State Dept. Retiree Accused of Spying
Official, Wife Passed Secrets to Cuba For Decades, Federal Prosecutors Say
Saturday, June 6, 2009
A former State Department official with top-secret security clearance and his wife have been charged with spying for Cuba over the past three decades, passing information by shortwave radio and correspondence exchanged in local grocery stores, federal prosecutors said.
State Department officials said last night they were still assessing the potential damage to the government's security and intelligence operations and declined to comment further.
Within hours of the couple's appearance yesterday at U.S. District Court in the District, a novel-worthy tale began to emerge from court documents and law enforcement sources, depicting an elderly couple of famed lineage, living in a Northwest Washington neighborhood and traveling abroad under code names, motivated by ideology to pass information to Cuban agents.
The couple, Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, were charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents and to communicate classified information to the Cuban government. They pleaded not guilty and were ordered held in jail pending further court proceedings.
Myers is the scion of one of Washington's most storied families. His mother, Elsie Alexandra Carol Grosvenor Myers, was the granddaughter of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone.
The allegations are "incredibly serious and should serve as a warning to any others in the U.S. government who would betray America's trust by serving as illegal agents of a foreign government," said David S. Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.
A spokesman for the State Department said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton "takes this matter, like any allegation of criminal wrongdoing, seriously."
A senior administration official said counterintelligence experts discovered three years ago that there was a Cuban spy at the State Department. The department's diplomatic security bureau looked at "a fairly large population" and began winnowing it down. By the time of Myers's retirement, authorities were reasonably confident he was the suspect, the official said.
"We have since built what we consider to be a strong case," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
In court papers, FBI agents said they recently sent an undercover agent, posing as a Cuban intelligence officer, to meet with the couple. The court papers describe several conversations in which Myers and his wife express their strong emotional ties to the communist country.
"So how is everybody at home?" Myers allegedly told the agent during their first encounter, asking the agent to pass on "our love" to a Cuban intelligence official.
Myers began working for the State Department as a contract instructor at its Foreign Service Institute in 1977, authorities said.