WASHINGTON: A Cuban mole who operated at the highest levels of the Defense Intelligence Agency is likely to have helped Russia and China obtain pilfered intelligence secrets, according to a senior DIA official.
DIA senior intelligence analyst Ana Belen Montes originally came under suspicion of being a spy for Cuba’s communist government in 1994. However, DIA and FBI counterspies could not prove she was engaging in espionage and Montes continued passing secrets to Havana until she was discovered in late 1999.
It is considered one of the most damaging spy cases for the US government because Montes had access to defense secrets and was able to influence US policy.
Montes pleaded guilty to passing defense secrets to Cuba in March as part of a plea agreement. In October, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The senior DIA official disclosed new details of the spy case in an interview. The official agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity.
Asked whether the secrets Montes supplied to Cuba were passed on to Moscow or Beijing, the senior official said: “Absolutely, that’s a concern.” The damage caused by Montes’ activities as a Cuban spy for 17 years is currently being investigated by the office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, an interagency counterintelligence program.
Cuba’s government in the past had close ties to Russia’s intelligence services and Moscow until recently operated a major electronic eavesdropping post at Lourdes, Cuba.
The Havana government also is developing closer ties to China’s military and hosted several visits to Cuba by high-level Chinese generals.
“The fact that she had access to virtually everything on Cuba is significant and a major concern to us,” the official said.
Officials suspect that Cuba could have used the thousands of pages of DIA intelligence reports to barter for other goods and means of support from Russia and China.
“Our concern would be what Cuba did with the information … the fact that Cuba would have access to this information and presumably, if they thought it was worth anything to Russia, China or anybody else, would have no doubt passed it on,” the senior official said.
Montes was placed under surveillance in late 1999 and at one point was selected to work for CIA Director George J. Tenet’s National Intelligence Council. The DIA blocked Montes’ move by freezing all transfers.
Her arrest was prompted by military planning for the US campaign to topple Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia, the senior official said.
“After September 11, somebody in her position would have been involved in a task force on Afghanistan targeting issues,” said the senior official, noting that the decision to arrest Montes was based on the idea that the Pentagon could not risk having a Cuban spy helping to pick bombing targets in Afghanistan.
“To attempt to exclude her from that would have been unusual … and probably tipped her off,” the senior official said.
Montes represented a departure from other recent spies, such as KGB mole Aldrich Hazen Ames, a CIA officer who spied for Moscow, and FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen. Montes passed secrets to Cuba because she was ideologically motivated to support the communist government in Havana.
During her sentencing hearing in October, Montes said US policy toward Cuba is “cruel and unfair” and that she felt “morally obligated” to spy for the communist regime.
Montes was arrested in October 2001 and had been under surveillance for more than a year. She came under suspicion after counterspies detected “anomalies” in intelligence reports from overseas indicating US intelligence information had been leaking out.