WASHINGTON — Walter Kendall Myers spent more than two decades deep in the bureaucracy of the U.S. State Department until this week, when federal authorities accused him of a life of intrigue and espionage as a clandestine agent for one of the U.S.'s longtime antagonists: the communist government of Cuba.
The 72-year-old retired State Department employee — who'd enjoyed top secret security clearance — and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, appeared in federal court Friday, charged with serving as illegal agents for Cuba for nearly 30 years and conspiring to deliver classified information to its government. They pled not guilty.
According to documents unsealed Friday in Washington, Myers, a former Europe analyst for the State Department, and his wife, a bank employee, agreed in 1979 to deliver U.S. secrets to Cuba.
Federal authorities called the couple's spying for Havana "incredibly serious.''
Investigators allege that Myers — at the behest of the Cuban Intelligence Service_ landed a job at the State Department, gained sensitive clearance and traveled with his wife to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and New York to meet with Cuban agents.
He told an undercover FBI source he was so successful that he received "lots of medals'' from the Cuban government, and that he and wife enjoyed a rare private meeting in 1995 with then-President Fidel Castro.
The couple agreed as recently as April to supply information on the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, the Justice Department said.
The Myers were arrested Thursday by the FBI and made an initial appearances Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The arrest comes as President Barack Obama has sought to improve relations with Havana.
Critics moved swiftly to raise caution flags. Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez called on the administration to halt "any further diplomatic outreach to the regime,'' including the resumption of planned migration talks, "until the U.S. Congress has a full accounting of the damage these individuals have caused to our national security.''
The Center for a Free Cuba, advocates for dissidents on the island, called on the House of Representatives and Senate intelligence committees to hold hearings on Cuban intelligence operations in the U.S.
The State Department said the arrests are the result of a three-year investigation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ordered a "comprehensive damage assessment'' to determine what information may have been divulged to Cuba.
Court documents portray a couple who relished their work and missed visiting with Cuban intelligence agents when they stopped traveling in 2006 after worries that Myers' boss at the State Department had "put him on a watch list.''
They proclaimed "great admiration'' for Ana Belen Montes, a senior intelligence analyst who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency and was arrested for spying for
Cuba in 2001. Montes, Gwendolyn said in the records, "was not paranoid enough.''
Montes is serving a 25-year prison term.
Gwendolyn Myers — known by the Cubans as Agent 123 and Agent E-634 — told investigators that her favorite way to pass information along was to swap shopping carts in grocery stores because it was "easy enough to do.''
She told them she wouldn't use her own computer to send messages. Kendall Myers said the couple would "go to Internet cafes.''
The criminal complaint said that Kendall Myers — dubbed Agent 202 — began working for the State Department in 1977 as a lecturer at the agency's Foreign Service Institute. The government alleges a Cuban official visited him and his wife when they were briefly living in South Dakota after traveling to Cuba in 1978, and they agreed "to serve as clandestine agents of the Cuban government.'' They returned to Washington, and Myers resumed working at the State Department.
The complaint alleges that the Cuban Intelligence Service directed Myers to get a job at either the State Department or the CIA, and Myers later told the FBI source he preferred State because "you had to be a good liar to pass (the polygraph test at CIA)."
The complaint said that Myers did apply for a position with the CIA, but began working for the State Department in 1982. By 1985, he had moved up to a position with top secret security clearance. It was later increased further.
The indictment says that in 2007 alone — the year Myers retired from the State Department as a senior analyst — had viewed more than 200 intelligence reports related to Cuba. Of those reports, the affidavit alleges, most were classified "and marked Secret or Top Secret.''
In court records, the Justice Department said that Myers "expresses a strong affinity towards Cuba and its revolutionary goals and a negative sentiment toward 'American imperialism,''' in a diary he wrote about his 1978 trip to Cuba.
"Fidel has lifted the Cuban people out of the degrading and oppressive conditions which characterized per-revolutionary Cuba,'' an alleged excerpt from his diary reads. "He is certainly one of the great political leaders of our time.''
The affidavit alleges that Cuba often "communicated with its clandestine agents in the U.S. through encrypted radio messages from Cuba on shortwave radio'' and that the Myers had "an operable shortwave radio in their apartment of the same make used by Ana Belen Montes.''
The Myers could face as many as 20 years in prison on at least one charge.
The indictment also seeks the return of $1.7 million Kendall Myers earned at the State Department and $174,867 in retirement money.
(Alfonso Chardy and Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald contributed to this article.)
ON THE WEB
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow McClatchy's politics blog: Planet Washington