Times and Post Paint Spies for Cuba as Endearing Elderly Couple

“She fell for his worldly sophistication” while he “admired her work helping ordinary people,” gushed a front page Friday New York Times story on Gwendolyn and Kendall Myers, both charged with spying for communist Cuba for nearly 30 years. Deciding “to give the second half of their lives new meaning,” the couple found themselves “disillusioned with the pace of change in Washington” so they once moved to South Dakota, Times reporter Ginger Thompson charmingly related, where “they marched for legalized abortion, promoted solar energy, and repaired relations with six children from previous marriages.” How loveable. (Screen shot is from MSNBC on Friday highlighting the article.)

The Times story arrived 12 days after a front page Washington Post piece, “A Slow Burn Becomes a Raging Fire: Disdain for U.S. Policies May Have Led to Alleged Spying for Cuba,” in which reporters Mary Beth Sheridan and Del Quentin Wilber managed, though the couple's betrayal of their country (and the people of Cuba) started during the Carter administration, to include a shot at former President George W. Bush as the cap to a lead paragraph of, in the Weekly Standard's assessment, “Updikean brushstrokes.” To wit:
He was a courtly State Department intelligence analyst from a prominent family who loved to sail and peruse the London Review of Books. Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies, but to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary. “We were all appalled by the Bush years,” one said.
The Post story proceeded to relay how friends described Kendall Myers as a “witty intellectual” and a neighbor maintained: “When I heard they were arrested, I felt like they had arrested Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.”

From the top of the Friday, June 19 New York Times front page article, “Couple's Capital Ties Said to Veil Spying for Cuba,” by Ginger Thompson, which was illustrated by a photo of the smiling couple:
WASHINGTON — She was twice divorced and fresh out of South Dakota when she fell for his worldly sophistication. He came from one of this city's most privileged families, and admired her work helping ordinary people.

Together, Gwendolyn and Kendall Myers set out to give the second half of their lives new meaning. At first, disillusioned with the pace of change in Washington, the great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell, who at the time was a State Department contract employee, and the housewife turned political activist moved to South Dakota, where they embraced a counterculture lifestyle, even growing marijuana in the basement. They marched for legalized abortion, promoted solar energy, and repaired relations with six children from previous marriages.

When the wide-open spaces of the West quickly grew too small, the couple returned to Washington a year later, renewing their ties to the establishment that they had rejected.

But the government says the real reason for the Myerses' 1980 return was to spy for Cuba. In a complaint that reads in parts like a novel, federal prosecutors allege that Mr. Myers, now 72, used his top-secret clearance as a State Department analyst to steal classified information from government files for nearly three decades, and that Ms. Myers, 71, who worked as a bank clerk, helped pass the information to Cuban handlers. They were arrested earlier this month and are being held without bail.

The strongest argument in support of the government's case may have been made by the Myerses themselves. In the 40-page complaint they are quoted telling an undercover F.B.I. agent how much they admired Fidel Castro, how they sent secret dispatches to Havana over short-wave radio, dropped packages to handlers in shopping carts at local grocery stores, traveled across Latin America to meet with Cuban agents and used false documents to travel to Havana for an evening with Mr. Castro.

American officials say they are still trying to determine what secrets were stolen and the consequences for the nation's security.

It appears that the Myerses were not motivated by money. The authorities said that other than being reimbursed for equipment, the couple were not paid for spying. On the contrary, according to the statements cited in the complaint, which one federal magistrate said made the case against the couple "insuperable," the couple felt disdain for America's foreign policy — Mr. Myers's diary described watching the television news as a "radicalizing experience" — and a romanticized view of Cuba's Communist government...
From the start of the Sunday, June 7 front page Washington Post story, “A Slow Burn Becomes a Raging Fire: Disdain for U.S. Policies May Have Led to Alleged Spying for Cuba,” by Mary Beth Sheridan and Del Quentin Wilber:
He was a courtly State Department intelligence analyst from a prominent family who loved to sail and peruse the London Review of Books. Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies, but to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary. "We were all appalled by the Bush years," one said.

What Walter Kendall Myers kept hidden, according to documents unsealed in court Friday, was a deep and long-standing anger toward his country, an anger that allegedly made him willing to spy for Cuba for three decades.

"I have become so bitter these past few months. Watching the evening news is a radicalizing experience," he wrote in his diary in 1978, referring to what he described as greedy U.S. oil companies, inadequate health care and "the utter complacency of the oppressed" in America. On a trip to Cuba, federal law enforcement officials said in legal filings, Myers found a new inspiration: the communist revolution.

Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 71, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of conspiracy, being agents of a foreign government and wire fraud. Their arrest left friends and former colleagues slack-jawed, unable to square the man depicted in the indictment with the witty intellectual with a prep-school background they knew. The Myerses never talked about Cuba or gave any hint of subversive activities, acquaintances said.

"Anyone who knows him finds it baffling and finds this completely out of character," said David P. Calleo, director of European studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, a friend of Myers for nearly 40 years. "He has this amazing intellectual curiosity. He is open to all kinds of ideas."

Larry MacDonald, who lives at the marina in Anne Arundel County where the Myerses docked their 38-foot sloop, said the couple were admired for their intelligence and graciousness: "When I heard they were arrested, I felt like they had arrested Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny."

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said in an article published yesterday on the CubaDebate Web site that, if news reports about the Myerses were true, "I can't help but admire their disinterested and courageous conduct on behalf of Cuba."...
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center