City of Secrets: A Real Spy Is Never Who You Think They Are 1

DIA analyst Ana Belen Montes, 44, was arrested on Sept. 21, 2001 and charged with conspiracy to deliver U.S. national defense information to Cuba. (Courtesy FBI)

By J.J. Green | @JJGreenWTOP June 19, 2019 4:50 am

In WTOP’s three-part series “City of Secrets,” WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green talks to some of the best in the espionage game to find how spies have infiltrated Washington, D.C. and what can be done to catch them.

Nothing stood out about her.

She lived in a modest two-bedroom cooperative apartment on a quiet tree-lined street in D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. She drove a red 2000 Toyota Echo. She banked at Riggs Bank in the District’s Friendship Heights section. She was bright, engaging, trusted and well-adjusted at work.

But she was also something else.

Ana Belen Montes, 44, was a spy — engaged in one of the most devastating espionage operations in the history of the United States.

She was arrested on Sept. 21, 2001, and charged with conspiracy to deliver U.S. national defense information to Cuba.

Her arrest dealt a blow to the U.S. government, because she was a senior-level analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Her cover worked perfectly until, according to FBI documents, “an astute DIA colleague — acting on a gut feeling — reported to a security official that he felt Montes might be under the influence of Cuban intelligence.”

Scott Carmichael, now a former senior security and counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency, was that “astute colleague.”

Another colleague who had suspicions was Chris Simmons, former chief of the Americas team with DIA’s counterintelligence research unit.

“There were gatherings in D.C. at various academic forums where Cuban intelligence officers would show up to do presentations, and she and other DIA employees went there. But they were warned by security to stop attending because ‘you’re at risk,’” Simmons said.

All the others stopped attending, he said, “but she refused.”

It wasn’t until she received an ultimatum, according to Simmons — “stop attending or get fired” — that she ceased going to the events.

Montes was so skilled at spying that during her years at DIA, even though security officials learned about her foreign policy views and were concerned about her access to sensitive information, they had no concrete reason to believe she was sharing secrets. Besides, she had passed a polygraph.

Feature continues here: Real Spies




Cuban Success in Defeating the Polygraph 1

Author and intelligence scholar Ernest Volkman claimed that the CIA’s sole means to check the bona fides of its Cuban assets during the Cold War was the polygraph.  Regardless of whether it was the Agency’s only means, the CIA clearly relied too heavily on polygraph examinations.  To exploit this vulnerability, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the KGB, provided Havana with instructions on counter-polygraph techniques.  The resulting solution was quite simple.  Both services knew that pathological liars can pass polygraph exams because they believe so strongly in their lies that the machine cannot detect any physiological response indicative of deception.  As such, both nations trained their agents to mimic the success of a pathological liar by accepting their lies as the truth.

As a result, dozens of Cuban double agents passed their CIA polygraph exams. Those who failed tended to be protected by their Case Officer (i.e., spy handler), who made excuses for their agent’s difficulties.  Cuba also exploited another CIA vulnerability – bean-counting.  Havana knew the CIA measured its personnel by their productivity rather than by their actual success.  Castro’s spy services were also benefited from the CIA’s arrogance in handling agents from Third World nations, as well as its cavalier disregard for the Cuban Intelligence services.

Cuba’s counter-poly techniques were also taught to its other spies, including Ana Belen Montes, a high ranking penetration of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Montes passed one polygraph exam during her DIA service.  A second examination, randomly scheduled while she was under investigation, was discreetly canceled by DIA Counterintelligence.  Investigators were rightfully concerned she would again pass the exam, crippling the case being built against her.