U.S. rules out swap of jailed Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes

File photo of Ana Belen Montes.
File photo of Ana Belen Montes. Courtesy

The Obama administration “has no intention” of releasing or swapping jailed Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes, according to a letter sent by the U.S. Department of State to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The Aug. 19 letter, obtained by el Nuevo Herald, followed a number of news reports pointing to the possibility of freeing Montes — a top Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst on Cuban affairs who is serving a 25-year prison sentence — in exchange for Cuba handing over American fugitive Assata Shakur, formerly known as Joanne Chesimard.

The letter, addressed to committee chairman Devin Nunes, R-Ca., says the State Department “want(s) to assure you that the United States government has no intention of releasing or exchanging Montes.”

Nunez had written to Obama on July 12 urging the president not to release or swap Montes, calling her “one of the most brazen traitors in U.S. history.” The State Department wrote that it was “responding on the president's behalf.”

Montes, one of the top foreign spies captured in recent years, authored some of the key U.S. intelligence assessments on Cuba. She was arrested in 2001 and was sentenced in 2002 after she pleaded guilty to spying for Cuba throughout her 16 years at the DIA.

“Montes was — and remains — unrepentant. She betrayed the public trust, the security of the United States and her oath to support and defend the constitution while remaining loyal to the Castro brothers in Havana,” Nunes wrote. “Ana Belen Montes richly deserved her 25-year prison sentence, and must serve every day of it.”

Montes, who is of Puerto Rican descent, declared in a 2015 interview with the blog Cayo Hueso, which supports the Cuban government, that she has not changed. “I will not be silenced. My commitment to the island cannot be ignored,” she was quoted as saying.

Nunes' letter noted that because of her senior post at DIA, Montes has compromised every single U.S. intelligence collection program that targeted Cuba, revealed the identity of four covert U.S. intelligence agents who traveled to Cuba and provided Havana with information that could have wound up in the hands of other U.S. enemies.

“In short, Montes was one of the most damaging spies in the annals of American intelligence,” the committee chairman wrote.

The State Department replied that it “shared” Nunes' concerns “regarding national security and the importance of safeguarding classified information. The Department is dedicated to taking all possible steps to protect against and to prevent the unauthorized release of classified information.”

Nunes' letter to Obama followed a round of news reports about a possible swap of Montes for Shakur, a member of the former Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army who is wanted in the shooting death of a New Jersey state trooper. She lives in Cuba as a political refugee.

During a meeting in June with U.S. officials, their Cuban counterparts mentioned their desire to see Montes released as part of a prisoner swap, according to the published reports. Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez also urged Montes be released during an April concert in Spain.

Committee member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, said she does not trust Obama's intentions or the State Department promise.

The Obama administration also promised Congress it would not swap five other convicted Cuban spies from the so-called Wasp Network, promises “that we now know to have been false,” she said. The last three spies still in U.S. prisons were freed on Dec. 17 2014, the day Obama announced a thaw in U.S. relations with Havana.

Ros-Lehtinen also noted that Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress in 2013 that the Obama administration would not swap spies for Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor jailed in Havana. He was also freed on Dec. 17, 2014.

“When it comes to U.S. foreign policy with Cuba, the Obama administration cannot be trusted.”