I’m anxiously awaiting my copy of True Believer, the inside story of America’s first major spy scandal of the 21st Century. Written by Scott Carmichael, a senior counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Believer recounts the identification–and arrest of Ana Montes–the only senior U.S. intelligence official ever convicted of spying for Cuba. Over a 16-year career as a DIA analyst, Montes passed some of the nation’s most vital intelligence secrets to Castro’s security services, and shaped our own government’s views (and policies) toward Cuba.
Almost six years after her arrest and conviction, the Montes case remains largely unknown outside intelligence and security services. The reason? Ms. Montes was arrested by the FBI only 10 days after the 9-11 attacks, and her subsequent trial was overshadowed by the War on Terrorism. According to Mr. Carmichael, Montes’s arrest came only one day before she would gain access to plans for the invasion of Afghanistan–information that would have been quickly transmitted to her handlers in Havana, and passed on to other regimes that cooperate with the Cubans. We can only imagine how many additional casualties the U.S. would have sustained in the invasion of Afghanistan, had Havana obtained the invasion plans, and passed that information to the Taliban and Al Qaida.
According to Mr. Carmichael, Montes was something of a rarity among American traitors–she spied for ideology, not for financial gain. And, because she didn’t fit the “profile” of a typical spy, Carmichael had a hard time convincing the FBI to launch an investigation into her activities. The bureau’s probe eventually confirmed Carmichael’s suspicions, and over time, intelligence officials, FBI agents and federal prosecutors built an airtight case against Ms. Montes. She pleaded guilty to espionage charges in 2002 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Currently incarcerated at a Bureau of Prisons medical facility in Fort Worth, Texas, Montes is scheduled for release in 2023.
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–and his recent press interviews–have 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:
“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.”
As for Ms. Montes, she remains unrepentant, a true believer in Fidel’s failed cause, and (based on her actions) quite willing to sacrifice the lives of other Americans toward that goal. Montes will be 66 when she is released from prison, but I’m still of the opinion that she got off easy. We reported almost two years ago, most American spies are not serving life sentences (or, life terms that offer the possibility of parole or release). And, the majority of those traitors are not being held in maximum security prisons. Ms. Montes’ current confinement–in a federal prison hospital–doesn’t exactly qualify as “hard time.”