WASHINGTON — A former State Department official, with a security clearance above top secret, and his wife have been arrested on charges of spying for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years, the Justice Department said Friday.
According to the indictment, the couple may have been working on Cuba's behalf as recently as April, when they were assigned to inform on developments at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, were charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents and with passing classified information to the Cuban government. They also were charged with conspiring to provide classified U.S. information to Havana and with wire fraud.
Justice officials said that the FBI arrested the couple, both Washington residents, on Thursday and they made their initial appearances Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They pleaded not guilty.
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The indictment charges that an official from Cuba's mission to the United Nations recruited the couple to spy for Cuba in 1979, visiting them at their home in South Dakota. The Cuba intelligence service directed Kendall Myers, who'd worked for the State Department in 1977, to resume his employment with the State Department "or the CIA.''
It says that Myers returned to Washington with his wife and got a job at the State Department in a position that required a top-secret security clearance.
"The clandestine activity alleged in the charging documents, which spanned nearly three decades, is 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 Kris, the assistant attorney general for national security.
The arrest comes as President Barack Obama has sought to improve relations with the Cuban government. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., himself a Cuban refugee, called on the administration to halt "any further diplomatic outreach to the regime,'' including the resumption of planned migration talks between the countries, "until the U.S. Congress has a full accounting of the damage these individuals have caused to our national security."
"This is a stark reminder that just 90 miles from our shores, there is a government hostile toward the people of the United States, a regime that seeks to do us harm and works against our interests around the world,'' Martinez said.
The U.S. also has spied on Cuba, although with limited success. In 1988, a Cuban defector revealed that every one of the CIA's Cuba spies was a double agent for the Cuban government.
According to the affidavit, the Justice Department said that Kendall Myers told an FBI source "that he typically removed information from the State Department by memory or by taking notes, although he did occasionally take some documents home.''
The department said that Myers had said that he'd received "lots of medals'' from the Cuban government and that he and his wife had met and spent an evening with Fidel Castro in 1995.
The affidavit alleges that the Cuban intelligence service often had "communicated with its clandestine agents in the United States by broadcasting encrypted radio messages from Cuba on shortwave radio frequencies'' and that the couple have "an operable shortwave radio in their apartment and they told an FBI source that they have used it to receive messages.''
The Justice Department said the spy episode began to unravel in April, when the FBI launched an undercover operation "to convince the couple that they had been contacted by a Cuban intelligence officer and to ascertain the scope of their activities" for Cuba's intelligence service
It said an undercover FBI source posing as a Cuban intelligence officer approached Kendall Myers, saying that he'd been sent by a Cuban intelligence official.
"We have been very cautious, careful with our moves and, uh, trying to be alert to any surveillance,'' the Justice Department quotes Kendall Myers as saying to the FBI source.
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