Attacks Expedited Arrest in Espionage Case
U.S. Feared Passing Of Response Plans
By Walter Pincus and Bill Miller
Washington Post Staff Writers
The FBI accelerated the arrest of a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst
on charges of spying for Cuba because of concerns that she would pass along
information about the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, government sources said.
FBI agents arrested Ana Belen Montes, the DIA's senior analyst for matters
involving Cuba, at her office last Friday, abruptly ending more than four
Prosecutors said they have evidence that Montes was working for the
Cuban intelligence service and providing classified information. The surveillance,
not revealed who her contact was, sources said. The FBI wanted to catch her in the act of meeting someone or picking up money, but it decided to halt the
surveillance and arrest her because of the terrorist crisis, the sources said.
The investigation ended because Cuban intelligence could pass along
information provided by Montes to other countries, "particularly some in
the Middle East," one
government official said. Government sources said Cuba has been known to share information with Libya, Iran and others that might be sympathetic to Osama bin
Laden, identified by the Bush administration as the architect of the attacks.
The DIA, which produces military intelligence about foreign countries
in support of U.S. planning and operations, could not risk keeping Montes
on its staff at a time
when President Bush had declared war on terrorism, another government source said.
"These are the people who prepare military intelligence," the source
said. "It's untenable to have someone you know who is passing on information
to a hostile
country when you're preparing to go to war. . . . They were forced to close the investigation before they would have liked to."
While under surveillance, Montes continued to have access to classified
materials, particularly through Intelink, the computer site maintained
for the U.S. intelligence
community. Montes had access to the highest level of classified material on the site, allowing her to see top-secret information and other sensitive material.
Intelink would not contain any operational plans for a possible response
to the terrorist attacks, one Pentagon official said, but it would carry
such things as
requirements from regional planners and top-secret intelligence reports. Montes "would have access to everything," the official added.
Although authorities had the ability to secretly track Montes's activities
on Intelink, cutting her off would have been a problem. Removing her classifications
denying her access to sensitive materials and Intelink would have given away the investigation, government sources said.
The potential for abusing Intelink -- a concern among some in the counterintelligence
community when the computer site was created in 1994 -- was driven home
month ago by the arrest of retired Air Force Master Sgt. Brian P. Regan, who allegedly tried to sell to Libya documents he had downloaded. Creation of the site
prevailed in part because of the system's safeguards, including its automatic recording of exactly which government workers view what information.
The FBI had had Montes under surveillance since May, according to an
FBI affidavit, when agents obtained information from her laptop computer
court-approved surreptitious entry into her apartment in Northwest Washington. They retrieved text from her laptop hard drive that appeared to tie her directly to
Cuban intelligence, the affidavit said.
Montes was observed making a series of questionable calls from pay telephones,
including several the weekend after the terrorist strikes, the FBI said.
time could have provided investigators with additional leads, sources said surveillance might not have produced a face-to-face meeting between Montes and her
contact. Cuban intelligence avoids those kinds of meetings, depending instead on coded telephone messages, computer diskettes and shortwave radio.
Montes, 44, began work at the DIA in 1985 and was assigned to analyze
Cuban matters seven years later. The charging documents allege that the
began in 1996. She has been in custody since her arrest on a charge of conspiring to deliver U.S. national defense information to Cuba.
Montes is being represented by the federal public defender service,
and lawyers there declined comment on the case yesterday. She is due in
U.S. District Court on
Court documents filed yesterday show that agents seized a shortwave
radio, two computers, a diary, foreign currency, letters and other items
residence; a Rolodex, notebooks and classified and nonclassified documents from her office; and a list with information about foreign mission license plates from her
"Shock" was the reaction of Montes's colleagues at the DIA when they heard of her arrest, according to a Pentagon official familiar with the situation.
"She was the go-to person on Cuba when a briefing was needed," the official said.
Staff writer Sylvia Moreno contributed to this report.