Arrested for Spying: Walter Kendall Myers, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers


Image via Jovike, Flickr

The story seems like a throwback to the Cold War era: an American couple arrested by federal authorities and accused of spying on the U.S. for a communist country. But the couple in question are in custody right now. U.S. officials believe Dr. Walter Kendall Myers Jr. and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, have been spying for the Cuban government for 3 decades.

The following are excerpts from the Dept. of Justice press release regarding the couples’ arrest:

An indictment and criminal complaint unsealed today in the District of Columbia charge Walter Kendall Myers, 72, a.k.a. “Agent 202,” and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, a.k.a. “Agent 123,” and “Agent E-634,” with conspiracy to act as illegal agents of the Cuban government and to communicate classified information to the Cuban government. Each of the defendants is also charged with acting as an illegal agent of the Cuban government and with wire fraud.

The Myers, both residents of Washington, D.C., were arrested yesterday afternoon by FBI agents. They made their initial appearances today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while serving as an illegal agent of a foreign government carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Whatever their motivations were, the Myerses seemed pretty committed to screwing their nation over, regardless of who was in the White House. Again, from the DOJ release:

[…] Kendall Myers traveled to Cuba in December 1978 after receiving an invitation from an official who served at the Cuban Mission to the United States in New York City. His guide while in Cuba was an official with Cuba’s Foreign Service Institute. This trip provided the Cuban Intelligence Service (CuIS) with the opportunity to assess or develop Myers as a Cuban agent, according to the affidavit.

Approximately six months after the trip, the Myers were visited in South Dakota by the official from the Cuban Mission in New York and, according to the affidavit, Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers agreed to serve as clandestine agents of the Cuban government. Afterwards, the CuIS directed Kendall Myers to pursue a job at either the State Department or the CIA. Kendall Myers, accompanied by his wife, then returned to Washington, D.C., where he resumed contract work at the State Department and later obtained a State Department position that required a Top Secret security clearance.

Their methods of communicating also hearkened back to the most intriguing aspects of Cold War spycraft:

the CuIS often communicated with its clandestine agents in the United States by broadcasting encrypted radio messages from Cuba on shortwave radio frequencies. Clandestine agents in the United States monitoring the frequency on shortwave radio could decode the messages using a decryption program provided by the CuIS. Such methods were employed by defendants previously convicted of espionage on behalf of Cuba. According to the affidavit, the Myers have an operable shortwave radio in their apartment and they told an FBI source that they have used it to receive messages from the CuIS.

Numbers stations, anyone? If you don’t know what those are, here’s a telling description from Wikipedia: “Numbers stations (or number stations) are shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin. They generally broadcast artificially generated voices reading streams of numbers, words, letters (sometimes using a spelling alphabet), tunes or Morse code. They are in a wide variety of languages and the voices are usually women’s, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are used…”

W. Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers were through an old-fashioned sting, tricked into giving up the ghost by “an undercover FBI source.” They seemed rather guileless (or perhaps overconfident) for spies. The DOJ says they eventually told the undercover operative deep info such as their spy code names as well as Gwen Myers’s preferred method for passing info via switched shopping carts, because that was “easy enough to do.”

Not discussed in the DOJ press release were details as to how the couple was paid for what they did. While Kendall Myers probably did pretty well through his various positions both in the State Department and as an educator, he wasn’t rolling in dough. Still, he and his wife found time to buy a nice little boat they named the “Helene.” Gwen Myers even gave a testimony to the boat maker, which the manufacturer published online [PDF]: “It is 8:00 PM here; we are having a drink and are practically melting in our chairs while repeating to one another, ‘we have the most beautiful boat.’ Today the temperature was around 60 degrees and the wind from 4 to 8 knots. We sailed the good ship Helene on the Bay for 4 hours. Kendall sailed then napped for an hour on a pad behind the helm’s seat. I used a finger to occasionally touch the wheel while the boat sailed herself. Clouds were mesmerizing…” [Copy]

Any encomiums in that statement to “peerless leader Fidel” were surely edited out.

W. Kendall Myers caused a bit of a crapstorm in 2006 when he made some decidedly out-of-school statements about the relationship between America and the United Kingdom. His words have an added subtext now. Myers stated that he was “ashamed” of then-president George Bush’s treatment of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and that the US/UK relationship “was a done deal from the beginning, it was a onesided relationship that was entered into with open eyes . . . there was nothing. There was no payback, no sense of reciprocity.”

Kendall Myers, by the way, was also an author. If the DOJ is correct about his and his wife’s activities, he’d been spying for Cuba for more than a decade by the time he published An intelligent traveler’s guide to Western Europe through the Foreign Service’s School of Area Studies in 1993.

An intelligent traveler’s guide to Cuba probably would have been just a little too obvious, I guess.