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

Ana Belen MontesBy IAN ALLEN | |
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.

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

  1. This case was a particularly important and interesting one to those who follow Number Stations.

    Ana Belen Montes received her instructions via the Cuban Number Station V02 on a frequency of 7887kHz. Instead of a generic one time pad her coded messages were reduced to plain language by a bespoke computer program on a Toshiba Laptop.

    The Spanish transmission would have started ‘Atencion’ followed by a header of three five figure groups that designated one of three 150 group messages. The recipient of this message would be immediately aware as to whether the message was viable or not; the inclusion of the figure ‘9’ within the first or second groups, and repeated at the end of a viable message, as an indicator.

    For years some monitors approached their respective Governments for an explanation of the Number Stations purpose. In Britain, there was either silence or an answer that went from the sublime to the ridiculous; Fishing Fleet messages [possible] or, at the high end of stupidity, Messages to Flying Saucers!

    That Ana Belen Montes was arrested as a result of the event of 9/11 mattered not; the FBI affidavit stated frequency, time and part of the decode gleaned from an improperly cleaned hard disk drive. There it was, in glorious monochrome, the confirmation that the Cuban synthesised voice transmission was a spy message.

    As if that wasn’t enough the next case out the bag was Walter Ken Myers, another Cuban agent. His messages were passed by Morse, or M08a as it is designated.

    Nowadays, after a period of data transmission, SK01, has been combined with a voice message header, usually consisting of six five figure groups after which each is announced singly followed by a data message. Such a message, designated HM01 – or Hybrid Mode 01, can be still be broken down to its component parts:

    This example from the developer of the program used to reduce the RDFT [Redundant Digital File Transfer] mode

    10715kHz2200z 10/94
    11530kHz2300z 10/04

    44385 > 43047461.TXT 995 bytes
    25543 > 83005001.TXT 975 bytes
    20243 > 63522008.TXT 980 bytes
    87724 > 84705772.TXT 972 bytes
    40832 > 28732364.TXT 976 bytes
    25713 > 28732364.TXT 976 bytes

    Sadly, the emergence of this new hybrid seems to have accounted for the voice offering, V02a, whilst the Morse sendings of M08a are now much reduced; but the content of the FBI affidavit cannot be denied.

    So, in answer to the original question, “Is Ana Montes ‘the most important spy you’ve never heard of’?” the answer has to be, ‘She is one of the most important…….’

  2. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Thankyou Paul – your wealth of knowledge on these subjects never ceases to amaze me.

    I wonder if her transmissions were directed too the Russian built spybase at Lourdes in
    Cuba or was that disestablished at that particular time ?? (I understand it is now open for
    tourists to visit !!)

    I personally can’t for the life of me figure out how such a professional Agent could use a
    bespoke system although I guess she got complacent and overconfident as time went on.

  3. For those who are interested in how Ana Belen Montes communicated with the Cuban DGI, I wrote a paper on the failures of Cuban agent communications, describing the failures that also brought down Montes. All based on FBI and court documents.

    Click to access cuban_agent_communications.pdf

  4. Thanks Peter,

    The transmissions were probably from Bauta, not Lourdes – keep a distance between receiving and transmitting antennae – you know it makes sense!

  5. Pete says:

    I do remember the Montes case from 2006 publicity – see her case in

    Interesting comparative issues of a “spies” damage towards the country they live in – and the way different countries/cultures handle these spies when caught.

    Montes caused considerable damage but the US authorities handled her in a reasonable way.

    I’m comparing it with the total secrecy of Israel’s Ben Zygier case – I’d say he would have caused less damage than Montes – but Zygier was driven to suicide.

    From all this its amazing that the Israelis and some American groups have wanted Pollard – who may well have caused more damage than Zygier and Montes – set free from the moment he was jailed.

    That’s politics and codified politics (law) I suppose.

  6. AlbertE. says:

    [edited for unnecessary use of ALL CAPS] [IA]

  7. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Thanks for the reference Dirk . I read your research article – very enlightening.

    I hope we will see more of your comments in future.

    At the level you and Paul Beaumont operate at – perhaps I should lock you both up in a room and subcontract you out as a package deal to GCSB or the NSA !!

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