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Pentagon's Top Cuba Expert Pleads Guilty to Espionage


March 21, 2002
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Pentagon's Top Cuba Expert Pleads Guilty to Espionage

by Tim Golden, The New York Times

WASHINGTON - Ana B. Montes, an intelligence analyst who was the 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 had 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, said 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, Luis 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 Ms. 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 the 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 be quickly destroyed if necessary.

Still, Ms. Montes's story is in many ways a new chapter in the annals of American espionage. Born on a United States military base in Germany to Puerto Rican parents, Ms. Montes was raised in suburbs of Topeka, Kan., and 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 for 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 was recruited.

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 the 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 in 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 community.

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 and correct."

Under her plea, she forfeits government contributions to her pension, but 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.





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