True Believer

Inside the Investigation
and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba's Master Spy

By Scott W. Carmichael

Naval Institute Press.

208 pp. $25.16


Reviewed by Paul Davis


Ana Montes is not nearly as well known as Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, or the other traitors who spied against the United States in recent years. Her near-anonymity is no doubt due to her being arrested just 10 days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

But that is not to say that the damage she caused the country was any less significant. In his book,

True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba's Master Spy

, Defense Intelligence Agency investigator Scott W. Carmichael describes Montes as a superspy.

As the senior security and counterintelligence investigator for DIA, Carmichael was the lead agent on the Montes case and eventually persuaded the FBI to open a criminal case against her. The book is an inside account of his investigation, which began in 1996 and eventually led to Montes' arrest. Carmichael, who describes himself as resembling the late comedian Chris Farley more than James Bond, calls himself a "mole hunter" for the DIA.

Not as well known as the CIA, the DIA is a combat support agency with 11,000 military and civilian employees stationed worldwide. It provides critical military intelligence directly to the "warfighters," the Defense Department's collective term for soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines deployed around the world. The DIA also provides intelligence and analysis to defense planners, and decision- and policymakers, as well as senior national security officials.

The daughter of a Puerto Rican U.S. Army psychiatrist, Ana Montes was born on a military base in West Germany and raised on Army bases in the Midwest, and finally settled in a Baltimore suburb. She graduated from the University of Virginia, did graduate work at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, and was on the fast track at DIA when another employee's suspicion tipped Carmichael to take a closer look at the DIA's rising star.

According to Carmichael, Montes appeared to be a model DIA employee. Her coworkers referred to her as the "Queen of Cuba" for her skills and knowledge of the island and its communist government. She was an overachiever who advanced up the ranks of Latin American specialists to become the intelligence community's top analyst on Cuban affairs.

She was also reporting to Fidel Castro for more than 16 years. She shared America's secrets with Cuba, and, as Carmichael notes, Cuba shares intelligence with Iran, China, North Korea and Russia. Montes even used her position at DIA to influence what America's national security leaders thought about Cuba.

The book highlights that espionage is not inconsequential. Carmichael links Montes' spying to the 1986 death of Staff Sgt. Gregory A. Fronius, a Green Beret who was training government soldiers to fight Cuban-backed insurgents in El Salvador. Carmichael suggests that Montes, who was on a DIA assignment in El Salvador just weeks before Fronius was killed in a rebel attack, undoubtedly reported back to Cuba the details of her visit. (Carmichael has pledged that earnings from the book will go to the family of Sgt. Fronius.)

What makes Montes such an extraordinary spy, he writes, is that she not only had access to the United States' innermost secrets, she also created many of those secrets by writing America's highly classified assessments of Cuba.

Montes is the only member of the intelligence community ever convicted of spying for Cuba. Unlike the rash of traitor-spies America has suffered of late, Montes was motivated by ideology rather than money. She truly believed in Castro and the communist government of Cuba.

True Believer

is an interesting inside look at a spy hunt, but unfortunately, due to security restrictions, much of the story is left out. I look forward to reading a companion book about Montes written after the security veil is lifted.

Paul Davis is a frequent contributor to The Inquirer. He can be reached at daviswrite@aol.com.