Monday, June 26, 2006

Spies Among Us

27 Jul/0430 PDT

Dr. J. Michael Waller at The Fourth World War offers this example of Montaperto in action, as an agent of influence for Beijing. We can only imagine how Montaperto slanted analysis on the PRC during his days at DIA.

A Hat tip to the reader posting as Fresh Air, for directing me to Dr. Waller's site.


This story broke on Friday, but it received comparatively little attention except in the blogosphere, and in Bill Gertz's story in the Washington Times. A former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, Ronald Montaperto, has pleaded guilty to the illegal retention of classified documents, and admitted (in a plea agreement) to passing "top secret" information to Chinese intelligence officials.

There a number of things that bother me about this case. First, Montaperto was more than just a "line" analyst at DIA. Over a 20-plus-year-career in government, he advanced through the ranks, enventually becoming Dean of a U.S. Pacific Command think tank in Hawaii. In that position, Montaperto was at least a GG-15 (civilian equivalent of a full Colonel), or more likely, a member of the Senior Executive Service, equivalent to a military flag officer. In other words, a man with extensive, high-level contacts within the military and intelligence communities, a man that, potentially, could have passed large amounts of sensitive information to his Chinese contacts.

Additionally, there's the disturbing possiblity that Montaperto provided information to the PRC for an extended period of time. As Bill Gertz noted Friday:

"Montaperto admitted to verbally providing [Chinese military] attaches a considerable amount of information that was useful to them, including classified information," according to a statement of facts submitted in the case.

Montaperto told investigators he could not recall specific information he gave Chinese attaches Col. Yang Qiming, Col. Yu Zhenghe and other Chinese officers during his 22-year career in government. But the statement said it included both "secret" and "top secret" data. It also said he had close unauthorized relationships with the two officers.


A Pentagon official said Montaperto's value to China included both the secrets he shared and his role facilitating Chinese deception of U.S. intelligence by providing feedback on how those efforts were working.

A senior U.S. intelligence official bluntly stated, "He was a spy for China."

During questioning by investigators in Hawaii in 2003, where he was dean of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Montaperto said he verbally gave Col. Yang and Col. Yu both "secret" and "top secret" information, the statement said.

Readers will note that Montaperto pleaded guilty to only a single count of illegally holding classified documents, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. I haven't been able to access court documents in this case, but it sounds like Montaperto is getting off easy, in view of his admitted activities. One wonders why espionage charges weren't brought against the former intelligence official. I'm not a lawyer, and can only surmise that federal prosecutors lacked corroborating evidence, although Montaperto's "confession" seems quite damning. It's also a bit disturbing that a long investigation (that began in 2003) resulted in a plea on that single charge. Montaperto must have been adept at covering his tracks--or in destroying evidence that could have led to indictments for espionage.

Finally, you'll note that suspicions about Montaperto were first raised back in 1991, when he sought a position with the CIA. Again, this is supposition on my part, but I'm guessing that Montaperto may have failed a screening polygraph, and the agency alerted DIA. Apparently, the early inquiry into Montaperto's activities came to a speedy conclusion, and he kept advancing in the intel bureaucracy, culminating in leadership of that PACOM think tank.

The Montaperto case has some striking parallels to that of Ana Montes, another DIA analyst who was arrested and convicted of spying for Cuba. Ms. Montes served as a Cuban spy for an extended period of time, and (like Montaperto) she also rose steadily in the intel ranks. At the time of her arrest, Montes was DIA's senior analyst for Cuba, giving her access to our most sensitive information on Castro's regime, which she (in turn) passed to Fidel. Montes also reportedly betrayed information about U.S. efforts to detect adversary denial and deception, the same type of information that Montaperto passed to Beijing.

Montaperto also bears a resemblance to CIA turncoat Rick Ames. Some within that agency had doubts about Ames for years, but he retained his secruity clearance (and posting in sensitive positions), despite such warning signs as sudden wealth, and the discovery of classified information on his personal laptop. As a result, Ames continued his betrayal until the mid-1990s, resulting in the loss of key HUMINT sources in Russia, and the deaths of more than 20 operatives working for the U.S. According to court documents (and Bill Getz's reporting) it appears that Montaperto's spy career was prolonged by at least another decade, through bureaucratic indifference and incompetence.

A final thought: one reason for the plea deal (and potentially light sentence) may be the "contact" program that Montaperto participated in. At one point, DIA appparently encouraged some sort of contacts between selected employees and Chinese embassy officials. There may have been concern about potential disclosures within that program, if the Montaperto case was tried in an open court. A lot of information made its way to the PRC in the 1980s and 1990s, and there are probably a lot of government officials--current and former--who may be nervous or embarassed about what we gave the Chinese, under the aegis of an "official" program.

As for Mr. Montaperto, prosecutors should demand maximum punishment.


redline said...

I have no insights into why the light charge either, but it seems that national security prosecutions involving this particular foreign power have an odd tendency to go sideways. One theory is political, but personally I've always wondered whether Chinese espionage tradecraft might in some way be more prosecution-resistant under our current laws?

Fresh Air said...


Check out this post from a blogger who saw Monteperto's perfidy firsthand.