Attacks Expedited Arrest in
Espionage Case; U.S. Feared Passing Of Response Plans
Copyright 2001 The
The Washington Post
September 28, 2001
Walter Pincus and Bill Miller, Washington Post Staff Writers
The FBI accelerated the arrest of a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst on
charges of spying for Cuba because of concerns that she would pass along
classified information about the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, government sources said.
FBI agents arrested Ana Belen Montes, the DIA's senior analyst for matters
involving Cuba, at her office last Friday, abruptly ending more than four
months of surveillance.
Prosecutors said they have evidence that Montes was working for the Cuban
intelligence service and providing classified information. The surveillance,
however, had not revealed who her contact was, sources said. The FBI wanted to
catch her in the act of meeting someone or picking up money, but it decided to
halt the surveillance and arrest her because of the terrorist crisis, the
sources said. The investigation ended because Cuban intelligence could pass
along information provided by Montes to other countries, "particularly some in
the Middle East," one government official said. Government sources said Cuba
has been known to share information with Libya, Iran and others that might be
sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, identified by the Bush administration as the
architect of the attacks.
The DIA, which produces military intelligence about foreign countries in
support of U.S. planning and operations, could not risk keeping Montes on its
staff at a time when President Bush had declared war on terrorism, another
government source said.
"These are the people who prepare military intelligence," the source said.
"It's untenable to have someone you know who is passing on information to a
hostile country when you're preparing to go to war. . . . They were forced to
close the investigation before they would have liked to."
While under surveillance, Montes continued to have access to classified
materials, particularly through Intelink, the computer site maintained for the
U.S. intelligence community. Montes had access to the highest level of
classified material on the site, allowing her to see top-secret information
and other sensitive material.
Intelink would not contain any operational plans for a possible response to
the terrorist attacks, one Pentagon official said, but it would carry such
things as requirements from regional planners and top-secret intelligence
reports. Montes "would have access to everything," the official added.
Although authorities had the ability to secretly track Montes's activities on
Intelink, cutting her off would have been a problem. Removing her
classifications and denying her access to sensitive materials and Intelink
would have given away the investigation, government sources said.
The potential for abusing Intelink -- a concern among some in the
counterintelligence community when the computer site was created in 1994 --
was driven home a month ago by the arrest of retired Air Force Master Sgt.
Brian P. Regan, who allegedly tried to sell to Libya documents he had
downloaded. Creation of the site prevailed in part because of the system's
safeguards, including its automatic recording of exactly which government
workers view what information.
The FBI had had Montes under surveillance since May, according to an FBI
affidavit, when agents obtained information from her laptop computer during a
court-approved surreptitious entry into her apartment in Northwest Washington.
They retrieved text from her laptop hard drive that appeared to tie her
directly to Cuban intelligence, the affidavit said.
Montes was observed making a series of questionable calls from pay telephones,
including several the weekend after the terrorist strikes, the FBI said. While
more time could have provided investigators with additional leads, sources
said surveillance might not have produced a face-to-face meeting between
Montes and her contact. Cuban intelligence avoids those kinds of meetings,
depending instead on coded telephone messages, computer diskettes and
Montes, 44, began work at the DIA in 1985 and was assigned to analyze Cuban
matters seven years later. The charging documents allege that the spying
activities began in 1996. She has been in custody since her arrest on a charge
of conspiring to deliver U.S. national defense information to Cuba.
Montes is being represented by the federal public defender service, and
lawyers there declined comment on the case yesterday. She is due in U.S.
District Court on Thursday.
Court documents filed yesterday show that agents seized a shortwave radio, two
computers, a diary, foreign currency, letters and other items from Montes's
residence; a Rolodex, notebooks and classified and nonclassified documents
from her office; and a list with information about foreign mission license
plates from her car.
"Shock" was the reaction of Montes's colleagues at the DIA when they heard of
her arrest, according to a Pentagon official familiar with the situation.
"She was the go-to person on Cuba when a briefing was needed," the official
Staff writer Sylvia Moreno contributed to this report.