Retired couple charged with spying for Cuba

Ex-State Dept. worker, wife plead not guilty

By Nedra Pickler
Associated Press / June 6, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

WASHINGTON - A retired State Department worker and his wife have been arrested on charges of spying for Cuba for three decades, using grocery carts among their array of tools to pass US secrets to the communist government in a security breach one official described as "incredibly serious."

An indictment unsealed yesterday said Walter Kendall Myers worked his way into higher and higher US security clearances while partnering with his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, as clandestine agents so valued by the Cuban government that they once had a private four-hour meeting with President Fidel Castro.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that the arrest culminated a three-year investigation and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has ordered a "comprehensive damage assessment" to determine what information may have passed to the Cubans.

The Myerses' arrest could affect congressional support for easing tensions with Cuba dating to the Cold War. Two months ago, the Obama administration took steps to relax a trade embargo imposed on the island nation in 1962.

David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, described the couple's alleged spying for the communist government as "incredibly serious."

Court documents indicate the couple received little money for their efforts, but instead professed a deep love for Cuba, Castro, and the country's system of government.

The documents describe the couple's spying methods changing with the times, beginning with old-fashioned tools of Cold War spying: Morse code messages over a short-wave radio and notes taken on water-soluble paper. By the time they retired from the work in 2007, they were reportedly sending encrypted e-mails from Internet cafes.

The criminal complaint says changing technology also persuaded Gwendolyn Myers to abandon what she considered an easy way of passing information, by changing shopping carts in a grocery store. The document quoted her as saying she "wouldn't do it now. Now they have cameras, but they didn't then."

Authorities say her comments came during a series of meetings with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Cuban spy in April. The Myerses fell for the ruse, authorities say, sharing with the agent their views of Obama administration officials that had recently taken over responsibility for Latin American policy and accepting a device to encrypt future e-mail.

The couple, who live in an apartment building in northwest Washington, were arrested Thursday and pleaded not guilty yesterday in US District Court. They were ordered held in jail until a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday. A call to their home telephone was not answered. Their lawyer, Thomas Green, declined to comment.

The two were charged with conspiracy to act as illegal agents of the Cuban government and to communicate classified information to the Cuban government. Each is also charged with acting as an illegal agent of the Cuban government and with wire fraud.

Kendall Myers, 72, was known by the Cubans as Agent 202 and his 71-year-old wife went by both Agent 123 and Agent E-634, according to the indictment.

The indictment says Kendall Myers disclosed to the State Department that he traveled to Cuba for two weeks in 1978, saying the trip was for personal and academic purposes. The next year, a Cuban government official visited the couple while they were living in South Dakota and recruited them to be spies, the indictment says.

He applied for a position at the CIA in 1981. He didn't get it but later was able to get work at the State Department, where his security clearance rose over the next two decades.

Kendall Myers first worked as a lecturer at the Foreign Service Institute and later as a European analyst in the department's intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, from 2000 until his retirement in October 2007.

The position gave him access to extremely sensitive documents, analyses, and policy papers from a variety of government agencies. The indictment says in his last year of employment, Kendall Myers viewed more than 200 intelligence reports related to Cuba.

During his time at the intelligence bureau, officials there were dealing with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and response as well assessments in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Court documents say among the information they passed was economic intelligence, which the former intelligence official said makes up much of what information Cuba is interested in from the United States.