US releases top Cuba spy Ana Belén Montes after 20 years in prison. Source: The Guardian

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US national security

US releases top Cuba spy Ana Belén Montes after 20 years in prison

Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, 65, freed after being found guilty of espionage in 2002

Ana Belén Montes receiving a certificate from George Tenet, then director of central intelligence at the CIA, in 1997

Ana Belén Montes receiving a certificate from George Tenet, then director of central intelligence at the CIA, in 1997. She was later accused of supplying the identities of four US spies to Cuba. Photograph: Courtesy of the Defense Intelligence Agency

ReutersSun 8 Jan 2023 11.20 GMTLast modified on Sun 8 Jan 2023 13.41 GMT

One of the highest-ranking US officials ever proven to have spied for Cuba has been released from prison early after spending more than two decades behind bars.

Ana Belén Montes pleaded guilty in 2002 to conspiracy to commit espionage after she was accused of using her leading position as a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) official to leak information, including the identities of some US spies, to Havana. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison at the age of 45.

Montes, now 65, was released on Friday, the US bureau of prisons said.

A US citizen of Puerto Rican descent, Montes began working for the DIA in 1985 and rapidly climbed its ranks to become the agency’s top Cuba analyst.

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Prosecutors said during this time Montes received coded messages from Havana over a short-wave radio as strings of numbers, which she would type onto a decryption-equipped laptop to translate to text.

She was accused of supplying the identity of four US spies to Cuba, as well as other classified information.

Montes was arrested on 21 September 2001, shortly before the United States invaded Afghanistan. Her lawyer, a leading espionage specialist, said she had cooperated without reservation.

At her sentencing a year later, Montes argued that she had obeyed her conscience and that US policy to Cuba was cruel and unfair. “I felt morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it,” she said.

Ricardo Urbina, the sentencing judge, ruled she put fellow US citizens and the “nation as a whole” at risk.

On her release from prison, Urbina had ordered Montes should 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.

Under the president, Joe Biden, the United States has eased some sanctions on Cuba but maintained its cold war-era embargo on the island and stepped up restrictions on illegal migrants, arriving in record levels amid raging inflation and medicine shortages.

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