- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

One must feel a twinge of sympathy for Scott W. Carmichael, a very capable counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was the lead case agent in the investigation of Ana Montes, a DIA analyst who, during a 16-year career, became respected as one of the intelligence community’s leading authorities on Cuba — “The Queen of Cuba,” some called her.

Then, on Sept. 20, 2001, Montes was arrested on charges of spying for Fidel Castro’s Cuba for her entire DIA career. The bare-bones story had the makings of a good book: An attractive single woman of Puerto Rican ancestry who was one of the longer-running espionage agents ever to work against the United States. Given the arrest’s proximity to September 11, it received scant media attention. Indeed, the first serious coverage came in 2006, with a long, strong chapter in Bill Gertz’s “Enemies.”

Thus it was with considerable interest that I opened Mr. Carmichael’s True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ava Montes, Cuba’s Master Spy (Naval Institute Press, $27.95, 187 pages, illus.). What was the information that put Montes under suspicion in April 1996, five years before her arrest? Why did not these doubts result in shifting her to a less sensitive position in DIA? What were the leads that finally enabled Mr. Carmichael and other agents to bring Montes to bay? And exactly what secrets did she pilfer for the Direccion General de Inteligencia, the Cuban intelligence service?

Sadly, security strictures prevent Mr. Carmichael from addressing these and other questions. And because he stepped out of the case once Montes was arrested, he can offer no insight as to how federal prosecutors managed to persuade her to plead guilty to one count of espionage that brought her a 25-year prison sentence. She also agreed to a full debriefing by the FBI as to what she did for the Cubans.

To be sure, Mr. Carmichael’s book is a good read for anyone interested in the intricacies of counterintelligence. But time and again I found myself thinking, “This is like reading a mystery novel where none of the clues are ever revealed.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Carmichael’s vantage point does offer him the opportunity to give some disturbing views on the harm Ms. Montes did to the United States. As he writes, “The greatest real or potential danger to our national security from the secrets that she stole had little to do, directly, with Cuba. It had much to do with Cuba’s friends … Information provided to Cuba by Ana Montes would have naturally found its way to nations such as Russia, China, Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and, potentially any and every country or political movement that opposes the United States.”

Further, Montes likely learned many things outside her assigned area of interest. Restricting information to persons with a true “need to know” is an axiom of intelligence, but an oft-violated one, as anyone with an ear for over-coffee gossip can attest.

Ironically, one of Montes’ responsibilities was contributing to periodic National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) on Cuba. She was also the primary author of an Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) of the Cuban armed forces — “a document that would serve as a basis for contingency planning for military engagements on Cuba.”

Mr. Carmichael appreciated the situation’s absurdity: “Fidel Castro’s mole was writing the intelligence community’s assessment of Cuba for use by US war planners … To put it another way, a Cuban agent was spending her summer shaping the US military’s approach toward Cuba in the event a crisis developed between the two nations.”

The date DIA finally decided to close the net on Montes was no accident. Mr. Carmichael and FBI agents had built their case against Montes for months (and just how they made her a target is one of those necessary omissions that will frustrate any reader). On September 14, the decision was made to wait no longer. Her branch chief at the DIA transferred to another post, and she replaced him. Hence, she was privy to war planning that resulted in the strikes on Afghanistan — intelligence for which the Cubans surely could find a market.

I wish that some editor at the Naval Institute Press had suggested that Mr. Carmichael bring in as a co-author one of the prosecutors who wheedled a confession out of Ms. Montes — who as the title states remains a “True Believer” even as she languishes behind bars for her service to a dictator.

OK, let’s begin this section with a quiz. The scenario: A Cuban intelligence officer — call him Montemayor — works undercover as second secretary at the Cuban mission to the United Nations in New York. During an earlier assignment in Spain, the CIA ran a double-agent operation against him and developed “strong suspicions” that the man was homosexual.

Once Montemayor moves to New York, he is the subject of a joint operation by the Agency and the FBI, aiming to recruit him as a double agent. Surveillance shows that he frequents gay bars. “Using telephone taps and infrared photography, the FBI acquires incontrovertible evidence of … homosexual activities,” grounds for dismissal.

Now the question: “Would it be morally acceptable for the CIA and FBI to attempt to recruit Montemayor by blackmailing him on the basis of his homosexuality?”

Such is one of 50 scenarios, “taken from the real world of espionage and covert action,” posed by James M. Olson in the fascinating Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying (Potomac Books, $28.95, 291 pages). A cynic might smirk that the term “intelligence ethics” is an oxymoron. The late Harry Rositzke, who ran CIA operations against the Soviets for years, loved to shock naive outsiders with the blunt declaration, “Once an officer gets outside the continental United States, almost everything he does is illegal, in terms of violating local laws.”

But Mr. Olson does not write from an ivory tower. He ended his 26-year career as chief of CIA counterintelligence, generally considered to be one of the more murky areas of the agency. He now teaches at Texas A&M.; He offers a veritable encyclopedia of historical quotations about the moral bounds of spying.

Shop around for the “right theologian or philosopher,” Mr. Olson concedes, and “you can defend almost any position, from moral absolutism to unconstrained utilitarianism to everything in between.”

But, he asserts, “the debate is more strident and political now than ever.” His book is intended to “encapsulate some of the most important moral dilemmas facing the world of intelligence today.” The scenarios he poses “are not academic; they need to be addressed.”

The fact-based scenarios run the gamut of operations, from the aforementioned homosexual blackmail to mail tampering and sending agents on missions that surely will result in their deaths. Mr. Olson submitted the scenarios to a broad range of citizens, ranging from CIA colleagues to clerics and students.

Predictably, reactions varied, with even CIA officers unable to agree in some instances. He has written a valuable work that puts a ticklish subject on the table for reasonable discussion.

Oh, yes, that Cuban homosexual. Six “yes” votes on a forced recruitment, five “no.” Recognizing that a person subjected to blackmail would pose a “control” problem, Olson would use him for a “one-time dump” to identify all Cuban intelligence officers at the UN and any Americans they might have recruited. I agree.

Joe Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is [email protected]

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