By Chris Simmons
Writing first in the Cuba Transition Project and then the Miami Herald, Dr Brian Latell recently energized readers with his feature, New revelations about Cuban spy Ana Montes.
I, however, was greatly disappointed with the article. To start, he sensationalized several trivial issues and recycled old news stories (yes, she was a “true believer” volunteer and yes, she was brought to the Cubans by talent-spotting agent Marta Rita Velazquez). None of this information is new.
However, he then misinterprets several key facts due to a lack of understanding regarding the field of counterintelligence, in layman’s terms – spy-catching.
For example, Latell claims that Montes met with her handlers “initially in New York, and later at her request in the Washington area…” Any Counterintelligence officer knows Havana would never consider running a penetration of the US government from 225 miles away. Having an agent or officer travel that distance once or twice a month for an extended period would be a huge risk to the security of the operation. Montes may have “asked” the Cubans for a DC-based spy handler, but the reality is she was going to be transferred to a local operative regardless of her wants and wishes.
More dangerous (and out of context) is his claim that during her interrogations, she was told that investigators “had information from a senior official in the Cuban intelligence service concerning a Cuban penetration agent that implicated Montes.” While that may be – in part – what the Pentagon document said, rare are the instances wherein an interrogator would truthfully tell a suspect they were betrayed by a colleague. That said, it is a common ploy to lie to a suspect and tell him/her their own people gave them up. This is what occurred with Montes.
Another major error is his wildly speculative and erroneous statement: “Did she work with other American spies? The report is ambiguous; it states that after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 pressure intensified to arrest Montes. The FBI preferred to wait, however, in order “to monitor Montes’s activities with the prospect that she may have eventually led the FBI to others in the Cuban spy network.”
The FBI wasn’t the only organization that preferred to wait – those of us in the Defense Intelligence Agency wanted to continue building the case as well. The “others in the Cuban spy network” weren’t part of some mysterious massive spy ring, but rather the compañeros she’d served during her espionage career.
Dr Latell is an exceptional analyst in his field. That said, Counterintelligence is a discipline unto itself, rendering any analytic generalist a poor job fit for analyzing spy services. Counterintelligence analysis is – and will always be — best performed by badge-carrying Special Agents skilled in investigations, operations, and collections.