'Shock' Over Retirees' Alleged Spying for Cuba

Neighbors shocked by accused Cuban spies, but area has a history of espionage.

June 9, 2009— -- They're accused of spying for Cuba for three decades. And if prosecutors are able to prove the charges against Washington, D.C., couple Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers in court, neighbors will be left scratching their heads, wondering just how the retirees pulled it off.

In the Myers' neighborhood, a leafy section of Northwest Washington that lies in the shadow of the colossalNational Cathedral, neighbors expressed shock about the accusations.

"I'm appalled that we have people like that in our midst, who've obviously -- apparently, been spying for a considerable length of time," one government retiree living in the neighborhood who declined to give his name told ABC News.

"I actually live in the building across from them and I'm a little shocked, a little scared, you know," said a female neighbor.

FBI agents arrested retired State Department analyst Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, in Washington, D.C. last Thursday. The pair, known as "Agent 202" and "Agent 123" or "Agent E-634," respectively, face charges including fraud, conspiracy and acting as agents of a foreign government.

Attorneys for the Myerses declined comment to ABC News; the couple pleaded not guilty at their arraignment.

Kendall Myers' pedigree allowed him to mesh seamlessly in the nation's capital. A native Washingtonian, his ancestry is intertwined with American history.

A great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell and a grandson of Gilbert Grosvenor -- widely considered the father of modern photojournalism and the longtime chairman and editor-in-chief of National Geographic -- Kendall Myers matriculated at Brown University and pursued his master's degree and PhD from Johns Hopkins University.

He later became an adjunct professor of European studies at his graduate alma mater and worked for the government, obtaining a top secret security clearance along the way.

Kendall Myers married Gwendolyn Steingraber in 1982, and according to court documents, the pair have an affinity for the sea.

The FBI affidavit notes that in an April 15 meeting with an undercover agent, "Kendall Myers indicated they could sail to Cuba on their sailboat and that 'they already ha[ve] the charts… the maps… a cruising guide' to do so."

Later, Kendall Myers allegedly stated "our idea is to sail home" to Cuba.

'Wonderful' Meeting with 'Incredible Statesman' Fidel Castro

The couple allegedly had a secret meeting with Fidel Castro himself in January 1995 -- a "wonderful" meeting with an "incredible statesman," they allegedly said -- and traveled to Cuba or met with Cuban agents in other countries.

After the Justice Department announced the charges, Castro wrote a column in which he called the case "ridiculous" and said he had no recollection of the meeting.

"What surprised me for anything is it was for Cuba, which is kind of a third-rate or fourth-rate deadbeat country," remarked a neighbor out walking his dog. "You know, if it was for the Russians or the Chinese, or the Hezbollah or something it'd be different."

But another neighbor of the alleged spies had a different take, pointing out that "spies are very clever and extremely capable of disguising their real intentions."

But the Myers' neighborhood is no stranger to espionage intrigue during the Cold War and beyond, due to its proximity to the former Soviet and now Russian embassy, which is less than a half mile away from the suspected spies' apartment.

During the 1980s, Victor Cherkashin, who worked as the KGB's counterintelligence chief in Washington, oversaw two of the most damaging spies ever to develop within in the ranks of the U.S. intelligence community: the CIA's Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen of the FBI.

Cherkashin recruited both, meeting with Ames at Chadwick's restaurant in Georgetown, where the CIA mole turned over a list of names of Russians spying for the United States.

Hanssen revealed to the KGB that the FBI and National Security Agency had built secret tunnels underneath the embassy to conduct electronic surveillance of the complex.

Both Ames and Hanssen are serving out life sentences in federal prison. Cherkashin returned to Moscow in 1986 and retired from the KGB five years later; he detailed his activities in his 2005 book "Spy Handler."

Spies, Handlers and Clandestine Meetings

More recently, freelance journalist Joshua Kucera penned an account of meeting with a Russian diplomat in which the official asked him to write positive stories about the country in exchange for money.

The meeting, Kucera said, took place over fajitas and enchiladas at Cactus Cantina, a restaurant that, like the Russian embassy, lies within a half-mile radius of the Myers' home.

Additionally, Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard met his handler in the Dumbarton Oaks section of Washington, an area known for its gardens and historic homes and situated between the Myers' neighborhood and historic Georgetown.

As for Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers, court documents lay out their alleged means of communicating with Cuban officials: A Sony shortwave radio, which investigators said they recovered from the Myers' apartment.

The presence of a shortwave radio is a recurring theme in Cuban spy cases, such as those of former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes and husband-and-wife spy team Carlos and Elsa Alvarez, who worked at Florida International University.

Authorities arrested Montes in 2001 and the Alvarezes in 2005; in both cases the spies had used a shortwave radio which they used to receive encoded messages similar to the allegations against the Myers.

Montes revealed the names of at least two covert U.S. intelligence officers during her tenure as a spy; she is serving out a 25 year prison sentence. Court documents in the Myers case allege that that they helped the Cuban Intelligence Service verify the information Montes provided.

"Some of the stuff I supplied, [Ana Montes] supplied. There was duplication," the criminal complaint quotes Kendall Myers. "Which is terrific," Gwendolyn Myers allegedly added,"because what they got was verified... from two different places."

The Myers allegedly used spy tradecraft in addition to the shortwave radio, such as shopping cart switches at grocery stores, the use of encoded emails to a man known as "Peter Herrera," who posed as a Mexican art dealer, use of water-soluble paper for note taking and "bookends that were used as a concealment device at their home," the affidavit states.

But it's unclear when, if ever, they will return to that home. The couple will be in federal court for a Wednesday hearing, in which a judge will determine whether or not they should remain in custody until their trial.

ABC News' Matthew Larotonda, Lisa Chinn and Theresa Cook contributed to this report.

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