Elderly US couple pleads guilty in Cuba spy case
Washington: An elderly US couple charged with spying for Cuba for almost 30 years pleaded guilty in the conspiracy on Friday, with the husband agreeing to serve a life sentence, the US Justice Department said.
Walter Myers, 72, a former State Department official with top-secret security clearance, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud, according to the department.
Wife Gwendolyn Myers, 71, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to gather and transmit national defence information to Washington`s Cold War enemy Havana, and will serve between six and 7.5 years behind bars.
The pair also agreed to forfeit USD 1,735,054 -- the total salary Walter Myers earned from the US government between 1983 and 2007, when he made repeated false statements to investigators about his security status.
"For the past 30 years, this couple betrayed America`s trust by covertly providing classified national defence information to the Cuban government. Today, they are being held accountable for their actions," David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
"These guilty pleas should serve notice that we remain vigilant in protecting our nation`s secrets and in bringing to justice those who compromise them."
The couple entered their pleas in the US District Court in Washington before Judge Reggie Walton.
The Myers -- Walter had been known as Agent 202 and Gwendolyn was Agent 123 -- were arrested on June 4 after an undercover FBI sting operation having allegedly passed on secrets for decades to Washington`s Cold War foe.
Shortly after the arrest, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who the couple allegedly met in 1995, dismissed the spying charges as a "ridiculous tale," saying the pair deserve "all the honours of the world" for keeping Cubans safe.
US authorities painted a picture of an intricate and brazen scheme carried out since the late 1970s after Myers travelled to Cuba in 1978 at the invitation of a representative of Havana`s mission to the United States in New York who turned out to be a Cuban Intelligence Service officer.
Myers had begun working for the State Department a year earlier as a lecturer at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
But from 1988 to 1999 he began to work for the department`s bureau of intelligence and research (INR). In 1985, he was given top-secret security clearance which was then upgraded to a higher level in 1999.
By the time he retired, Myers was working as a senior Europe analyst at INR and had daily access to classified information stored on computer databases, the Justice Department said.
A scan of his computer showed that from August 2006 until his retirement in October 2007 Myers had viewed more than 200 sensitive or classified intelligence reports on Cuba, which has been under a US embargo since 1962.
The couple would allegedly get encrypted messages from Cuba via shortwave radio, and Gwendolyn Myers, who worked as an analyst at a local bank, would pass on information to her contacts by exchanging shopping carts in grocery stores because she said it was "easy enough to do”, the department added.
In early 2009, the FBI launched an operation against the couple, who met four times with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Cuban intelligence officer.
Myers told the agent that he usually smuggled information out of the State Department by memorising it or by taking notes.
When asked by the agent if he ever sent information to Cuba that was classified higher than secret, Myers replied "oh yeah... oh yeah."
Apart from being contacted via coded messages on shortwave radio, the couple travelled all over South America and the Caribbean to meet with Cuban agents.
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