With over 30 years in the CIA, SpyGuy answers frequently asked questions on current issues in the SPY world.
Q. What’s the story on this retired State Department officer and his wife who were arrested for spying in June, Walter and Gwendolyn Myers? According the New York Times 19 June 2009 http://bit.ly/VdlpA, the FBI warned the State Department about a suspected mole there in 2006. And yet the Myers weren’t arrested until three years later. It seems there’s always a long delay before the FBI makes an arrest in so many of these spy cases.
Reply: First, we don’t know the basis for the FBI’s suspicion if indeed it did warn State about a suspected mole. It might have been a leak from the Cuban Intelligence Service (CuIS), information from a Cuban defector, or even information derived from intercepts of the CuIS transmissions to the Myers. And we certainly don’t know if the FBI had identified the Myers in 2006. Even if the bureau had reason to suspect the Myers, it has to develop solid evidence to back up its suspicion to enable the Justice Department to bring a case to trial.
Q. Don’t you agree that the CuIS didn’t place much value on the Myers as agents since they used such low tech methods to communicate with them, short wave radio transmissions and exchanging shopping carts in the Safeway with their CuIS handlers?
Reply: I wouldn’t disparage their use of low tech communications; it worked for almost 20 years. The CuIS has routinely used similar low tech methods for communicating with some of its most valued agents in the United States including Anna Montes, the senior Defense Intelligence Agency analyst. Motivated by her strong feelings for Cuba, she spied for the CuIS for some time before she was arrested in 2001. She also received direction from the CuIS by shortwave radio. Many intelligence services including our own still use low tech means for covert communication when it is considered appropriate. Intelligence services work hard to match the right communications method to a particular agent.
Q. Was passing information from 200 reports to Cuban Intelligence the only damage they did?
Reply: Remember that was in just 2007-08. Having an agent in the State Department’s Intelligence office, INR, would be solid gold to the CuIS. The public has a pretty shaky grip on what real spies do – and how much damage they can do. Pop culture in books, TV, and especially Hollywood perpetuate the James Bond myth: spying is all squealing tires and shots in the night. No wonder we are shocked – shocked! – when we read about yet another spy in the government. Walter Myers had the access to provide their CuIS handlers with information about sensitive and classified U.S. foreign policy issues; information and gossip about colleagues: their political leanings and personal weaknesses: and a whole range of information gleaned from his being an insider. The CuIS regards intelligence about the U.S. as a commodity worth selling and bartering with other intelligence services. Walter Myers was in an ideal position to deliver valuable product.