her to other capitals — such as Moscow and Baghdad — FBI
agents shadowed her
in hopes of identifying her Cuban contacts. But 10 days after the Sept.
11, 2001, terrorist attacks on
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, perhaps out of heightened concern
about foreign enemies,
they arrested her.
Quoting an Italian proverb that "all the world is one country," Montes
defended her actions Wednesday
as a necessary antidote to the 40-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba,
imposed by President
Kennedy after the revolutionary Castro seized billions of dollars' worth
of U.S. assets. "I did what I
thought was right to counter a grave injustice," she said. "I hope my case
in some way will encourage
our government to abandon its hostility toward Cuba."
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Urbina was not sympathetic, although he
did approve the plea bargain
that, in return for her cooperation, will likely keep Montes behind bars
for at least 20 years. "If you
cannot love your country, at least you should do it no wrong," he said.
"You decided to put the U.S. in
harm's way. You must pay the penalty."
Montes, 45, took an all-American path to arrive at her moment of ignominy.
The oldest of four
children, she was born on a U.S. military base in Nuremberg, Germany, where
her father was in the
Army. He was a psychoanalyst who had emigrated from his native Puerto Rico
to the United States in
1928 and attended medical school in upstate New York.
After moving to the Baltimore suburbs, Montes' father thrived in private
practice, and Montes became
one of the first Latinos to graduate from Loch Raven High School. In her
yearbook, according to the
Miami Herald, she wrote that her favorite things were "summer, beaches,
soccer, Stevie W., P.R.
[Puerto Rico], chocolate chip cookies, having a good time with fun people."
Montes' siblings have been fierce in their defense of her patriotism. One
of her brothers works for the
FBI, as does her sister, a translator who helped the FBI bring down the
Wasp Network. Prosecutors
went out of their way, in a sentencing memo filed recently, to say that
Ana Belen Montes "brings shame
to a family of hard-working, loyal American citizens."
The 25-year sentence — negotiated by Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris,
who represented not only
Ames and Hanssen but also former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky
— is about on par for
female spies. Ethel Rosenberg was the exception, executed for her role
in leaking nuclear secrets to the
The handful of U.S. women convicted of espionage generally have served
prison time. Former
Pentagon lawyer Theresa Maria Squillacote, convicted in 1998 of spying
for East Germany, was
sentenced to 21 years. Rosario Ames, wife of the CIA's infamous double
agent, was sentenced in
1994 to more than five years. And in the first spy case of the Cold War,
former Justice Department
employee Judy Coplon was sentenced to 10 years in 1949 after her love affair
and alleged espionage
with a Russian engineer.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), noting that some of Castro's political
prisoners have served "30
years for no crime except speaking out for democracy," welcomed Montes'
sentence. "I hope she
serves every one of those years," Ros-Lehtinen said.