2 Cuban spies believed to be 'true believers'
AP and Miami Herald Staff Reports
U.S. intelligence agencies are scrambling to figure out whether U.S. agents in Cuba or elsewhere have been jeopardized by the actions of Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, the husband-and-wife team charged Friday with spying on behalf of Cuba.
The government-wide assessment is expected to be headed by National Counterintelligence Executive Joel F. Brenner.
Obama administration officials say Walter Kendall Myers had access to highly sensitive material while working for the State Department's intelligence arm, which receives intelligence reports from all agencies.
In his last year alone at the State Department -- he retired in October 2007 -- Myers accessed over 200 sensitive documents related to Cuba, according to court documents. His wife was a bank employee alleged to have helped Myers supply Cuba with secrets.
'Given where he worked, his value to the Cubans would be both in terms of `gossip' about U.S. officials -- who is being assigned to Cuba, what White House officials are asking for info, etc. -- and, of course, the raw data that comes across his desk,'' said Dennis Hays, the State Department's Coordinator for Cuban Affairs from 1993 to 1995.
HARD TO CATCH
Cuban spies can be especially difficult to catch because the Cuban government specializes in recruiting ''true believers'' rather than agents who are out to make money, according to former senior U.S. intelligence officials.
Myers, arrested Thusday, appears to be a true believer. He praised Castro in a personal journal he wrote in 1978 as a ''brilliant and charismatic leader'' who is ''one of the great political leaders of our time.'' And he called the United States government ''exploiters'' who regularly murdered Cuban revolutionary leaders. The indictment against the couple shows he may have received a number of medals from the Cuban government but little money.
Politically motivated spies don't leave a money trail or engage in conspicuous consumption that might attract attention, a common way spies are first identified. The former officials said the Cuban intelligence service is willing to wait years, even decades, for a recruit to work him or herself into a useful position. Cuba is content to have mid-level officials who have access to information but no policy-making power.
According to court documents, Myers had been put on a watch list by his State Department boss in 1995, meaning he was under suspicion. The FBI investigation didn't start until 2006, after his boss raised fresh suspicions when he returned from a trip to China.
An undercover FBI agent posing as a Cuban handler approached Myers outside Johns Hopkins School of Advanced American Studies, where Myers taught, on April 15, according to a law enforcement official speaking on a condition of anonymity about the ongoing investigation. That began a series of meetings that resulted in the couple's indictment this week.
Myers may be one of the most significant Cuban spy suspects inside the U.S. government since the 2001 discovery and arrest of Ana Belen Montes, a senior intelligence analyst who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Montes is serving 25 years in prison.
Other alleged spies for Cuba, arrested over the years, include:
• Carlos and Elsa Alvarez, Florida International University employees, who were charged with using shortwave radios, numerical code and computer-encrypted files to transmit information to Cuban intelligence officers.
• Several members of La Red Avispa, the Wasp Network, which was directed by Cuban intelligence and uncovered by U.S. agents. Ring members infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue and other Miami-area exile groups, spread disinformation and spied for Fidel Castro's regime. Five members, known as the ''Cuban Five,'' have appealed their convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The latest arrests drew a sharp reaction in South Florida, the center of Cuban exile in the United States, and in Washington D.C.
''This should serve as a stark reminder that while some seek to entice the Castro regime into behaving like the rest of the free world, Havana only seeks to threaten and undermine U.S. interests at every turn,'' said Miami Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen.
In Washington D.C., Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, declared: ``While the Department of State has sought to improve relations with Havana for more than two years, Havana continues to implement policies that would be considered totally unacceptable if carried out by other governments.''
The Washington Post reported Saturday that Myers was from a family well known in Washington society circles. His mother was the granddaughter of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.
Myers, 72, and his 71-year-old wife lived in the Westchester, a leafy, well-manicured luxury co-op that has been home, at one time or another, to two Cabinet members, 31 congressmen, 12 senators, and 14 judges. Among them was the late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Next door, W. Russell Pickering, tried to digest the allegation that the neighbor he'd traded newspapers and cigars with, and with home he had shared an occasional drink, had led a shadow life for three decades.
''Holy smokes!'' the 78-year-old retired financier kept saying.
Someone like Meyers can do a lot of damage because he would have had broad access to intelligence material and a license to search for what he wanted, said the former senior intelligence official. One key question to be answered will be whether the Cubans were using Myers to produce information for other countries, like Russia, Venezuela, Iran or China.
Myers memorized most of the information he passed to his Cuban handlers rather than take classified documents home, allegedly an effort to avoid detection. He did hide some papers in bookends at his house, holding onto them for no longer than a day, according to court documents unsealed Friday. Myers received his orders by Morse code, and he and his wife usually hand-delivered intelligence, sometimes in the grocery store. Myers was familiar with spy trade craft, like using water-soluble paper to take notes, according to court documents.
Chris Simmons, a former counterintelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency who worked on the Montes case, said Myers' role as an instructor at the Foreign Service Institute at Johns Hopkins posed a real threat because he would be able to provide dossiers and personal observations on his students to the Cuban government.
The institute trains officers in regional specialties from all corners of the U.S. government, not just the State Department. When those students go abroad for State, the U.S. military, or undercover as CIA officers, foreign intelligence services may already have files on them to attempt recruitment.
It was at the institute that Myers first met the Cuban official who recruited him into spying in 1978.
The former intelligence officer who worked on spy cases said Myers would be valuable to the Cuban government for his ability to spot potential recruits among the students.
Myers could also have provided leads and files on students from the prestigious Johns Hopkins.
Myers has been an adjunct professor there since the late 1980s, said Felisa Neuringer Klubes, a spokeswoman for the school. He taught most recently this spring semester.
Myers usually taught British politics and general international relations. His expertise is European studies, specifically Britain, said Klubes. He is one of at least 130 adjunct professors at the school at any given academic year, she said.
Mitchell Orenstein, an associate professor of European studies, has known Myers for about two years and said he was surprised at the charges.
''He's been a fantastic colleague, a great guy,'' Orenstein said. ``He was in a happy retirement and planning on doing some sailing with his wife.''
In fact, Myers and his wife told the undercover FBI agent that they had been planning to sail to Cuba and live on their boat. They considered Cuba their home, though they had only visited it.
Orenstein said he never heard Myers talk about Latin American relations. He didn't hear him mention Fidel Castro or speak about American politics.
He said Myers was ``a smart person who we thought had done a good job at the State Department.''
''The students love him,'' he said.