WASHINGTON - Ana B. Montes, an intelligence analyst who was
Pentagon's top expert on Cuba, pleaded guilty to an espionage charge today,
admitting that she spied for the Cuban government for 16 years because she
opposed United States policy toward Havana.
Ms. Montes, 45, acknowledged in Federal District Court here that she
revealed the identities of four American undercover intelligence officers
and provided the Cuban authorities with reams of other secret and top-secret
military and intelligence information.
She was not paid for her efforts, lawyers in the case said, and was just
reimbursed for some travel expenses.
"Ms. Montes engaged in the activity that resulted in this charge because
of her moral belief that United States policy does not afford Cubans
respect, tolerance and understanding," her lead lawyer, Plato Cacheris,
in a statement. "Ms. Montes was motivated by her desire to help the Cuban
people and did not receive any financial benefits."
Under her plea bargain, Ms. Montes will be sentenced to 25 years'
imprisonment and 5 years' probation on a single count of conspiracy to
commit espionage. She is obliged to submit to extensive debriefings and
lie-detector tests by American intelligence and law-enforcement officials
who will try to assess the damage she caused to national security.
The death penalty, although contemplated under the law, was never
seriously threatened by the prosecutors, lawyers said.
Ms. Montes's plea confirms the most serious penetration of the United
States intelligence community ever by President Fidel Castro's Communist
government. It was met by silence from Cuban diplomats here.
"There is no comment," a spokesman for the Cuban diplomatic mission,
M. Fernández, said.
The plea was announced a day after an appeal by Havana for greater
cooperation with Washington. In a flurry of official statements on Monday,
the Cuban authorities said they hoped to reach new accords with Washington
on migration, drug control and fighting terrorism.
A spokesman for the State Department, Richard A. Boucher, acknowledged
today that Cuba had taken steps to cooperate with the United States on
law-enforcement matters in recent years. But Mr. Boucher said that any more
formal accords would not be possible until Cuba demonstrated "a willingness
to work across the board with us on law- enforcement issues."
Such a commitment, he said, was "completely absent."
Ms. Montes's case was resolved two months after the last of 10 Cuban
intelligence officers and agents were sentenced on espionage charges in
federal court in Miami.
Law-enforcement officials declined to say whether the case of the Miami
spies, known as the Wasp network, was linked to Ms. Montes's. The officials
said no harm befell the American intelligence officers whose identities
Montes had betrayed.
The assistant F.B.I. director in charge of the Washington field office,
Van A. Harp, described the episode as "a classic espionage case" unraveled
by careful counterintelligence work. Starting in December 2000, officials
said, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents investigating Ms. Montes placed
her under surveillance as she shuttled in a Toyota sedan between her house
near the Washington zoo and her office at the Defense Intelligence Agency
analysis center at Bolling Air Force Base.
Officials said the agents surreptitiously copied the hard drive of a
refurbished laptop computer that Ms. Montes used to encrypt and decrypt
messages that she exchanged with Cuban intelligence officers and recovered
messages that documented those contacts.
In other searches of her apartment, the agents found a portable shortwave
radio that Ms. Montes used to listen to coded messages from the Cubans and
numeric codes that could be used to send messages like "danger" to a pager
number used by intelligence officers assigned to the Cuban mission to the
United Nations. The codes were written on water-soluble paper that could
quickly destroyed if necessary.
Still, Ms. Montes's story is in many ways a new chapter in the annals
American espionage. Born on a United States military base in Germany to
Puerto Rican parents, Ms. Montes was raised in suburbs of Topeka, Kan.,
Baltimore before attending the University of Virginia. She received a
master's in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School for
Advanced International Studies in Washington in 1988 and worked briefly
the Justice Department before joining the D.I.A., the Pentagon's
intelligence arm, in September 1985.
By then, court documents show, she was already working for the Cuban
Directorate of Intelligence, but officials would not say how or when she
Friends and former colleagues of Ms. Montes said she was extremely
discreet about her political beliefs, which many people had guessed were
moderately conservative. At the Defense Intelligence Agency, she worked
first on Nicaraguan issues in the Reagan administration campaign to oust
Sandinista government and moved to Cuban affairs after the conflicts in
Central America ended.
She was widely viewed by intelligence officers and policy makers as a
first-rate analyst. She was selected for the Exceptional Analyst Program
1992 and later traveled to Cuba to study how the military adapted to the
economic collapse after Soviet-era subsidies had ended.
In 1998, officials said, Ms. Montes wrote the first draft of a widely
noted Defense Department report that held that Cuba no longer posed a
significant military threat to the United States. But the final report,
which provoked outrage from Cuban- American legislators, was a consensus
product of Cuba analysts from across the American intelligence
In her striped prison jumpsuit, Ms. Montes looked pale and thin from
months of solitary confinement. Asked by Judge Ricardo M. Urbina about the
accusations against her, she replied firmly, "Those statements are true
Under her plea, she forfeits government contributions to her pension,
with time discounted for good behavior, she could be released after a little
more than 20 years. She is to be sentenced on Sept. 24.