Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

The Spies Nobody Knows: Is Havana Harmless?

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A few weeks ago, a member of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama to urge him to delete Cuba from the list of countries supporting international terrorism. In her appeal, Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) included text from a discredited report prepared by Ana Belén Montes, a confessed spy for Havana who was arrested in September 2001 and who is now serving a 25-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

Several days ago, the Justice Department announced the indictment of another former American official charged with spying for Cuba, Marta Velázquez. Velázquez allegedly took Montes to Havana for spy training, but when Montes was reported to be cooperating with the authorities after confessing, Velázquez resigned from her job at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and fled the country. In 2004, a grand jury in Washington DC issued an indictment against Velázquez (also known by her aliases “Marta Rita Kviele” and “Barbara”), but it remained under court seal until a few days ago.

That few American policy makers are aware of the great harm done to the United States by Montes, Velázquez and other spies working for the Castro brothers can be explained by the fact that when both stories broke, more significant stories were being covered by the American press: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and last month’s terrorist attack in Boston.

Be that as it may, congresspeople are not supposed to send disinformation from the Cuban government to the U.S. president.

Some ignore the stories of Ms. Montes and Ms. Velázquez because they raise questions about an innocent, non-threatening narrative about Cuba. In order for that narrative to be credible, the Velázquez and Montes stories—as well as Cuba’s current role in the Venezuelan electoral crisis and Havana’s strong ties to Iran, Syria and North Korea—need to be discussed as little as possible.Montes was a senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency—in charge of briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president about Cuba—when she was arrested. U.S. officials say she disclosed the covert identities of several American intelligence officials and is responsible for their deaths, as well as for passing classified national defense information and other information to Cuba’s intelligence services that Cuba then shared with other anti-American governments.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, U.S. military and intelligence agencies spent years assessing the damage done by Montes, telling Congress last year that she was “one of the most damaging spies in recent memory.”

Velázquez had been a classmate of Montes’ at Johns Hopkins University and is accused of helping an intelligence agent with Cuba’s United Nations mission recruit Montes. She accompanied Montes on a clandestine training trip to Cuba and helped her gain employment with the DIA.  Besides working at USAID, Velázquez worked at U.S. embassies in Central America and held a top-secret security clearance.

The Justice Department says that Velázquez conspired with others to transmit to the Cuban government and its agents documents and information relating to U.S. national defense with the intent to injure the United States. She received instructions from her Havana handlers and transmitted classified national-defense documents to them through encrypted, high frequency broadcasts. Velázquez is now in Sweden and if convicted, she faces a life sentence.

At the time of Montes’ arrest in 2001, authorities said that they decided to arrest her quickly before she could pass on details of the 9-11 investigation to the Castro government. Then as now, Cuba was on the State Department’s list of nations supporting international terrorism. 

In her April 23 letter to President Obama, Representative Castor urged President Obama to remove Cuba from the list of countries supporting international terrorism. Castor asserted that the Council on Foreign Relations said that intelligence experts have been hard-pressed to find evidence that Cuba currently provides weapons or military training to terrorist groups. In 1998, a comprehensive review by the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Cuba does not pose a threat to U.S. national security, which implies that Cuba no longer sponsors terrorism.

Regrettably, that conclusion—which is now being ascribed to the Council on Foreign Relations and intelligence experts—was taken from a report written by Montes, a convicted spy for Cuba.

Even while sitting in prison, Montes is still the most damaging spy in recent memory. But, in a nation of short memories, maybe Velázquez can best the woman she recruited for the Castros.

Tags: Cuba, U.S.-Cuba relations
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