By John Irvin, NOIR Team
On 17 December, 2014, President Obama ordered restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of a US embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years. The announcement was met with both favorable and critical responses from a variety of interested parties.
Of the many opinions expressed by those with varying degrees of expertise or personal interests, perhaps the most intriguing would have been one that was apparently neither sought nor offered. What did Ana Belen Montes, the former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst who spent over a decade spying on behalf of Cuba, think about the moves toward ending a half century of hostility between the US and Cuba? For her, the question would have been more than simply one of domestic politics, national security, or economic benefit. It would have been one that struck at the heart of the ideology that led her to espionage, arrest, and a 25-year prison sentence. It would have been a deeply personal question.
In Part Two (Proposing a New Policy for Improving National Security by Fixing the Problem of Insider Spies) of NOIR: A White Paper , Dr. David Charney identifies three types of insider spies that represent what might be considered particularly difficult cases to thwart—the ideological spy, the ethnic or religious spy, and the psychopathic spy.
In the case of ideological spies (as well as ethnic and religious spies, although they are not the subject of this discussion) the reason they present such a challenge is that their motivation is more deeply rooted, being an expression of their beliefs, their world view, and their personal perception of who they are (or at least would like to think they are), what they stand for, and their place in the world; that is to say, their ego.
Unlike those who spy to meet some real or imagined financial need, to strike out against his or her employer, or to serve some other external need or desire, the origin of the ideological spy’s motivation is primarily internal rather than external. He spies in the service of beliefs that he feels express who he is and what he stands for. To compound the problem, whether his beliefs correspond to objective reality is largely irrelevant. What determines whether he acts on his beliefs is his personal, subjective perception of their validity or righteousness.
Likewise, the reward he gains from his espionage is primarily internal rather than external. He doesn’t spy for material profit so much as the ego affirmation he receives from doing what he believes is in line with his perception of self. While individual cases are naturally more complex and nuanced, to put it more bluntly, the ideological spy commits espionage because it makes him feel good about himself.
Ana Montes certainly fits this description. In her 17 years of spying for Cuba, she apparently never accepted any significant amount of money except that which she needed to cover expenses. Her lifestyle was hardly extravagant or flashy (the sort of things that raise counterintelligence concerns). Still unrepentant after her arrest in 2001, she said at her sentencing,
“I obeyed my conscience rather than the law. I believe our government’s policy towards Cuba is cruel and unfair, profoundly unneighborly, and I felt morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it. We have displayed intolerance and contempt towards Cuba for most of the last four decades.”
Her motivation seems to have been genuinely ideological. Indeed, Scott Carmichael, lead DIA investigator into the Montes case, titled his 2007 book on the subject: True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba’s Master Spy.
A National Office for Intelligence Reconciliation (NOIR), the new organization within the US intelligence community that Dr. Charney proposes in Part Two (Proposing a New Policy for Improving National Security by Fixing the Problem of Insider Spies) of NOIR: A White Paper, achieves its mission of reducing the damage done by insider spies by taking advantage of the core psychology shared by virtually all insider spies.
Once the insider spy has addressed the real or self-perceived crisis that led him to the conclusion that espionage was a viable (or even the most desirable) solution, once the initial thrill of his new, clandestine life wears thin, the insider spy tends to experience regret, if not remorse, over the decision.
This is compounded by a sense of “stuckness” when it becomes clear that he is dependent on his foreign intelligence service handler and that there is effectively no acceptable way out of his predicament.
At this point in what Dr. Charney describes as “the lifecycle of the insider spy,” a NOIR would give the repentant or disillusioned insider spy the means of exiting the corner he has painted himself into with less damage to himself, his loved ones, his organization, and his country.
Unfortunately, with the current counterintelligence focus on lengthy prison terms as a means of deterring espionage, the individual who has crossed over the line is actually dis-incentivized toward voluntarily turning himself in to authorities. When faced with years in prison and public disgrace, even insider spies who wish to quit have little option but to continue their espionage and hope for the best. A NOIR takes advantage of this “buyer’s remorse” by giving the genuinely regretful spy an option that doesn’t currently exist.
Would a NOIR be effective in the case of an ideologically motivated insider spy, though? Would an insider spy who was motivated by a commitment to a particular ideology experience the regret that leads other insider spies to wish in vain for a way out?
On the face of it, the answer would be that an ideological spy isn’t subject to regret or remorse and, therefore, that a NOIR would not be effective in dealing with such spies. That assessment, however, is based on the misconception that ideology is monolithic, that it isn’t susceptible to challenge or changing circumstances, and that an individual’s commitment to a given ideology is equally unassailable. Experience demonstrates otherwise.
Any ideology, regardless of how complex, is simply a set of ideas or beliefs. These ideas are thoughts, plans, or suggestions about what to do. In other words, an ideology is fundamentally no more than an expression of opinions and beliefs shared by a particular group. As such, an ideology is not necessarily rooted in objective reality or verifiable fact, regardless of how fervently its adherents may believe in it. Therefore, an ideology is usually subject to effective counter-argument to the degree that it is demonstrably counter to objective reality.
For the “true believer,” however, rational argument or factual evidence may still be ineffective in undermining internalized ideologies. Author and professor of psychology Michael Shermer writes in The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths,
“…the facts of the world are filtered by our brains through the colored lenses of worldview, paradigms, theories, hypotheses, conjectures, hunches, biases, and prejudices we have accumulated through living. We then sort through the facts and select those that confirm what we already believe and ignore or rationalize away those that contradict our beliefs.”
Or, as the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote more succinctly, “Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgment.”
Fortunately, ideology is also subject to changes in both public and private circumstances. The alert visitor to virtually any continental European capitol is likely to find more than one memorial to the “…eternal memory of (fill in the blank), who made the supreme sacrifice…” for a country, movement, or ideology that no longer exists. Global, local, and even personal events quite often render a once-powerful ideology obsolete, objectionable, or simply ridiculous.
These unforeseen events, both internal and external, are not only possible but likely to occur in the life of the ideological spy and to challenge or undermine his commitment to the cause.
The ideological commitment of Western spies, recruited by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s based on their well-intentioned but naïve belief in the sort of utopian society promised by Soviet leaders was challenged when the reality of Stalinist brutality became public knowledge. To continue maintaining that commitment no doubt required considerable denial, rationalization, and other mental gymnastics.
Private changes in personal circumstance can also impact the commitment of the ideological spy. It is a truism that with age and the demands of career and family life comes a decrease in the passion for political and social causes. There are, of course, exceptions. Former US State Department employee Kendall Myers was 72 when he, along with his wife Gwendolyn, was arrested and indicted after spending nearly three decades spying for Cuba. Nevertheless, the more common image is that of the former college activist who later in life trades in his Che Guevara t-shirt for the Brooks Brothers suit of a business executive.
Other personal factors beside the passage of time may impact the commitment of the ideological spy, and the case of Ana Montes provides a perfect example.
As the FBI was actively investigating Montes (unbeknownst to her), she fell in love with a senior intelligence officer who ran the Cuban intelligence program for the US military’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). The romance was short-lived, but significant enough, at least on the part of Montes, to cause her to consider ending her spy career. According to a 2013 Washington Post article, she fantasized about starting a family and ditching her espionage career.
But her handlers refused to let their top producer quit. “I’m a human being with needs that I couldn’t deny. I thought the Cubans would understand,” she later revealed to her debriefers. But spy agencies don’t work that way. “She naively believed that they would thank her for her assistance and allow her to stop spying for them,” the CIA commented in its analysis.
It would appear that, despite her later, unrepentant statements, the prospect of marriage to the man she loved was enough to cause Montes to at least waver in her commitment to espionage. However, unaware that the FBI was closing in on her and unable to break away from her Cuban handlers, by then it was simply too late for Montes.
Another vulnerability of ideology as motivation for the insider spy, and a weakness that can be used to undermine its grip on the “true believer,” is that motivation is usually complex and may involve any number of factors. Even in the case of the ideological spy, rarely is it ever simply a matter of ideology. Like the organizations we voluntarily join or the media sources we choose to view, ideology is not the driver, but rather the vehicle through which we express our own self-concept and confirm our established world view. For the individual, ideology is more about affirmation than enlightenment. In a free society at least, ideology isn’t imposed upon but rather selected by the individual because it reflects some key element(s) of the ego that shapes his world view.
As a result, understanding the ego motivation that leads a particular individual to adopt a given ideology may provide the insight necessary to undermine his commitment to that ideology or to redirect his psychological motivation in a direction that is less likely to lead to disastrous results, such as espionage.
This is not to imply that there is any sort of “personality check-list” for identifying potential ideological spies. While Ana Montes and her sister Lucy were both raised in what might be considered a dysfunctional family environment (their mother eventually left their physically and verbally abusive father after 16 years of marriage, raising Ana and her three siblings on her own), Ana went on to become a spy for Cuba while Lucy joined the FBI and played an important role in exposing the so-called Wasp Network of Cuban agents operating in Florida.
The same general personality trait may manifest itself in very different behaviors in different individuals. Ana Montes is often cited as having behaved in an arrogant or narcissistic manner, belittling those with whom she disagreed and avoiding social engagements. While these traits do not necessarily lead one to choose treason, Montes’ unique set of psychological, personal, and career circumstances likely fed an ego that viewed espionage as a means of confirming her special, self-appointed role as defender of the virtuous Cuban David against the powerful and arrogant US Goliath. In Montes’ case, her ideological support for Cuba was likely a means of expressing the grandiose view of herself that she had already established.
To return to the original question of whether a NOIR could be effective in dealing with ideological spies, the answer would be yes. While the ideological spy may not experience the regret and remorse that other insider spies drawn into espionage through different motivation experience, or at least not as quickly, ideology is not monolithic and is subject to changes in personal and public circumstances. Many ideologies can be actively challenged, particularly those based on unsound or demonstrably untrue beliefs. The ideological commitment of an individual can be undermined by a change in personal circumstances, such as a romantic relationship, change in work or family status, or a deeply emotional event that causes the individual to question the Manichean view of his or her perceived enemy as being innately evil.
Moreover, while extrinsic circumstances certainly matter, ultimately the decision to commit espionage is a matter of intrinsic psychological motivation and is unique to the individual. In a free society, ideology doesn’t make a person spy. Rather, an individual chooses an ideology for personal reasons and may, under the right circumstances, employ that ideology as justification for espionage. A NOIR achieves its goals by using an understanding of individual psychology to thwart the motivation to spy and by exploiting the psychology of those who are already engaged in insider espionage in order to minimize the damage they may cause.
What would Ana Montes have to say about the recent steps taken to end the half-century of hostility between Cuba and the United States? Would she reject it as a betrayal of Cuban revolutionary ideals? Would she welcome it, rationalizing that she somehow played a positive role in the rapprochement (although, in reality, her treason likely only served to increased US hostility toward Cuba)? When she is eventually released from prison in 2023, would she be willing to visit a Havana that includes McDonalds and Starbucks?
How does she feel about the fact that one of the conditions set by the US for normalizing relations was the release of a Cuban citizen who spied for the US, while Cuba apparently made no move to demand her release? Cuban citizens will likely be free to visit the US and US citizens will likely be free to visit Cuba for years before Montes leaves prison.
To make the decision to commit espionage on ideological grounds is to build one’s house on shifting sands. For Montes and all other spies who cross over the line to treason based on subjective beliefs and personal opinions (that is, ideology), the fundamental issue will always be one of looking back from an unknowable future and asking, “Was it worth it?”
Remember, all who spy have to worry about someone from the other side giving them up (see NOIR White Paper):
CIA Spy Sent to U.S. in Swap Identified as Mole in Cuban Interior Ministry (NBC News, 18 Dec 2014)
…In announcing the moves, Obama described the spy on Wednesday as “one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba.” In a subsequent press release, the DNI stated, “He provided the information that led to the identification and conviction of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) senior analyst Ana Belen Montes; former Department of State official Walter Kendall Myers and his spouse Gwendolyn Myers; and members of the Red Avispa network, or “Wasp Network,” in Florida, which included members of the so-called “Cuban Five.”…
The American Spy Traded in the U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Breakthrough (Newsweek, 17 Dec 2014)
U.S. spy freed by Cuba was longtime asset (Washington Post, 18 Dec 2014)
The Cuban government on Wednesday freed a U.S. spy whom President Obama described as one of most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in the Communist country and who helped unravel several long-running Cuban espionage operations….
Statement on the Release of a Cuban Individual (DNI, 17 Dec 2014)
FBI Arrests DIA Employee (DOJ, 21 Sept 2001)
AFFIDAVIT IN SUPPORT OF CRIMINAL COMPLAINT, ARREST WARRANT, AND SEARCH WARRANTS (FBI, 21 Sept 2001)
New revelations about Cuban spy Ana Montes (Miami Herald, 2 Aug 2014)
Details about Cuban spy Ana Montes from the Department of Defense Inspector General’s 2005 report — only now declassified — shed new light on the case.
Unsealed Indictment Charges Former U.S. Federal Employee with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage for Cuba (DOJ, 25 Apr 2013)
…The charges against Marta Rita Velazquez stem from, among other things, her alleged role in introducing Ana Belen Montes, now 55, to the Cuban Intelligence Service (CuIS) in 1984; in facilitating Montes’s recruitment by the CuIS; and in helping Montes later gain employment at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)….
Montes Was Unrepentant (PERSEREC)
A D*I*C*E counterintelligence awareness briefing by Ray Semko where DIA employees were encouraged to report any security or counterintelligence concerns was the first step in Ana Montes’ downfall. An astute colleague with counterintelligence experience reported a gut feeling that turned out to be correct. Investigation eventually determined that she really was a spy.
Montes espionage case articles (Latin American Studies)
Read the Book about the case: