U.S. agent for Cuba gets life in prison
BY LESLEY CLARK
Thirty years of spying for Cuba will send a retired State Department official to prison for life after he and his wife pleaded guilty Friday to sending secrets to the United States' longtime antagonist.
Walter Kendall Myers, 72 -- known to his Cuban handlers as "Agent 202'' -- agreed to a life sentence without parole and to cooperate with the federal government in a deal with prosecutors that offered a much lighter sentence for his wife.
Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71 -- known as "Agent 123'' and "Agent E-634'' -- had faced as long as 20 years in prison. Under the plea deal, she now could serve between 6 and 7 ½ years. She, too, agreed to cooperate fully with investigators.
In court Friday, the couple charged with leading a double life for three decades asked U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton if they could be sent to prisons as close together as possible.
Prosecutors said the tough sentences, which will be imposed in April after the couple debriefs investigators, should send a warning to others who might divulge state secrets.
"Today's guilty plea and impending sentence close the book on this couple's contemptuous betrayal of our nation,'' said Acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips. "Thanks to a well-planned and executed counterintelligence investigation that included unprecedented cooperation among multiple U.S. agencies, the Myerses' serious transgressions of compromising our nation's classified secrets will now be appropriately addressed with significant prison sentences.''
Clad in dark blue jail jumpsuits and long-sleeved white shirts, the couple appeared in good spirits. Kendall Myers smiled broadly at his brothers and a son and daughter from his first marriage, who sat in the first row of the courtroom. Gwendolyn Myers joked to Walton that she was "only 71'' to her husband's 72 years, and Kendall Myers complimented their legal representation as "thorough and balanced.''
Walton asked if they were pleading guilty because they were guilty. "Yes,'' they each said.
Through their lawyer, Bradford Berenson, they said they acted ``not out of selfish motive or hope of personal gain, but out of conscience and personal commitment.''
"They always understood that they might some day 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. They stand ready to accept the punishment the court will impose with grace and dignity.''
The pair also agreed to pay the government about $1.7 million -- the salary Kendall Myers made while working at the State Department. They'll forfeit their Washington apartment, a 37-foot sailboat and various bank and investment accounts.
The case presented by prosecutors was something out of a Cold War-era spy novel, complete with code names and encrypted messages sent via shortwave radio or by swapping shopping carts at the supermarket.
The couple received little of value from the Cubans, prosecutors said. Instead, they appeared motivated by ideology, enthralled by Fidel Castro, whom they met privately in 1995.
"Fidel has lifted the Cuban people out of the degrading and oppressive conditions which characterized pre-revolutionary Cuba,'' Kendall Myers reportedly wrote in a diary after a trip to Cuba in 1978.
Prosecutors say the Myerses agreed to serve as clandestine agents for Cuba a year later, after a Cuban contact urged Kendall Myers to seek a job -- and top-secret security clearance -- at the State Department or the CIA. Myers got a job and top-secret clearance at the State Department.
They traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and New York to meet with Cuban agents. Kendall Myers bragged to an undercover FBI source that he was so successful he received ``lots of medals'' from the Cuban government.
Their clandestine existence began to unravel when an undercover FBI source, purporting to be a Cuban intelligence officer, approached Kendall Myers in front of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies where he was teaching a class last April. The Myerses apparently took the bait, meeting several times with the informant in various Washington hotel rooms, unwittingly telling investigators on audio and videotape of their spy exploits.
In a search of the Myers home, investigators say they found a shortwave radio, sailing charts for Cuban waters, a travel guide to Cuba and a book titled On Becoming Cuban.
Prosecutors also say that between 2006 and 2007, Kendall Myers used his State Department computer to view more than 200 intelligence documents relating to Cuba, though Myers' area of expertise at the department was Western Europe.
They were charged in June with wire fraud, serving as illegal agents for Cuba and conspiring to deliver classified information.
After the arrest, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered an assessment of any national security damage the couple may have caused. A spokesman said Friday the review is ongoing.
On Friday, Kendall Myers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud. The espionage charge could carry a death sentence, but prosecutors did not seek one.
Gwendolyn Myers pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of conspiring to gather and transmit national defense information.
The case comes as President Barack Obama has sought to improve relations with Havana and lawmakers have pushed to open up the island to U.S. tourists. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen invoked Kendall Myers' name Thursday as she criticized a congressional effort aimed at lifting the ban on travel to Cuba.
"Given the success of Cuban intelligence in recruiting'' spies like Myers, the Miami Republican said, ``why would we want to facilitate such potential espionage activities by allowing unfettered travel to Cuba?''