Latell’s Latest Assessment Reveals Why Analysts Should Not Perform Counterintelligence 7

Ana Belen Montes

Ana Belen Montes

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.



  1. Let´s not kid ourselves, the intelligence business is much a traded commodity, where its principal product is information. The information, which at one time may be valuable to one side may be–in fact at the same time–or perhaps, even later, obsolete for another side of the intelligence games. Cuba is and will continue to be “open port”, not “safe harbor” for the trading of intelligence information and intelligence related favors, not only from-and-to the United States, but from anywhere–any country–in the world, as a form of operation for Cuba´s very existence as a player in the intelligence web. As a reminder, the much advertised “five spies” imprisoned in the United States have been advertised outside of Cuba´s domestic media and have been merchandised within Cuba´s domestic media sphere by the Cuba government in such a way they´ve become equivalent to “Mickey Mouse” low level operatives–commonplace in public awareness–when compared to the millions and millions of dollars in stealth political donations and stealth major business investments, which have originated from the Cuban government, facilitated and supported into this country and into other countries throughout the world for decades on-end. Perhaps the best “Cuban Generals” (as a way of saying) and advocates are right in the corridors of the political halls in Washington DC. Therein lies the greatly enhanced level of profound interest-based meaningful subordinated loyal penetration and the operational savvy, which are not equally and budgetarily available pursuant to the code of intelligence operation of this country and where information needed by Cuba is materialized at the “drop of a hat” of the Cuban patron wanting it and being provided by its loyalists out of the normal conduits of information gathering typically taught in intelligence schooling, text books, classrooms or even out of the reach of in field resources . Cuba became a smooth operator out of its very need through manipulation, extortion, torture and desinformation from the very first day of the missile crisis and it has continued its inteligence operations and it does not have to justify to a Congress or anyone else in a massive bureaucratic machine for that matter–but only the top of its two-tier food chain–what it can or cannot do, when it comes to intelligence operations. Likewise, while there may be rules of adherance to the conduct of operations within Cuban intelligence, its intelligence apparatus is not subject to the constraints U.S. intelligence has within its own structural base of operations. And things, in Cuban intelligence, can change in one-second if necessary without justification or a watchdog agency more involved in day-to-day bureaucratic work than the actual business of intelligence strategy and execution may times, perhaps, even our country having to resort to have to buy the information from peddlers of intelligence such as Cuba. Bottom line, the rules of engagement for intelligence gathering and formulation continuity are better left alone than rationalizing. To the case in point, whether Dr. Latell is an analyst and whether that may preclude him–or not–from Counterintelligence gathering that is speculative and purely and highly theoretical in a field of professional endeavor where the best rule is not the rule itself as a demeanor of discharge and practice, but the ability to gather the information, regardless. It´s ironic that in the Ana Belén Montes case, the words “Serendipity” and “We got lucky” are key words (written right in the National Archives recent reports released on this subject) to explaining away how she was caught. So, where are the rules here of an “Genralist analyst” versus “Counterintelligence discipline” of badge carrying trained services—bla,bla, bla—when it was–according to the very source–due to “Serendipity” or even maybe “We got lucky” as to how Ana Belen Montes was caught?

  2. A clarifying post in the midst of the intellectually destitute approaches to Cuban affairs both in the media and the so-called “Cuban Studies”. This one-two-three punch is enough for ruling TKO against Dr. Latell.

  3. Pingback: Why Cuba analysts should not be performing counterintelligence | Babalú Blog

  4. Waiting would have been a fatal error,this witch would have provided information to the Cuban (Gestapo),the DI and those SOB would have sold the information to the Iraqis or the Afghans,wise decision to have waited.

  5. Pingback: Espía Ana Belén Montes cumplirá tres años menos de su condena en prisión | Café Fuerte

  6. Pingback: La Espía Ana Belén Montes: ¿la gran olvidada?

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