WASHINGTON — A retired State Department intelligence analyst was sentenced to life in prison and his wife got 81 months 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, agreed to forfeit $1.7 million in cash and property, including all of Walter Myers' federal salary over the years. He did not have to give up a 38-foot sailboat he 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 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. Handing down punishment for Walter Myers' guilty plea in November to conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud, Walton endorsed the couple's request to be incarcerated near each other with easier access to their siblings, children and grandchildren.
The judge's sentence for Gwen Myers fell halfway between the 72 months to 90 months she had agreed to in her deal with prosecutors, for gathering and transmitting national defense information. Her lawyers 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-sleeved 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," Myers said in a 10-minute statement 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 Florida Strait.
Myers, an Ivy League-educated Europe specialist who made his home in Washington's diplomat-friendly precincts, began working for the State Department as a contract instructor in 1977 before joining full time in 1985 and becoming 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-long sabbatical in South Dakota, where he was living with then-Gwendolyn Trebilcock, a former aide to Sen. James Abourezk, the agent met Myers again, and he agreed to become a spy.
Over 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-named "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.
"Everything I hear about Fidel suggests that he is a brilliant and charismatic leader," Myers wrote in his journal in his 1978 Cuba visit, where he also rued the "systematic and regular murdering of revolutionary leaders" by the United States. His enthusiasm seemed undimmed 31 years later, when he confided to an FBI agent posing as a Cuban contact, "Fidel is wonderful, just wonderful."
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' 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, which happened to fall on Gwen Myers' 72nd birthday.
The State Department and intelligence community officials have not publicly assessed the damage done by Myers to the U.S. government, but experts said he would have had years of access to intelligence reports from the U.S. and its allies, as well as to databases with information from the CIA, the National Security Agency, the military and U.S. embassies. In the last 15 months before his retirement in 2007, Myers amassed more than 200 sensitive or classified intelligence reports in his computer.
After the couple's arrest, Castro was quoted in a Cuban media report stating his admiration for "their disinterested and courageous conduct."
The Myerses felt no remorse, motivated by communist sympathies and a "rose-colored picture" of Cuba, said Ronald Machen, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
"Kendall Myers was born into this world with every conceivable advantage," Machen wrote, describing the son of a heart surgeon, grandson of the National Geographic Society's head and great-grandson of inventor Alexander Graham Bell as a child of privilege. Machen added, "Kendall Myers could have been anything he wanted to be. He chose to be a Cuban spy."