Latin America and Caribbean

First on Scripps News: Ana Montes, 'Queen of Cuba' Spy, Now Free

Ana Montes had been in prison since 2001, after 17 years of spying for Cuba. She was released Jan. 6, 2023, Scripps News first reported.

First on Scripps News: Ana Montes, 'Queen of Cuba' Spy, Now Free

Ana Belen Montes wasn’t just the “Queen of Cuba” for the Defense Intelligence Agency, where she was a top analyst on Cuba. Montes was also a prized asset for Cuban intelligence, and did a lot of damage on its behalf.

Most significantly, she gave the Cubans information on a top secret satellite program — information so secret it wasn’t fully to be used against her in prosecution.

She also named at least four U.S. spies working in Cuba.

Other actions, the FBI highly suspects but can’t prove.

Such as that she may have been behind the death of a Green Beret in El Salvador, or that information she knew would likely have been shared with Russia and other countries.

For Montes, it was all about ideology; she didn’t accept money, except as reimbursements for expenses.

According to the FBI, she was recruited in 1984 when she had a clerical job at Department of Justice, because they got word of her criticism of U.S. policies.

One of the reasons she wasn’t caught for 17 years: she didn’t take classified documents out or send them anywhere by email. She just remembered information, and wrote it down on her laptop when she got home, which was then transferred onto encrypted disks.

How was she caught?

Former FBI agent Peter Lapp told Scripps News it took about 6 years to identify her because there were dozens of other cases going on at the same time.

As the FBI built its case, Lapp led covert operations to break into Montes' apartment and copy the contents of her laptop.

“Well, the Toshiba was underneath the bed in a backpack and it hadn't been touched in three years. Frankly, that Toshiba should have been in the bottom of the Potomac River. And let me be clear, if she had thrown that computer away, she never would have spent one night in prison. She's in jail just because of that computer. So, finding it, after we knew she owned it, and we knew the Cubans tasked her to purchase it -- we could prove that -- but finding what was on that laptop computer was absolutely critical. And, you know, being in someone's home, legally, we have the legal authority; but making sure that we got in multiple times without being caught -- by her, by a neighbor, by anyone else -- and getting intelligence that led to the prosecution, it's hard to overstate how difficult that is and how delicate it is,” Lapp said.

Montes came from a family of government service. Her sister and brother worked for the FBI.

The FBI initially waited to arrest her because they wanted to see who her handler was.

Then the September 11 attacks happened, and she was about to be assigned work related to U.S. war plans. That was when the FBI moved in.

Montes later said she would have shared U.S. plans in Afghanistan with Cuba.

As part of her plea deal for a lesser sentence, she had to share really damaging information about Cuban intelligence.