Friday, June 2, 2023

Code Name Blue Wren: My Washington Times On Crime Column On Cuban Spy Ana Montes

The Washington Times ran my On Crime column on Jim Popkin’s Code Name Blue Wren: The True Story of America’s Most Dangerous Female Spy — and the Sister She Betrayed. 

You can read the column via the below link or the below text:

BOOK REVIEW: 'Code Name Blue Wren' - Washington Times

Some years ago, when I was a young man performing security work as a civilian Defense Department employee, I attended a briefing at the headquarters of the Defense Intelligence Agency at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington.


Although I didn’t know it at the time, Ana Montes was also at Bolling, working as an intelligence analyst. Years later, I read about her arrest as a spy for Cuba. I’ve long been interested in her case, and I recently read Jim Popkin’s most interesting book about her, “Code Name Blue Wren: The True Story of America’s Most Dangerous Female Spy — and the Sister She Betrayed.”


I contacted Mr. Popkin (seen in the bottom photo) and asked him when he first became aware of Ms. Montes.

“I first heard about Ana Montes the day she was arrested, on September 21, 2001. At the time, I was a producer working for NBC News in Washington and covering the FBI. My colleague Pete Williams and I were completely occupied covering the 9/11 terror attacks and couldn’t slow down to report on the arrest of a Cuban spy,” Mr. Popkin replied.


“But I’m fascinated with espionage, and her story stayed with me. A few days later, my college roommate and close friend John called to inform me that Ana had purchased his condo in Cleveland Park [in Northwest Washington] several years earlier. That meant that I had spent hours in the apartment that Ana Montes would later own, an apartment she made into her spying safe house. That coincidence really hooked me on her story.”


Why did you write the book? Did you consider this an unusual espionage story in that Ana Montes, a Cuban spy, had close relatives working for the FBI?


“Spying can be a lonely, tortured existence. I was interested in probing why Ana spied for so long, and whom she betrayed along the way. I quickly realized that her sister, Lucy, worked for the FBI, as did Ana and Lucy’s brother, Tito, a special agent. In fact, at one point, Ana had four close family members in the FBI. They are all loyal and patriotic Americans and had no idea what Ana was up to. “Code Name Blue Wren” explores what Ana compromised and how she spied. But it is also a sister story and reveals how devastating Ana’s traitorous behavior was for Lucy and the rest of the Montes family. Most spy stories don’t have that personal element.”

How would you describe Ana Montes?

Ana Montes was smart and disciplined, which helps explain why she got away with her crimes for nearly 17 years. She lived a monastic double life, working hard all day at the DIA as a top Pentagon analyst overseeing Cuba. She had broad access to classified documents from nearly all the U.S. intelligence agencies.


“And then at night she would start her second job in her Cleveland Park condo, where she would type up all of those classified secrets she had scooped up during the day and share them with her handlers,” Mr. Popkin explained. “She almost never took paper documents out of the building, decreasing her risks. She never married and was devoted to both of her jobs. Ana wasn’t perfect and made a few big mistakes. But in totality, she was very cautious and buttoned down and fooled them all.”


What damage did Ms. Montes do to the U.S. with her spying for Cuba?


“Top U.S. intelligence experts call Montes one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history. She did it for nearly 17 years and had near-carte-blanche access to U.S. secrets. She handed it all over to the Cubans, who have a long history of selling or trading U.S. secrets to the Russians and other U.S. adversaries. Ana revealed the true names of undercover CIA agents working for the U.S. in Cuba, a highly dangerous indiscretion. And she passed along details about a super-secret spy satellite that the U.S. had been using successfully against Cuba, Russia, China and Iran.”


Ms. Montes has been released from prison. Do you think she served enough time for her crimes?


“Federal prosecutors and Ana’s lawyers negotiated a 25-year prison sentence in exchange for Ana’s full cooperation. She did her time — 21 years and three months, actually — and is now living free in Puerto Rico, but under tight probation rules. “Compared to Robert Hanssen and Rick Ames and especially Cuban spy Kendall Myers, Ana got a favorable deal. They are all doing life sentences and will never walk free. But one thing to consider is that Montes did hard time for two plus decades,” Mr. Popkin said. “She was in a very tough prison-within-a-prison in Texas, and shared bunks with Squeaky Fromme and some of the most dangerous and psychotic inmates in the federal system. Ana Montes never got the Martha Stewart treatment.”


Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction and thrillers.

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