Southcom, Hugo Chavez and Ana Belen Montes

A curious thing happened in Washington, D.C. last week.

The shadow of Ana Belen Montes appears to have made a brief appearance on Capitol Hill, but perhaps it was only a reflection from the windshield of a passing car.

On 10 March, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela told US legislators that there have been some signs that Venezuela’s government is cooperating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Valenzuela said he could not talk about this at a public hearing, but offered to speak with US legislators behind closed doors.

On 11 March, Southcom commander General Douglas Fraser (Air Force) told US legislators that his command has not seen any evidence “of any specific relation that could verify that there is a direct link between the government (of Venezuela) and the terrorists.” Fraser added that Southcom “has maintained a close monitoring of any connection with some illicit or terrorist organization in the region… (but) we’re concerned, skeptical and will continue monitoring” the situation.

General Fraser’s remarks caused great surprise among civilian and military intelligence professionals from several countries including the US, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, and France.

Then, on 12 March at 5:08 p.m., General Fraser posted a clarification of his remarks the previous day at Southcom’s web site:

“Yesterday I testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and fielded a question from Senator McCain pertaining to the Government of Venezuela (GoV) facilitating contacts between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom) during the planning and attempted assassination of Colombian officials, including President Uribe, during their recent visit to Spain. The Senator also asked about other activities where the GoV was engaged in enabling or supporting terrorist activity in our area of responsibility. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela was asked a similar question one day earlier during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Conference on 10 March.”

“Assistant Secretary Valenzuela and I spoke this morning on the topic of linkages between the government of Venezuela and the FARC. There is zero daylight between our two positions and we are in complete agreement: There is indeed clear and documented historical and ongoing evidence of the linkages between the Government of Venezuela and the FARC. We track this and continue to monitor the amount and level of direct support in the form of money, networks, and providing a safe haven for operations and personnel. In this view and pursuit, we are in direct alignment with our partners at the State Department and the Intelligence Community.”

Southcom is “in direct alignment” with its “partners at the State Department and the Intelligence Community.”Good to know everyone is aligned. However, it doesn’t answer the troubling questions raised by the complete contradiction of General Fraser’s original remarks vs. Assistant Secretary Valenzuela’s statements to US legislators.

Was it a case of General Fraser being poorly prepared by his staff? Or was it something else inside Southcom? And what does this say about the rest of the US intelligence establishment’s perceptions and views about Chavez, the FARC, ETA, Cuba, Iran, and his other unsavory terrorist and criminal associates now stretching their wings across Latin America? Does Latin America have any priority for US intelligence – and by extension, diplomacy?

These are fair questions. The Obama administration has invested much time and effort in Honduras since 28 June 2009 basically trying to undo the legitimate removal from power of former President Mel Zelaya by the Supreme Court and Congress of Honduras. But the Obama administration has hardly reacted at all to Chavez’s systematic destruction of democracy and freedom of expression, to his regime’s increasing human rights abuses, and to the enormous official presence that Fidel Castro’s regime has established in Venezuela.

Viewed from Venezuela, the Obama administration’s apparent obsession with Honduras, contrasted with its exaggeratedly benign indifference to what Chavez is doing in Venezuela and regionally, is frustrating to say the least.

Historically, US leftists (liberals) and rightists (conservatives) have always agreed, albeit for different reasons, that the US government has never (rarely) gotten anything right in Latin America. But nowadays the traditional US myopia with respect to Latin America appears to have worsened considerably.

Caracas Gringo asked several longtime US sources who know about these matters, because they spent years “inside,” for their thoughts on the contradictory statements by General Fraser and Assistant Secretary of State Valenzuela, who – de facto – is hierarchically superior to the general in the US government. At some point during our separate conversations with these sources, all of them said “Ana Belen Montes.”

Ana Belen Montes was a senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), where she worked for 16 years with a Top Security Clearance – until she was arrested on 20 September 2001 on charges of spying for Cuba. Belen Montes already had been recruited as a spy by CuIS when she was hired in 1985 by DIA. Nicaragua was her first assignment, but in 1992 Belen Montes was moved to the Cuban desk. Over the years she rose to become the US intelligence establishment’s top analyst on Cuba. A former colleague says, “She was the person to go to on Cuba when a briefing was needed.”

As the Defense Department’s (DoD) top intelligence analyst on Cuba, Belen Montes was in a unique position to influence the National Intelligence Council reports issued annually, which combined the findings of separate US intelligence agencies. In 1998, Belen Montes was the lead author of a DoD that concluded that Cuba posed no military threat to the United States and was harmless to US national security. At end-1998, Chavez was elected president of Venezuela. When Chavez assumed power formally in February 1999, Fidel Castro already had been his closest international ally and chief political mentor for over four years.

In 2002, Wall Street Journal’s Mary O’Grady wrote: “Ms. Montes had done her job well. Top U.S. military brass enthusiastically embraced the report. Marine General Charles Wilhelm, then head of U.S. Southern Command, was quoted in the Miami Herald saying that the Cuban military ‘has no capability whatsoever to project itself beyond the borders of Cuba, so it’s really not a threat to anyone around it.’ In a long-winded op-ed piece in the Palms Beach Post in 1998, retired Marine Gen. Jack Sheehan told of a trip to Cuba where he shared rum and cigars with Fidel. He argued that the U.S. needed a kinder, gentler attitude toward the regime. ‘Our intelligence data also supported the conclusion that Cuba was not a military threat to the U.S.,’ Mr. Sheehan wrote… But that is a long way from saying that Castro is a benign presence or is incapable of doing harm to the U.S. through indirect means.”

Only eight years later, 2010, some analysts routinely describe the Chavez-Castro alliance as “Cubazuela.” Chavez is the officially anointed heir to Fidel Castro’s mantle of leader of the Latin American revolution. The Chavez regime keeps the Castro regime afloat with over 100,000 b/d of crude oil and other cash benefits worth collectively over $5 billion a year to Havana. In exchange, the Castro regime has deployed upwards of 50,000 Cubans in Venezuela on official missions.

There are Cuban officials today inside every key Venezuelan government agency including the national passport and identification authority (Onidex), the tax authority (Seniat), the banking superintendent (Sudeban), the national mercantile and civil registry, the seaport authority (Bolipuertos), and the education, labor, public works and housing, planning, economy and finance, energy, electric power, and the environment ministries, Corpoelec and Pdvsa, among others.

Dozens of Cuban military advisers are deployed in the armed forces, including many with the military intelligence directorate (DGIM) headed by general Hugo Carvajal, who was designated a FARC collaborator in September 2008 by the US Treasury. Cuban intelligence experts also are working in Venezuela with the Interior & Justice Ministry’s political police (Disip), and with other state intelligence and security services including the recently created National Police.

Caracas Gringo asked several sources about Fraser’s shop: Southcom. How do they get their intelligence?

The response was: “Mostly from open sources, news and magazine articles, academic, think tank and university research papers, conferences where the panelists are regional or country-specific experts. They never visit any blogs because blogs are not official media. They never meet with non-U.S. citizens under any circumstances. Instead, they contract US companies that are owned, managed and staffed by former US military intelligence personnel who are now civilians. These contractors usually sub-contract third parties, who then sub-contract other experts, often academics, to do the actual in-country field work under rigid parameters; for example, zero contacts with active duty and retired military, security or political figures in these countries.”

No real human intelligence from in-country, then? No native sources on the ground? No clandestine moles, spies or whatever inside the Chavez regime? Response: Apparently, none.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s intelligence service (CuIS) has been running rings around the US intelligence community for decades, and continues doing so up to the present.

On 4 June 2009, the FBI arrested former State Department official Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, on charges of conspiracy to act as illegal agents of the Cuban government, and to communicate classified information to the Cuban government (i.e. espionage). The couple also was charged with acting as illegal agents of the Cuban government and with wire fraud.

According to an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Kendall Myers began his work at the State Department in 1977, initially serving as a contract instructor at the Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, Va. By mid-1979 he had been recruited by CuIS. From July 2001 until his retirement in October 2007, he was a senior analyst for Europe for INR, where he specialized in intelligence analysis on European matters and had daily access to classified information through computer databases and otherwise. An analysis of Kendall Myers’ classified State Department work computer hard drive revealed that, from 22 August, 2006, until his retirement on 31 October, 2007, he viewed more than 200 sensitive or classified intelligence reports concerning the subject of Cuba, while employed as an INR senior analyst for Europe. Of these reports concerning Cuba, the majority was classified and marked Secret or Top Secret.

DIA and State were penetrated successfully at very top secret levels by CuIS for almost two decades. FBI agent Robert Hansen spied for the Soviets and Russians 22 years until he was caught in 2001. Undoubtedly, just tips of the iceberg. “The crisis in US intelligence is much worse than is generally realized,” says a retired US general who spent much of his career in the intelligence business.

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4 Responses to Southcom, Hugo Chavez and Ana Belen Montes

  1. Roberto N says:

    Here, let’s help them put 2 and 2 together:

    From Tal Cual:

    “El candidato presidencial colombiano Germán Vargas Lleras insistió ese sábado en denunciar que en Venezuela se refugian algunos jefes guerrilleros y aseguró que los faracos Timochenco, Bertulfo Álvarez y Grannobles, se ocultan en inmediaciones de la Serranía del Perijá y en el municipio Elorza, del estado Apure.”

    From President Chavez’ weekly column:

    “19 de marzo, día de San José carpintero, padre de Cristo y patrón de mi Elorza.”

    So basically, gives a shout out to the FARC leadership on vacation here in sunny Venezuela.

    Just sayin’


  2. Tambopaxi says:

    Ummm, ok, you lost me.

    Your sources assert that Belen Montes’ activities somehow are connected to contradictions between DOS and DOD regarding VZ, ETA, FARC, etc. You then go on to remark on the generally poor state of USG intelligence work in LA (a point with which I agree, btw).

    Still, it’s not clear from the rest of your posting as to why/how Belen Montes and weak U.S. intelligence networks have led to the Valenzuela/Fraser dust-up. Could you clarify, please?


  3. Clayton Lofgren says:

    I take Fraser’s initial remarks to mean that they had no firm evidence of direct aid to ETA.
    Direct aid to FARC is common knowledge.


  4. Charly says:

    All it means is that the US gov. does not consider Cuba a serious threat these days, just a minor inconvenience. In addition with the embargo they have prevented and still prevent the establishment of a viable alternate society and just looking at what is happening in Venezuela, the Cubans will neither achieve that aim here either. In addition, the US has never been strong on humint. They by far prefer the NSA, drones and all kind of technological paraphernalia, it’s a lot more fun.


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