By Mary Beth Sheridan and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 7, 2009
He was a courtly State Department intelligence analyst from a prominent family who loved to sail and peruse the London Review of Books. Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies, but to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary. "We were all appalled by the Bush years," one said.
What Walter Kendall Myers kept hidden, according to documents unsealed in court Friday, was a deep and long-standing anger toward his country, an anger that allegedly made him willing to spy for Cuba for three decades.
"I have become so bitter these past few months. Watching the evening news is a radicalizing experience," he wrote in his diary in 1978, referring to what he described as greedy U.S. oil companies, inadequate health care and "the utter complacency of the oppressed" in America. On a trip to Cuba, federal law enforcement officials said in legal filings, Myers found a new inspiration: the communist revolution.
Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 71, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of conspiracy, being agents of a foreign government and wire fraud. Their arrest left friends and former colleagues slack-jawed, unable to square the man depicted in the indictment with the witty intellectual with a prep-school background they knew. The Myerses never talked about Cuba or gave any hint of subversive activities, acquaintances said.
"Anyone who knows him finds it baffling and finds this completely out of character," said David P. Calleo, director of European studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, a friend of Myers for nearly 40 years. "He has this amazing intellectual curiosity. He is open to all kinds of ideas."
Larry MacDonald, who lives at the marina in Anne Arundel County where the Myerses docked their 38-foot sloop, said the couple were admired for their intelligence and graciousness: "When I heard they were arrested, I felt like they had arrested Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny."
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said in an article published yesterday on the CubaDebate Web site that, if news reports about the Myerses were true, "I can't help but admire their disinterested and courageous conduct on behalf of Cuba."
The State Department and intelligence community are investigating how much damage the alleged spying may have done. Myers had worked as a European political expert for more than 20 years at the State Department, and had been associated with its Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1988 until his retirement in 2007.
James Cason, who headed the U.S. interests section in Cuba from 2002 to 2005, said the case is serious because Myers had one of the highest clearances. "If you can get someone into the intelligence bureau, you can have access to everyone's intelligence, not only ours but of allies. The question is, what did they [Cuba] do with it?" he said. "Did it stay with them, or was it given to other countries, as well?"
But an official who previously worked in the bureau said the case is probably not as damaging as that of Aldrich Ames, the CIA counterintelligence chief who passed along extensive information about U.S. intelligence operations to Russia. Myers would not have had access to the names of U.S. spies in Cuba, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.Falling in Love With Cuba
Myers, who goes by Kendall, grew up in Washington, the eldest of five children. His father, Walter, was a renowned heart surgeon; his mother, Carol, was the daughter of Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the longtime former president of the National Geographic Society, and was the granddaughter of inventor Alexander Graham Bell.
Myers went to prep school at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania and graduated from Brown University. He went on to get a doctorate in European history from the Johns Hopkins SAIS.
He got a taste of spying while serving in the U.S. Army from 1959 through 1962, according to friends. Fluent in Czech, he was stationed in Germany, where he monitored broadcasts from what was then known as Czechoslovakia, which was under communist rule. He went on to teach at the SAIS and in 1977 became a contract instructor at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute.
During those years, his life was rocked by tragedy and difficulties, friends said. Late one November night in 1975, Myers was driving a car that slammed into a 16-year-old girl in Northwest Washington, near his childhood home, killing her. Myers felt terrible about the crash, friends said. His marriage to his first wife, Maureen Walsh, ended in divorce in 1977. They have a son and daughter, Myers's only children.
In 1978, Myers visited Cuba for two weeks, authorities said. He told his supervisors that he had been invited there for an academic trip by the country's United Nations mission. But his guide while on the island was a Cuban intelligence officer, authorities said.
The son of privilege fell in love with the communist revolution, according to diary entries released in court.
"Everything I hear about Fidel suggests that he is a brilliant and charismatic leader," Myers wrote, according to the documents.
The diary entries record his impressions of a visit to a museum, where Myers learned about "the historic interventions of the U.S. into Cuban affairs, including the systematic and regular murdering of revolutionary leaders." It "left me with a lump in my throat," he wrote.
The following year, Myers moved to South Dakota, apparently to teach, friends said. He lived with a woman who would soon become his second wife, Gwendolyn Trebilcock, a legislative aide for then-Sen. John Abourezk (D) in her home town of Aberdeen.
Abourezk said in an interview yesterday that he liked both of them. "She is a very good woman," he said. "And I always thought he was a decent human being."
An official from the Cuban mission visited the couple in South Dakota and recruited them, officials say. He asked Myers to join the State Department or the CIA, authorities said. Gwendolyn Myers would later tell an undercover FBI agent, posing as a Cuban operative, that her husband chose State because he was not "a very good liar." The CIA required regular polygraph tests, Myers said.Worries About Being Caught
In the succeeding years, as the couple were allegedly passing information to the Cubans, they never indicated any interest in the island, according to friends and colleagues -- even at long dinner parties in which guests discussed world affairs.
"I never heard him say anything about Latin America at all -- ever, ever," said a retired Foreign Service officer who worked with Myers and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It was not clear whether the Myerses ever learned Spanish.
The couple told the FBI agent during a series of meetings two months ago that they were worried about being caught. They allegedly used code IDs: Kendall Myers was "202," while his wife, who went to work for a bank, was "123."
"We have been very cautious, careful with our moves and, uh, trying to be alert to any surveillance," Kendall Myers told the agent, according to court papers.
They thought going to New York to meet Cuban agents was "dangerous," apparently because of U.S. monitoring of the country's U.N. mission. Instead, they allegedly met their handlers in third countries, including Brazil, Ecuador, Jamaica and Italy. In 1995, they flew to Mexico and then used fake identification to fly to Cuba, where they met Castro, they told the agent.
Myers and his wife told the agent they passed along information over a shortwave radio given to them by the Cuban government, and by exchanging shopping carts with handlers in grocery stores, the documents said. But Gwendolyn Myers told the agent they had stopped using that tactic -- it had become too risky with so many security cameras in stores. In recent years, they used encrypted e-mails sent from Internet cafes, they told the agent.
In November 2006, Kendall Myers's frustration with U.S. policy boiled over. In what he apparently thought was an off-the-record gathering at Johns Hopkins, he assailed the Bush administration's treatment of one of its closest allies, Britain.
"We typically ignore them and take no notice. . . . It's a sad business," Myers told the audience. The British press reported it.
Living under such secrecy had taken a toll, the Myerses allegedly told the agent.
Kendall Myers had been worried for some time that his name was on a list of suspect employees. In fact, it wasn't until 2006 that the FBI approached the State Department with word of a suspected spy. By the time Myers retired, authorities had strong suspicions.
The couple had found an outlet from stress in recent years. They would drive to a marina in the Anne Arundel County town of Galesville on weekends and set out on their yacht. Two years ago, they traded up to a boat with teak decks, according to Nancy Bray, general manager of Hartge Yacht Harbor.
"Every weekend and holiday, they were off sailing," said Jacqui Gallagher, a neighbor of the Myerses'. The couple worked out frequently so they would be strong enough to manage their boat, she said.
Despite what the couple described as their paranoia about detection, court documents reveal that they readily opened up to an FBI undercover agent who approached Kendall Myers on Massachusetts Avenue NW in April. The agent told Myers that a Cuban intelligence agent had sent him. They went on to meet another three times, along with Myers's wife.
The couple told the agent they eventually wanted to sail to Cuba, according to the court documents.
"Our idea," said Kendall Myers, "is to sail home."
Staff writers Daniel de Vise and Michael Birnbaum, research editor Alice Crites and staff researchers Magda Jean-Louis, Meg Smith and Julie Tate contributed to this report.