The Washington Post
Saturday, November 21, 2009

Former U.S. official, wife admit to 30 years of spying for Cuba

Plea deal reached for couple recruited by intelligence operative

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer

A former State Department official and his wife admitted in federal court Friday that they spied for Cuba over the past three decades, receiving coded instructions over a shortwave radio and passing along information to intelligence operatives in "dead drops" and "hand-to-hand" passes.

Walter K. Myers, 72, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit espionage and wire fraud. His wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, pleaded guilty to conspiring to gather and transmit national defense information.

Under the plea deal, Walter Myers faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, and his wife, 6 to 7 1/2 years. Both agreed to give extensive debriefings to U.S. law enforcement officials before they are sentenced. No sentencing date was set.

The couple's attorney, Bradford Berenson, said in a statement after the hearing that the Myerses were not motivated by greed but spied "out of conscience and personal commitment."

"They always understood that they might someday be called to account for that conduct and always have been prepared to accept full responsibility for it," the statement said. "They have done so today."

The Myerses stood shoulder-to-shoulder at a podium for most of the hearing, saying little beyond yes and no to questions posed by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton.

In a statement, Channing Phillips, the District's acting U.S. attorney, said the plea deal helps "close the book on this couple's contemptuous betrayal of our nation."

Assistant U.S. Attorney G. Michael Harvey said in court that Walter Myers was working in the State Department's Foreign Service Institute in 1978 when he went on a two-week trip to Cuba. He had been invited by a Cuban government official, an intelligence operative, who wanted to assess whether Myers would make a good spy, Harvey said.

In a diary of the trip, court papers show, Myers called Cuban leader Fidel Castro "brilliant and charismatic."

About six months later, when Myers and his wife were living in South Dakota and he was no longer a State Department employee, the Cuban official visited them, and they agreed to become spies, prosecutors have said. They were given code names for their communications with Cuba: Myers became "202" and his wife became "123."

They returned to Washington, and Myers resumed working at the State Department.

Over the years, Myers memorized secret documents or borrowed them from work and then gave copies to Cuban agents, authorities said. The couple also met their handlers during overseas trips. In 1995, they visited Cuba using false names and spent an evening with Castro, court papers allege.

They were arrested in June during an FBI sting that included an agent posing as a Cuban spy, authorities have said.

Myers is the scion of one of Washington's most storied families. His mother, Elsie Alexandra Carol Grosvenor Myers, was the granddaughter of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

Under the plea deal, the couple agreed to forfeit $1.7 million, the total of Myers's salary over the years, in cash and property to the U.S. government. That includes a prized 37-foot Malo sailboat.