EXCLUSIVE: Boating couple arrested, charged as secret agents for Cuba

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Walter Kendall Myers and Gwen Myers were preparing to sail their 37-foot sloop in a 10-day cruising rally around Chesapeake Bay when FBI agents arrested them last week on charges of having spied for the Cuban government for 30 years.

A neighbor at Hartge Yacht Yard in Galesville echoed the sentiments of others that knew the congenial boating couple, saying, "I felt they had arrested Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny."

The arrests happened June 4 at a Washington, D.C., hotel. By the weekend, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had weighed in, questioning why the United States had waited so long to make the arrests. Noting that the federal indictment alleged that the couple had spied for idealistic reasons and not for money, Castro said, "People like that deserve every honor in this world. ... I can't help but admire their disinterested and courageous conduct on behalf of Cuba."

To colleagues and fellow boaters, the husband and wife were gracious and intelligent conversationalists. To the Cubans, Walter, 72, was known as Agent 202; while Gwen, 71, was Agent 123.

As investigators worked to uncover the extent of secrets passed to Havana, the FBI sent other agents to Galesville, Md., to search Helene, the Myers' 2006 Malö 37 Classic. Their marina neighbors reported seeing men with bolt cutters and "strange bulges under their shirts" going aboard Helene.

Michael Locatell of Discovery Yachts in Seattle, the importer who sold the Myerses their Malö 37, said he had not heard from the FBI, and he had not made the connection between news accounts of Cuban spies and two people he described as "wonderful to work with."

"I am flabbergasted because I have a totally close, more than a normal, business relationship with them," Locatell said. "We had many dinners together and shared a lot of conversations about his background and what he did. And I just find this to be flabbergasting. I had political conversations with them and he shared his views with me. ... He never ever said anything derogatory about U.S. policy toward Cuba, never, not once."

According to arrest records, Walter Kendall Myers began spying for Cuba in the late 1970s, having been recruited from academia by a Cuban talent scout. Myers had served as a communications specialist in the U.S. Army Security Agency in the 1950s. He earned a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. He went on to perform contract work for the State Department and was an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins.

According to the FBI, Myers was recruited by Cuban intelligence in the late 1970s and tasked with getting a full-time job at either the CIA or State Department. For the next 30 years, he and his wife passed secrets to Cuban operatives using tradecraft techniques right out of spy literature. The Cuban government would instruct him on what information it sought via coded messages that Myers received over a shortwave radio set. Using his top-secret clearance at State, he would then research the topic, and he or his wife would deliver the information by swapping supermarket shopping carts with their Cuban handlers and other covert techniques.

Myers retired from State in 2007, apparently under a cloud of suspicion. But it was not until April 15, 2009, that the FBI initiated an undercover operation that would lead to the Myerses' arrest. An FBI agent made contact with the couple, pretending to be a Cuban intelligence operative. The couple opened up to their new contact during three face-to-face meetings and made the incriminating admissions that led to their arrests, according to the FBI.

The couple recounted to the undercover FBI agent how they had spent an entire evening with Fidel Castro during a surreptitious visit to Havana in 1995. They also talked about how Helene would facilitate their escape from the United States if need be. Here's how the FBI described those exchanges in a sworn statement to a federal judge:

"In responding to a question regarding how they might escape 'from the States,' Kendall Myers stated that they did not need false travel documents to cross the border because 'we're sailing there.'

"Gwendolyn added, 'We've always said we'll just come on a boat. ... We'll, then we have our place to live [on the sailboat]. Nobody has to put us up."

Locatell said the Myerses paid about $350,000 for their Malö, having entered into the deal after a visit to the factory in Sweden.

The couple faces up to 35 years in prison for espionage but also because Kendall Myers allegedly defrauded the U.S. government whenever he took his State Department salary. According to court papers, the Feds plan to seize "any and all interest that [the Myerses] have in property derived from proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from a wire fraud scheme."

Click here for the affidavit and here for the indictment.

— Peter Swanson

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