US double agent who passed secrets to Cuban spies is released from jail

Ana Belen Montes said she helped the communist country out of opposition to Washington's policies in Central America during the 1980s

The US embassy in Havana. Investigators said Montes revealed the identities of four US spies working in Cuba. AFP
Powered by automated translation

A former US double agent arrested in 2001 for passing American secrets to Cuba has been released from jail early, after serving more than two decades of a 25 year sentence behind bars.

Ana Belen Montes worked for the US Defence Intelligence Agency and became a respected analyst on Cuba.

But before joining the agency, she had reportedly become disgruntled with US foreign policy in Central America in the early 1980s and was secretly recruited by Cuban intelligence.

US policies at the time included supporting violent right-wing militias and governments in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala in an attempt to stop the spread of communism.

Montes reportedly defected to Cuba while working at the US Justice Department, before she joined the DIA in 1985 and continued covert operations, receiving coded messages from Cuba through a short-wave radio in her home.

Investigators said she had revealed the identities of four US spies in Cuba.

Montes said she worked for Cuba out of a moral obligation “to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it".

During the 1980s there was an outcry in the US after reports that Washington had armed rebels in Nicaragua known as the Contras, in an attempt to overthrow a Marxist government.

In El Salvador, the US also propped up a regime widely accused of severe human rights abuses against suspected communists, although Washington later moderated its policies there, pushing for elections and sidelining military leaders accused of murdering civilians.

During the 1980s, Cuba pushed back against US Cold War operations, sent military advisers to Syria's Hafez Al Assad and moved 30,000 soldiers to support Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam, both leaders accused of massacring thousands of political opponents, including civilians.

A tough sanctions regime against Cuba was kept in place for most of the Cold War and remains in effect today, although US President Joe Biden has eased some restrictions.

Ricardo Urbina, the sentencing judge, said Montes put fellow US citizens and the "nation as a whole" at risk.

On her release from prison, Mr Urbino had ordered that Montes be placed under supervision for five years, with her internet access monitored and a ban from working for governments and contacting foreign agents without permission.

Updated: January 08, 2023, 1:28 PM