Walter Myers, State Dept. analyst who spied for Cuba, gets life; wife 6 years

This week's events from around the world captured in photographs, including floods in China, India's new currency symbol and violence in Guatemala City.
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 17, 2010

A retired State Department intelligence analyst was sentenced to life in prison and his wife got more than six years Friday for spying for Cuba for nearly 30 years in a screenplay-ready tale of romance and espionage.

Walter Kendall Myers, 73, and Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 72, also agreed to forfeit $1.7 million in cash and property, including all his federal salary over the years. They did not have to give up a 38-foot sailboat Walter Myers once said they might use in retirement to sail to the communist country.

"If someone despises the American government to the extent that appears to be the case, you can pack your bags and leave," U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said, "and it doesn't seem to me you continue to bear the benefits this country manages to provide and seek to undermine it."

It was a grim ending to the Myerses' idealistic embrace of the Cuban revolution, with one slight comfort. Walton endorsed the couple's request to be incarcerated near each other with easier access to their siblings, children and grandchildren.

The judge's 81-month sentence for Gwendolyn Myers, for gathering and transmitting national defense information, fell halfway between the 72 to 90 months she had agreed to in her deal with prosecutors. Her attorneys cited her age, failing health -- including a heart attack since her June 2009 arrest -- and secondary role in the scheme. The couple, wearing blue jumpsuits over long-sleeve white shirts, held hands while the sentence was read.

"We did not act out of anger toward the United States or from any thought of anti-Americanism," Walter Myers said in at 10-minute statement in seeking leniency for his wife. "We did not intend to hurt any individual American. Our only objective was to help the Cuban people defend their revolution. We only hoped to forestall conflict" between the countries.

The sentencing continues Washington's summer of serial spy intrigues. Barely a week after the United States and Russia completed the exchange of 14 agents allegedly planted in each other's country in a diplomatic maneuver reminiscent of the Cold War, the Washington couple's sentencing cast a reminder of unresolved tensions across the 90-mile-wide Straits of Florida.

Myers, an Ivy League-educated Europe specialist who made his home in Northwest Washington's diplomat-friendly precincts, began working for the State Department as a contract instructor in 1977. He joined full time in 1985 and become a senior analyst with a top-secret clearance in the department's sensitive bureau of intelligence and research.

Starting in 1978, however, the recently divorced Myers visited Cuba for two weeks and was soon recruited by a Cuban intelligence agent. When Myers spent a two-year sabbatical in South Dakota, where he was living with then-Gwendolyn Trebilcock, the agent met Myers again, and he agreed to become a spy.

During the next three decades, the couple would communicate with their Cuban handlers via shortwave radio, exchanging shopping carts in a grocery store and sending encrypted e-mails from Internet cafes. Traveling overseas, they met clandestine Cuban operatives in Brazil, Ecuador, Jamaica, Italy and Cuba via Mexico.

Myers, code name "202," and his wife, "123," never accepted money but would pass along secret information that he later said earned him several medals and a trip to meet Fidel Castro in 1995.

Tipped off to the presence of a Cuban spy in 2006, U.S. investigators by April 2009 tracked down Myers outside Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, where he was a part-time faculty member. It was Myers's 72nd birthday, and an undercover FBI agent posing as a Cuban intelligence emissary gave him a cigar. The gift led to a string of recorded meetings, revelations and the couple's ultimate confession and sentencing Friday.

Myers pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud, and his wife admitted to conspiring to gather and transmit defense information.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company