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'Attencion! Attencion!" snaps the female voice in Spanish at the start of each broadcast. To all but a few listeners, the message that follows is perfectly unintelligible: a long series of seemingly random numbers that drone on for 50 minutes. Just about anybody with a shortwave radio can hear them several times a day at various frequencies, though their intended audience is small. To these few recipients, however, they make exquisite and terrible sense-because they are spies in the service of Fidel Castro's Cuba.

It's not clear how often Ana Belen Montes tuned in to these so-called numbers stations, but there's little doubt that she did or that some of the signals were sent specifically for her. FBI agents on a search warrant last May sneaked into her apartment and checked the hard drive of a laptop computer she kept there. They found sequences matching those that had been broadcast previously, instructions on how to run them through a decryption program that turns the numbers into words, and messages she traded with Cuban spymasters. On September 21, agents arrested Montes at the Defense Intelligence Agency's headquarters at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., where she worked as the DIA's top Cuba expert. Assuming the charges against her are true-she won't enter a plea before November 5-Montes's actions probably will go down as the Cuban intelligence service's most spectacular penetration of the U.S. national-security apparatus. Montes had access to highly classified information and regularly briefed policymakers on matters involving Cuba. If Havana had been given a choice about where it would most like to place a spy, the sensitive DIA post held by Montes certainly would have made the short list.

How badly Montes damaged U.S. interests remains an open question. She surely doesn't rank with the Soviet Union's two deadliest American spies, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, even though their lawyers, Plato Cacheris and Preston Burton, now represent her. An FBI affidavit says she blew the cover of at least one agent (who survived the betrayal) and delivered "information relating to the national defense of the United States, with the intent and reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of Cuba." Yet Montes is only part of a bigger problem-a broad espionage effort waged by Cuba against the United States that has brought death to Americans. There's even a startling connection between Cuba and the September 11 terrorist strikes.

As the Cold War recedes into history, there's been a growing suspicion that the United States takes the Cuban threat too seriously-and specifically that Cuba policy is "held hostage" to an outspoken minority of Florida swing voters. New evidence from the Montes case and elsewhere, however, strongly suggests that we haven't been treating the Cuban threat seriously enough.

If September 11 had been just another day, Montes probably would still be at large-and under the close watch of FBI agents. They only began to investigate her in May, acting on information whose source and nature remain undisclosed. They followed Montes around Washington all summer as she embarked on numerous roundabout journeys to pay phones, where-it is believed-she communicated with her handlers. Agents rummaged around her apartment twice and found additional proof linking her to Cuban intelligence. Normally the FBI does not pounce after only a few months of surveillance-sometimes it waits for years as it quietly builds a case against a spy and patiently tries to discover the identities of her contacts. Yet the FBI moved against Montes with unusual speed, taking her into custody less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks. The possibility that she would pass along vital information to the Cubans, who then might share it with America's other enemies, was a risk not worth taking.

Montes started working at DIA in 1985, and was assigned to Cuba seven years later. The FBI believes she's been a spy since at least the fall of 1996. She's tall and slender, looking a bit younger than her 44 years. Plenty of Cuba experts know Montes from attending her briefings or sitting with her at other meetings, such as those sponsored by Georgetown University's Caribbean Project. In public she was reserved, as intelligence officers are prone to be, but behind closed doors she left distinct impressions.

"She was a severe person, a hard-edged person," recalls Richard Nuccio, a Cuba adviser in the Clinton White House. She was also well known for advocating a softened Cuba policy-to the point where at least two people with links to intelligence had expressed concern over her views long before anybody questioned her loyalty. Her motivation for spying remains a mystery: The FBI affidavit says nothing about payments. By all appearances she lived modestly, fighting her landlord over tenant dues and driving a Toyota Echo. She is of Puerto Rican heritage. And there don't seem to be any obvious expressions of Communist sympathy in her past.

After her arrest, an important 1998 DIA report-suggesting that Cuba no longer poses much of a strategic threat to the United States-was immediately called into question. As the DIA's senior Cuba specialist, Montes would have exercised a major influence over the final product. When the report was completed, in fact, defense secretary William Cohen considered it too weak. He toughened the language, though not to the extent Castro's strongest critics would have liked. The broader problem with the report, however, is that it reflects the views of the foreign-policy establishment, which continues to downplay Cuba. Castro has "done good things for his people," said secretary of state Colin Powell at an April 26 House hearing. "He's no longer the threat he was."

It's true that ever since the Soviet Union quit its role as patron, Cuba has suffered from chronic cash shortages, and it desperately relies on the tourist dollars of Canadian and European vacationers. Yet it does continue to pose a significant threat. Castro maintains the ability to spark a migration crisis whenever he wants, and Cuba is a money-laundering magnet. Even more worrisome is Cuba's biological-weapons capability. Castro may not be willing to provide his people with aspirin, but he has invested heavily in a biotechnology infrastructure with frightful capabilities. Jose de la Fuente, a top Cuban scientist who escaped the island by boat in 1999, said recently that Castro's minions know how to manufacture anthrax bacteria and the smallpox virus.

Then there's the espionage. By using an agent such as Montes to influence threat assessments, Havana may hope to build support for ending the U.S. economic embargo. A less menacing Cuba, after all, is a more attractive trading partner. A House vote on lifting the embargo drew 201 votes earlier this year-a failure, but tantalizingly close to success.

A more direct benefit from Montes involved specific knowledge of U.S. contingency planning-in other words, secret information on how the American government intends to respond to potential crisis situations. Shortly before Montes observed a war-games exercise put on by the U.S. Atlantic Command in Norfolk, Va., for instance, she received this message from Cuba: "Everything that takes place there will be of intelligence value. Let's see if it deals with contingency plans and specific targets in Cuba, which are prioritized interests for us." This type of knowledge helps Cuba understand how much it can provoke the U.S. without suffering consequences. What would happen, for instance, if it encouraged a throng of women and children to climb the fences at the Guantanamo Bay naval base? Or if it tried to spark a new Mariel boatlift incident?

If Montes represents one major prong of Cuban espionage, another recently has come to light in Miami. Over the last three years, the government has indicted 16 members of a spy ring called La Red Avispa, or the Wasp Network. Five admitted involvement following their arrests, another five were convicted in June, two more pled guilty in September, and four have fled the country. Just like Montes, they communicated with Havana by unlocking coded messages received over shortwave radios. The Wasp Network did just about everything, from counting takeoffs at a Key West airbase to attempting the penetration of military facilities. Their most successful operation, however, involved the infiltration of anti-Castro exile groups. "The Miami community is heavily penetrated," says Mark Falcoff, a Latin Americanist at the American Enterprise Institute. "It's full of provocateurs who try to embarrass and discredit Cuban-Americans. We saw them out in full force during the Elian Gonzalez controversy."

Some of the Wasp Network's deeds were relatively modest, such as making hostile phone calls to Miami Herald editors in the name of anti-Castro groups; the point was to create tension between the press and certain Cuban-American leaders. Other actions, however, were monstrous. Two members, Rene Gonzalez (code name: Castor) and Juan Pablo Roque (code name: German), succeeded in joining Brothers to the Rescue, an organization that flies private planes over the Florida Straits in search of people fleeing Cuba in rickety rafts. Once inside the group, they obtained closely held flight schedules, which they passed along to Wasp Network leader Gerardo Hernandez. He transmitted these to Havana in early 1996. Cuba then sent back an order: "Under no circumstances should agents German or Castor fly with BTTR or another organization on days 24, 25, 26, and 27." They didn't-and on February 24, 1996, three planes piloted by the Brothers departed on one of their humanitarian missions. There's been some dispute over whether they actually entered Cuban airspace, but none over the fundamental fact of what happened that day: A Cuban MiG jet destroyed two of the planes, killing four people. A week after the shootdown, Cuban intelligence sent its Miami agents a congratulatory message through a numbers station: "We have dealt the Miami Right a hard blow, in which your role has been decisive." They called their murderous effort "Operation Scorpion."

Some have speculated that one of the captured Wasp Network spies provided federal agents with the information that led them to Montes. This seems unlikely. "The Cuban intelligence service is one of the best in the world," says a former CIA official. They almost certainly would have built firewalls between Montes and the Wasp Network. Yet it's difficult to keep all their efforts completely compartmentalized.

What makes Cuban espionage especially troubling now is the Castro regime's longstanding support of terrorism. Cuba is one of the seven countries on the State Department's terrorism list. It may not compare to Iraq or the Taliban, but its indulgence of terrorists is beyond dispute. Last year, Cuba was the only country attending the Ibero-American Summit in Panama that refused to join a condemnation of terrorism. This spring, Castro toured Libya, Syria, and Iran. At Tehran University on May 10, the dictator declared, "Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees. The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up."

Some 20 fugitives from American justice currently call Cuba home, including Victor Gerena, who pulled off a $7 million bank robbery in Connecticut in 1983 as a member of the terrorist group Los Macheteros. He's currently on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, and much of what he stole is believed to have made its way to Cuba in diplomatic pouches. Los Macheteros is also responsible for the ambush of a Navy bus in Puerto Rico that left two sailors dead in 1979 and an attack on a Puerto Rico Air National Guard base in 1981 that wrecked eleven planes. Other terrorist links to Cuba involve more recent activities: On August 11, Colombian officials arrested three members of the Irish Republican Army as they returned from a part of the country controlled by the narcoterrorist group FARC. Two were explosives experts and the third, Niall Connolly, has been identified as Sinn Fein's Havana representative.

Then there's the bizarre case of Mohammed Raza Hassani, Nez Nezar Nezary, and Ali Sha Yusufi-three Afghan men recently detained in the Cayman Islands. They carried fake Pakistani passports and claimed to have gotten off a boat bound for Canada from Turkey. The police commissioner, however, determined that they actually had arrived by plane from Cuba. They were still in the Caymans on August 29 when a local radio station received an anonymous note saying that they share an association with Osama bin Laden. "The three agents are here organizing a major terrorist act against the U.S. via an airline or airlines," said the letter. The station gave it to the authorities. Soon after September 11, they tracked down its author, Byron Barnett, a local building contractor, who says his note was "pure speculation" and based on "a premonition." This incident has received scant attention from the media.

It's a startling story, perhaps even revelatory; then again, maybe there's nothing to it apart from amazing coincidence. But what is beyond doubt is that even though the Wasp Network has been busted and Ana Belen Montes is under arrest, those Cuban numbers stations continue to broadcast their coded messages several times each day.

Who is listening to them?


John J. Miller

Cortesia de LavozdeCuba Libre


Cuba, España y los Estados Unidos | Organización Auténtica | Política Exterior de la O/A | Temas Auténticos | Líderes Auténticos | Figuras del Autenticismo | Símbolos de la Patria | Nuestros Próceres | Martirologio |

Presidio Político de Cuba Comunista | Costumbres Comunistas | Temática Cubana | Brigada 2506 | La Iglesia | Cuba y el Terrorismo | Cuba - Inteligencia y Espionaje | Cuba y Venezuela | Clandestinidad | United States Politics | Honduras vs. Marxismo | Bibliografía | Puentes Electrónicos |

Organización Auténtica