A real spy is never who you think they are. Ana Belen Montes was born in West Germany, where her father was posted as a United States Army doctor. The family eventually settled down in Towson, Maryland, where she graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1975.
In 1979 she earned a degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and in 1988 she finished a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Montes’ brother and sister eventually became FBI agents, while she joined the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in September 1985. In 1992, Montes was selected for the DIA’s Exceptional Analyst Program as she advanced rapidly through the ranks at the DIA and became its most senior Cuban analyst.
Montes lived in a modest two-bedroom apartment on a quiet tree-lined street in D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. She drove a red 2000 Toyota Echo. She banked at local institutions in the District’s Friendship Heights section.
Ana Belen Montes was a spy who engaged in one of the most devastating espionage operations in the history of the United States. She was arrested on Sept. 21, 2001, and charged with conspiracy to deliver U.S. national defense information to Cuba.
Her arrest was an embarrassment to the U.S. government, because she was a senior-level analyst at the DIA. During the investigation into Montes espionage it was discovered that she told the Cubans the identities of four U.S. spies operating in Cuba.
In addition, she gave the Cubans information about a clandestine U.S. Army camp in El Salvador that was attacked by Cuban-supported guerrillas, most likely based on information from Montes.
Her cover had worked perfectly until an observant DIA colleague reported that he felt she might be under the influence of Cuban intelligence. In her 15-year career at DIA, she had acquired a top-level security clearance and become DIA’s top Cuban analyst.
Montes had passed polygraphs and was in possession of extremely sensitive information, which she was giving to her Cuban handlers when they’d meet at various restaurants around D.C.
Turns out, Montes had been recruited by the Cubans before she even began her career at the DIA. Apparently, she was an outspoken critic of the U.S. government’s policies towards Central America.
Eventually, her opinions caught the attention of Cuban officials who thought she’d be sympathetic to their cause. Montes is currently serving a 25-year sentence and is scheduled to be released in 2023.
According to the International Spy Museum, there are more than 10,000 spies in Washington, D.C. While the FBI won’t give specific numbers, Brian Dugan, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Counterintelligence with the Washington Field Office said, “It’s unprecedented, the threat from our foreign adversaries.”
The reality is foreign governments have spies all over the U.S. from Washington, D.C. to small towns in the middle of nowhere. Their goals in D.C. are targeting government secrets while in other parts of the U.S. they may focus on aspects such as utility infrastructure.
Of course, spies can come in the form of foreign operatives as well as corporate spies who may work for a specific company but are sharing industry secrets with competitors.
Since spying can occur anywhere I want to share with you a few characteristics that even the best spies in the world may have trouble hiding. The reality is spies live among us, so who knows if your new co-worker or neighbor could be a spy.
With that being said, just because someone may exhibit some of these traits it’s not a guarantee they are a spy, but you need to look at the big picture. With that in mind, here are some things that even the best spies in the world will have trouble concealing.
No family. In the spy world, kids and extended family can create problems. You see, if you’re a foreign spy you will undoubtedly face the dilemma of choosing your kids or your country.
Operating as a spy can put your kids in danger and there will come a day when your kids may hear or see something they shouldn’t. Now, we know there have been Russian spies working in the U.S. who have children but the fact remains as the kids get older it becomes more difficult to hide your secrets.
In addition, most spies won’t be having their extended family over for the holidays since their family is likely overseas and unaware of what they are really doing. In other words, if your neighbor has no kids, and doesn’t have extended family, they could be hiding a secret.
Strange travel schedule. Spies don’t typically take a week or two trip to Europe. Usually, a spy will travel for months at a time to complete their objective. What I mean is, most spies don’t simply arrive to a new location, take care of business, and leave a week later.
Committing espionage can take time and you often have to move slowly to convince your target that you aren’t simply there to gather intelligence information from them.
In other words, if someone travels months at a time and they are never home this could be a red flag. Of course, if they also happen to come home from a specific country where there was a government overthrow, maybe they had something to do with it.
Lack of social activity. Spies are naturally secretive, but they know they have to balance their social activity as not to draw scrutiny. For instance, a spy may have a Facebook account but they aren’t going to post things constantly or check in at their favorite restaurant. The last thing a spy wants is a vast numbers of pictures of them online.
Likewise, a spy is not going to be the life of your neighborhood block party, and they aren’t going to the President of the PTA. An intelligence agent is going to be boring in social circles; they are going to be the dud of the party.
The thing is a spy never wants to draw attention. A spy is going to be someone that’s going to be a student in school, a visiting professor, or your neighbor who works in IT.
It could be a colleague or someone that shares the soccer field with you on the weekends and you may never know who they really are.