Is Ana Montes ‘the most important spy you’ve never heard of’?

Ana Belen Montes
An extensive article published today in The Washington Post Magazine revisits the largely forgotten case of Ana Belen Montes, a senior United States military intelligence analyst who was convicted in 2002 of spying for Cuba. Montes, who was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, DC, on September 20, 2001, underwent trial and sentencing in the shadow of 9/11, which might help explain the relative obscurity of her case. Still, as The Post article by Jim Popkin states, many intelligence observers view her as one of the most damaging double spies in recent American history. She entered government work as a clerk typist at the Department of Justice, and quickly received top-security clearance. It was from there that she moved to the Defense Intelligence Agency, America’s premier military intelligence organization, in September 1985. She rose meteorically through the ranks of the DIA, eventually becoming the Agency’s top Cuba analyst. Montes’ former colleagues report that she was known as “the Queen of Cuba”, a witty label that rested on her indisputable reputation as one of America’s most capable intelligence analysts on Cuba. She also came from a family with strong conservative credentials and strong connections with the US counterintelligence community. Her brother and sister were both FBI agents, and her former long-term boyfriend was a Cuban intelligence specialist for the Department of Defense. Montes herself had been honored in 1997 with a distinction presented to her by then-CIA Director George Tenet. Behind this carefully constructed façade, however, Montes was a committed and active supporter of Cuba’s leftwing government, which had recruited her as an agent in 1984. By the time she joined the DIA, Montes had already developed a close operational relationship with her Cuban handlers. During her 16-year espionage career —which she later said she entered for strictly moral reasons— she passed significant amounts of information to the Cubans, including the names of at least four American spies. Soon after her September 20, 2001, arrest, Montes was charged with conspiracy to commit espionage for the government of Cuba. She pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in October of 2002. Now 56 years old, she remains incarcerated in a Fort Worth, Texas, prison. Her tentative release date is set for July 2023.

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