Nearly three years before he and his wife were arrested on charges of spying for Cuba, Walter Kendall Myers raised the ire of his superiors at the State Department after delivering a lecture that criticized U.S. foreign policy.
Mr. Myers, who was a high-ranking State Department analyst and part-time professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the time, told a gathering at the university in 2006 that the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain was “totally one-sided.”
According to published reports, Mr. Myers said the U.S. stance toward Great Britain, one of its closest allies, is to “typically ignore them and take no notice - it’s a sad business.”
The State Department reacted angrily, calling Mr. Myers “just plain wrong” and ordering him to a meeting with his superiors.
Similar criticisms of U.S. foreign policy are found in Mr. Myers’ writings about Cuba in a diary the FBI said it recently seized. The writings praise former Cuban President Fidel Castro and blast U.S. involvement with the island country as violent imperialism.
Authorities now say Mr. Myers, 72, and his wife, 71-year-old Gwendolyn Myers, were driven to spy for Cuba for three decades by ideology and not profit.
The two pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that they passed hundreds of classified or sensitive documents to Cuban operatives. They remain jailed until a hearing Wednesday morning, at which Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola will decide whether the Myerses can be released on bail. Prosecutors say the couple are a flight risk and want to keep them behind bars.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported Saturday that former Cuban leader Fidel Castro Saturday called charges that the couple spied for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years “ridiculous” and described the case as an “espionage comic strip.”
Mr. Castro neither confirmed nor denied the veracity of the spy charges brought by U.S. authorities or the U.S. Justice Department’s assertion that Mr. Myers used his top-secret security clearance to give classified information to Havana.
But in a dismissive column posted on a Web site on which he writes about Cuba and world affairs, Mr. Castro said he could not recall meeting the couple at some point in 1995, as alleged by the U.S. Justice Department.
He also questioned whether the timing of their arrests was politically motivated, the Associated Press reported.
In an essay read by a newscaster on state television, Mr. Castro noted that the retired Washington couple were taken into custody just 24 hours after the Organization of American States voted to lift a decades-old suspension of Cuba’s membership in that group.
Though the U.S. ultimately supported the OAS vote Wednesday, the administration of President Obama initially wanted to see more democratic reforms on the communist island before Cuba was readmitted. Mr. Castro called the OAS vote “a defeat for United States diplomacy.”
Mr. Myers first fell under State Department suspicion about the time he delivered the lecture about Great Britain. No evidence released so far suggests Mr. Myers’ lecture had anything to do with suspicions he was a spy.
Mr. Myers - a descendant of Alexander Graham Bell - retired several months after the lecture, though he remained a part-time professor at Johns Hopkins. Authorities say the investigation into the Myerses took three years, but made significant progress last month when the couple confessed much of their activities to an FBI agent posing as a Cuban intelligence officer.
Chris Simmons, a retired counterintelligence official, told The Washington Times that based on the evidence he’s seen so far, Mr. Myers could have fallen under suspicion years earlier, and said Mr. Myers made a useful spy for the Cubans for several reasons.
The first, he said, was Mr. Myers’ access to classified information. Authorities say Mr. Myers, who rose to the position of a European analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research during his 30 years at the State Department, would memorize classified documents and rewrite them later to avoid detection.
Mr. Myers also taught at the Foreign Service Institute, which is the federal government’s training center for officials sent overseas. Mr. Simmons suggested such a posting could have allowed Mr. Myers to disclose the names of U.S. foreign agents and possibly compile a list of those who might be sympathetic to Cuba.
The State Department has not said when Mr. Myers first fell under suspicion; a message left with the agency’s press office was not returned Saturday evening.
“It’ll be interesting as the information comes out to see where he did the most damage,” Mr. Simmons said. “Gut instinct is, if he had been approached by security 30 years ago, it may well have stopped 30 years ago.”
Overall, he said, the threat from Cuba is very serious [-] the country is second only to China in its aggressiveness in seeking sensitive U.S. information.
“The economy’s bad in Cuba; hard times make for desperate measures,” he said. “The secrets they steal are a valuable commodity to other nations.”