Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Spy Who Stayed in the Clink

As part of the Obama Administration's "deal" with Cuba, the Castro brothers not only get normalized diplomatic relations, an American embassy in Havana, and billions in trade to prop up their fading dictatorship, they also get three of their spies back.

Under terms announced yesterday, the U.S. will release three Cuban intelligence operatives who were convicted of espionage in 2001.  In exchange, Havana released American contractor Alan Gross and an individual identified as an "one of the most important intelligence agents the United States ever had in Cuba."  The man, whose name has not been released, languished in Castro's gulag for more than 20 years after being caught.

The three Cuban were found guilty of spying against anti-Castro groups in South Florida.  They were part of the so-called "Cuban Five," held in U.S. jails on various charges.  The five are considered heroes by the Castro regime and their images dot propaganda billboards around Havana.  Two of the men were previously released.

But perhaps the real story is the individual who wasn't released in the prisoner swap.  We refer to Ana Montes, the one-time Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and intel wunderkind who was found guilty of passing classified information to the Castro regime and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.

Ms. Montes was convicted in 2001.  She is currently a prisoner at the Bureau of Prisons facility at Carswell Reserve Base near Dallas, a facility housing female inmates with medical or psychological needs.  With no parole in the federal system, Ms. Montes won't be eligible for release until 2023, when she will be 66 years old.

In one respect, Montes was a rarity among American turncoats: her motive for betraying this country was ideology, not financial gain.  He treachery was exposed (largely) through the efforts of Scott Carmichael, a counter-intelligence officer at DIA.  He fought long and hard to investigate Montes, who rose swiftly through the ranks after joining the agency as a junior analyst.  From our 2007 post on the Montes case, which coincided with the publication of Carmichael's book, True Believer

Montes joined DIA in 1985 and quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the agency's top analyst on Cuba. In hindsight, Mr. Carmichael and other counter-intelligence officials believe that Montes may been a Cuban agent when she joined DIA, and her treachery began almost immediately. Two years after joining the spy agency, Montes was briefed on the location of a secret U.S. special forces training camp in El Salvador. Montes passed the information to Havana, and less that two weeks later, Cuban-backed rebels attacked the camp, killing Sergeant Gregory Fronius, a Green Beret. Proceeds from Carmichael's book will be given to the Fronius family.

Mr. Carmichael's book...also revealed a rift in counter-intelligence circles, regarding Cuba's alleged penetration of our government and intelligence services. Officially, Montes has always been regarded as an anomaly--the exception, rather than the rule. But Carmichael believes that other Cuban agents remain inside our government, passing on critical information to Castro's regime. And he believes the level of penetration is stunning, as are the long-term consequences of such activity. As he told Bill Gertz of the Washington Times

"I believe that the Cuban Intelligence Service has penetrated the United States government to the same extent that the old East German intelligence service, the Stasi, once penetrated the West German government during the Cold War," he said.

Havana's intelligence service shares its stolen secrets with U.S. adversaries, including China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela, Mr. Carmichael said.

"If Cuban agents among us today are indirectly passing our innermost secrets, via their Cuban handlers, to countries who actively work to undermine American interests throughout the world, then we will suffer for it, in many ways," he said. "War fighters like Greg Fronius will die as a result. This is not a game." 

Someone might want to remind President Obama of that inconvenient fact--assuming he'd actually listen.  By normalizing relations, he has (quite literally) injected new life into a dying regime.   The flow of dollars from the U.S. to Cuba will give Havana new revenue to promote more mischief in the Caribbean and elsewhere around the globe.  

It was the diplomatic, economic and political equivalent of throwing a life ring to a drowning man.  With the end of the Cold War, Russia had to pull the plug on sugar subsidies, which kept Castro's government afloat.  More recently Havana has depended heavily on aid from Venezuela to keep going.  But with oil prices cratering, the regime in Caracas was finding it increasingly difficult to fund its own programs and prop up the Castro brothers.  So, Fidel and Raul simply found a new patron, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  

Which brings us back to Ms. Montes.  Her betrayal not only cost Sergeant Fronius his life, it resulted in the death or detainment of other U.S. intelligence assets.  And, when she became DIA's top analyst on Cuba, she was in a position to shape American policy toward Castro's government.  There is some evidence to suggest that Bill Clinton's "softening" of our official stance against Cuba in the 1990s may have been influenced by assessments written by Ana Montes.  

On the tenth anniversary of her arrest, the Washington Post Magazine published a lengthy, fascinating piece on the Montes case.  Written by Jim Popkin, the story largely affirms the narrative of True Believer; Ms. Montes viewed American policies as "unfair" to the Cuban people and she willingly signed on as an agent for Castro's intelligence service.  

The article also captures many of the ironies associated with the case.  Montes's brother, Tito, was a special agent for the FBI until his retirement and his wife was an agent as well.  Her sister Lucy also worked for the bureau as an intelligence analyst.  Lucy Montes participated in a number of cases that thwarted Cuban efforts to penetrate the U.S. government--efforts that were aided by her sister, the spy.

More than a decade into her incarceration, Ana Montes remains unrepentant.  Here's an excerpt from one of her letters to a family member, who shared it with Mr. Popkin:

“Prison is one of the last places I would have ever chosen to be in, but some things in life are worth going to prison for,” [Montes writes in a 14-page handwritten letter] “Or worth doing and then killing yourself before you have to spend too much time in prison.”

But there may be one last piece to the espionage puzzle.  Federal officials tell the Associated Press that the unnamed U.S. spy who was released yesterday provided vital information which helped lead authorities to Montes and former State Department official Walter Kendall Meyers, another Cuban mole who is now serving a life term.  He is also credited with helping to break up the so-called "Wasp Network," the Florida-based spy network that included the Cuban Five.  One of those men, Gerardo Hernandez, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of four American pilots, whose light planes were shot down by a Cuban MiG-21 over the Florida Straits in 1996.  

Still, this latest revelation leaves some unanswered questions.  The just-released American operative had reportedly been behind bars since the early 1990s.  But the FBI didn't roll up the Wasp Network until 1998 and Ana Montes remained free for another three years.  Why did it take so long to follow-up on his information?  How much damage could have been averted by acting earlier?  

Indeed, the timing of Montes's arrest was dictated--in large measure--by her access to war plans for the invasion of Afghanistan.  It's common knowledge that Castro's intelligence service shares information with other rogue regimes.  We can only wonder how many secrets made their way to Moscow, Tehran, Beijing and other locations while Ana Montes and the Cuban Five plied their trade.  

The last three members of the Wasp Network will be greeted as conquering heroes in Cuba;   meanwhile, Ms. Montes enjoys a more ignaminious fate, sharing a two bunk cell at Carswell with another felon, forgotten by her former handlers.  

Sometimes, justice is served.



Ed Bonderenka said...

Can't wait for the reality show.
My sister the Spy.

hga said...

In one respect, Montes was a rarity among American turncoats: her motive for betraying this country was ideology, not financial gain.

That's sort of a recent development, at least for the most notorious cases. Ideology is the I in the MICE acronym (and that article counts your nom de plume among them), and from say the 1920s to the mid-1940s or so it was a major motivation for Soviet agents. E.g. the even more unrepentant Alger Hiss.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn this continued as much of the Left transferred their allegiance to the PRC as the Soviets became uncool, and of course no Communist regime has ever been more cool the Cuba's, which I sometimes doubt will ever change.

veng said...

I hope some disinformation was passed before she was arrested.

Witch Doctor said...

SFC Greg "Rojo" Fronius of B/3/7 SFG(A) in Panama was killed in action in El Salvador fighting FMLN guerrillas during an attack on the camp at El Paraiso. He was a good man. RIP.