The forgotten spy: Ana Belen Montes

In the 12 months since President Obama publically announced his normalization effort with the communist Castro regime, the White House should have learned two painful lessons. First, the Castro brothers have not and will not change their oppressive ways. Second, the regime’s role as “intelligence trafficker to the world” ensures it will continue seeking opportunities to undermine U.S. national security.

The Cuban military and intelligence service will use this rapprochement as a pretext to expand Cuba’s espionage efforts within our borders.

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One year ago, as a concession to the Castro regime, Obama made the grave mistake of releasing the last three of five incarcerated Cuban spies known as the “Cuban Five.” These five Cuban intelligence agents were arrested by federal authorities in 1998 and subsequently convicted on several counts, including failing to register as a foreign agents, using false identities, and conspiracy to commit espionage. The network’s leader, Gerardo Hernandez, was also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for his involvement in the shoot down of two U.S. search and rescue aircraft operated by Brothers to the Rescue, which led to the murder of three U.S. citizens and one U.S. legal permanent resident.

Cuban Military Intelligence officer Hernandez, head of the espionage ring known as the Wasp Network, was convicted in 2001. Soon thereafter, the Cubans aggressively aided the San Francisco-based National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. Now, the Cuban regime and their sympathizers are taking similar actions on behalf of Ana Belen Montes. Press reports suggest Washington and Havana are thinking about another spy trade, but this time for Montes, the highest-ranking American ever convicted of spying for Fidel Castro in our history.

A senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Montes was arrested on September 21, 2001, just ten days after September 11. She later pled guilty to spying and was sentenced to a 25-year prison term. The timing of her arrest was based on the fact that the U.S. government did not want a spy in the Pentagon to endanger American combatants headed to Afghanistan.

Montes had learned of military plans for our operations in Afghanistan and we did not want her to pass along that information to our adversaries. For several years during the latter half of the 1980s, she routinely provided Cuba with information on El Salvador’s Armed Forces and its embedded U.S. advisors. In a notorious March 1987 incident, a major Salvadoran base was attacked mere weeks after Montes visited it. Sixty-eight Salvadoran soldiers and their Green Beret adviser were killed during the battle. Simply put, Montes probably has the blood of one American on her hands and the U.S. didn’t want to risk the lives of untold Americans, including American service men and women.

Releasing Montes would undermine our national security with no tangible benefit. The release of Montes would both prove to extremists that we are willing to negotiate for their release and embolden rogue regimes, like the Castro brothers, to send more spies to America. The administration’s compromises have led to an influx of money into the Castro regime coffers. This, in turn, allows Havana to field a larger and even more sophisticated spy network to undermine our national security.  

For those who are new to following Cuba, the idea that Cuba is a national security threat may be surprising. U.S. intelligence agencies rate the Cuban espionage apparatus as active and sophisticated and a central figure when it comes to global security. Havana’s only foreign target is the United States and it relentlessly sustains its penetration of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Cuban spies are harmful to the U.S. because its decrepit regime sells or barters stolen U.S. secrets to our worst enemies – putting our interests and men and women in uniform worldwide in danger.

Pardoning Montes would be a grave mistake. At a time when we are already fighting a multitude of threats like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Iran, and Russia, the U.S. must not provide the Cubans an even greater ability to collect information and disseminate it to our enemies. We must not allow the Castro brothers the ability to improve their collection and marketing of America’s military, economic, and political secrets. The U.S. must remain vigilant against any and all threats to our homeland and not repeat past mistakes. We must not acquiesce to the demands of the Castro regime.

Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District and has served in the House since 1989. She is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and also sits on the Intelligence Committee.