~ John LeCarre
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had unsealed an indictment against ex-USAID official, Marta Rita Velazquez, for conspiracy to commit espionage. According to the DOJ press release,
(B)eginning in or about 1983, Velazquez conspired with others to transmit to the Cuban government and its agents documents and information relating to the U.S. national defense, with the intent that they would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of the Cuban government.
As part of the conspiracy, Velazquez allegedly helped the CuIS (Cuban Intelligence Service) spot, assess, and recruit U.S. citizens who occupied sensitive national security positions or had the potential of occupying such positions in the future to serve as Cuban agents. For example, the indictment alleges that, while Velazquez was a student with Montes at SAIS in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s, Velazquez fostered a strong, personal friendship with Montes, with both sharing similar views of U.S. policies in Nicaragua at the time.
In December 1984, the indictment alleges, Velazquez introduced Montes in New York City to a Cuban intelligence officer who identified himself as an official of the Cuban Mission to the United States. The intelligence officer then recruited Montes. In 1985, after Montes’ recruitment, Velazquez personally accompanied Montes on a clandestine trip to Cuba for Montes to receive spy craft training from CuIS.
Later in 1985, Velazquez allegedly helped Montes obtain employment as an intelligence analyst at the DIA, where Montes had access to classified national defense information and served as an agent of the CuIS until her arrest in 2001. During her tenure at the DIA, Montes disclosed the identities of U.S. intelligence officers and provided other classified national defense information to the CuIS.
During this timeframe, Velazquez allegedly continued to serve the CuIS, receiving instructions from the CuIS through encrypted, high-frequency broadcasts from her handlers and through meetings with handlers outside the United States.
Former DIA analyst Ana Montes is serving a twenty-five year sentence at a Federal prison in Texas. The now unsealed indictment against Velazquez is not yet posted on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia's website and no explanation was given as to why the USG chose to keep it sealed for nine years. The probable reason, however, is that the Feds had hoped to have Velazquez extradited from Sweden, where she has lived since Montes's arrest in 2001. According to the Swedish tabloid, Aftonbladet, Velazquez is married to a retired Swedish Foreign Ministry official. She was denied Swedish citizenship in 2002, but granted it the following year. Sweden has a policy of not extraditing individuals who are charged with "political crimes," which they deem espionage to be.
Ms. Velazquez is just the latest in a long line of well-placed U.S. national security officials who have been revealed to have spied for Havana since the Castro brothers came to power fifty-four years ago. Ana Montes may have been their most prized agent, but there likely are others who have succeeded in escaping detection. Montes, DIA's top Cuba analyst, engaged in a seventeen-year long classified data dump for Havana. Two outstanding references on the Montes case are a recent Washington Post Magazine article, by Jim Popkin, "Ana Montes did much harm spying for Cuba. Chances are, you haven’t heard of her," and True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba's Master Spy, by the lead investigator in the Montes case, Scott Carmichael.
Another top case was that of Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers. A respected State Department analyst, Kendall Myers spied for Cuba, along with his wife, for nearly thirty years. Arrested in 2009, he is serving life without parole at a Federal supermax prison in Colorado. His wife, 74, is serving an eighty-one-month sentence.
Little is publicly known about Velazquez other than her gold-plated higher education, impressive government career positions and refuge in Sweden. She served as a spotter and access agent for Havana, i.e., a scout for potential spy recruits and insider with a top secret clearance in a position to gather sensitive information and influence policy. As the indictment reveals, she spotted, recruited and groomed Montes, both of whom shared Puerto Rican heritage.
Montes is the daughter of a U.S. Army colonel, and has a brother who is an FBI agent and a sister who is an FBI counterintelligence official. Kendall Myers is a grandson of Gilbert Grosvenor, great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell and is related to Pres. William Howard Taft. He graduated from Brown University and earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. Blood doesn't get much bluer in the United States.
Shortly after Myers was sentenced, a colleague of mine who had known him told me, "For what it's worth, aside from his detestable spying, he's someone I was happy to know." Another colleague who had worked with Montes related that she was "capable and impressive in her knowledge, though also aloof and cool." A professor who had known Myers said he was surprised at the charges. "He's been a fantastic colleague, a great guy." He added that Myers was "a smart person who we thought had done a good job at the State Department. The students loved him." But in his personal journal which the FBI had seized, Myers praised Fidel Castro as a "brilliant and charismatic leader" who is "one of the great political leaders of our time." And he called the United States government "exploiters" who regularly murdered Cuban revolutionary leaders."
So, what gives? Why do otherwise smart people from good families spy for Cuba? Do we have American counterparts to the Cambridge Five -- the notorious high caste British intelligence officers who spied for Moscow before, during and after WWII? Perhaps. Like their earlier British counterparts, the American spies were recruited young, disillusioned with U.S. foreign policy and naively enamored with a regime that styled itself as a liberator of the oppressed and an opponent of "imperialism." They were taken in by Fidel's carefully crafted charisma. Ana Montes's FBI-employed sister wrote to her, “You betrayed your co-workers and your employer, and you betrayed your nation. You worked for an evil megalomaniac who shares or sells our secrets to our enemies.” But unrepentant, Ana Montes wrote, “Prison is one of the last places I would have ever chosen to be in, but some things in life are worth going to prison for or… worth doing and then killing yourself before you have to spend too much time in prison.”
DIA spy hunter Scott Carmichael describes Ana Montes as "a true believer. She spied out of a conviction that Fidel Castro was both the savior of the Cuban people and a champion of oppressed masses throughout the world, particularly in Latin America. Castro was her hero, and Ana served as his eyes and ears… inside the U.S. intelligence community." The same goes for the Myers couple. And this gets to the heart of the matter. The Cuban Directorate of Intelligence, trained by the Soviet KGB and with personal oversight by Fidel, always focused on recruiting true believers and tipos duros -- hard liners -- who work out of ideological conviction rather than for money. Such agents tend not to leave tell-tale signs of their treason such as fancy sport cars, expensive vacations, fancy homes and inexplicably fat bank accounts. The KGB-recruited CIA mole, Aldrich Ames, was done in by such open lavishness. Montes, Myers, et al., on the other hand, work for medals, not money. Former CIA Cuba analyst, Brian Latell, quotes a former Agency colleague, "I believe the Cubans have the best intelligence agency in the world."
I worked in Cuba as a diplomat, saw what a failed system it is, how political oppression saps the life out of a people. It is the only Latin American country whose population is in decline. Some 30,000 leave the island annually. I've tried to delve into the anomaly of why smart people work for a bankrupt dictator in my upcoming thriller, Havana Queen. But I confess I remain puzzled. Lenin cynically referred to gullible outsiders who supported the Bolshevik regime as "useful idiots." But William Shakespeare's King Lear got to the heart of it: "Get thee glass eyes, and like a scurvy politician, seem to see the things thou dost not."