Ex-State Dept official pleads guilty to spying for Cuba

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. State Department official and his wife pleaded guilty on Friday to charges that they spied for almost three decades for the Communist-led Cuban government.

Walter Kendall Myers had “top secret” clearance and, with the help of his wife Gwendolyn, gave classified information to the Cuban government, U.S. prosecutors said. They also spent an evening with then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1995.

In guilty plea agreements, Kendall Myers, 72, who was known as Agent 202, agreed to a sentence of life in prison, while his wife, 71, known as Agent 123, agreed to serve as many as 7-1/2 years in prison, the Justice Department said.

“For the past thirty years, this couple betrayed America’s trust by covertly providing classified national defense information to the Cuban government,” David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.

The couple also agreed to forfeit $1.7 million in assets, including an apartment in Washington, D.C., a 37-foot sailing yacht, a vehicle and various bank and investment accounts, the department said.

Kendall Myers started at the State Department in August 1977 as a contract instructor at its Foreign Service Institute and left in March 1979. During that period he spent two weeks in Cuba at the invitation of a Cuban government official who actually was an intelligence officer, court documents said.

While the couple was living in South Dakota, that intelligence officer visited them and recruited them to be spies for Cuba, the documents said. They returned to Washington in 1981.

Kendall Myers was told to seek a job at the Central Intelligence Agency, but he decided to pursue one at the State Department because he would not have to pass a lie-detector test to get security clearance, prosecutors said.

He received top secret clearance in 1985 at the State Department and he worked his way up to a position of senior analyst specializing in intelligence analysis on European matters. From 1983 until this year, the couple had a shortwave radio to receive messages from the Cuban government.

With his security clearance Kendall Myers had daily access to classified information and from August 2006 until he retired in October 2007 Kendall Myers viewed more than 200 intelligence reports about Cuba, according to the court documents.

They also used so-called dead drops, brush passes and switching shopping carts at grocery stores to pass the classified materials to their Cuban handlers and traveled to the Communist-led country, the documents said.

Just before being arrested in June, Kendall Myers admitted to an undercover FBI source that he had given the Cuban government information about American sources and methods of gathering intelligence, according to the documents.

The wife worked at a Washington area bank.

U.S. law has strictly limited travel and trade with Cuba since the 1960s in what started as a Cold War policy to isolate Castro after his 1959 revolution. But the U.S. embargo has lost international support, with only Israel and Palau backing the U.S. policy at the United Nations this year.

President Barack Obama has sought to “recast” ties with Cuba since taking office and the U.S. Congress is considering lifting the travel ban to the island 90 miles from Florida.

Additional reporting by James Vicini, editing by Anthony Boadle