Do We Really Need a New Spy Scandal?
It is not like we don't have enough to worry about already.
Our economic recovery is ranging from slow to wishful thinking. Our unemployment rate is at its highest in 25 years. Our car companies are going bankrupt.
Abroad, though Iran is awash in oil, it insists it needs nuclear reactors for electrical power. North Korea is imprisoning U.S. journalists. The war in Afghanistan is not going well.
And soon, Guantanamo detainees will be loitering outside our local Starbucks demanding spare change.
So do we need a spy scandal, too? No, but we have one.
Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 71, of Washington were charged a few days ago with having spied for Cuba for the past 30 years. Until his retirement in 2007, Walter was a high-ranking analyst for the U.S. State Department with top-secret clearance. Gwendolyn, who worked in a local bank, allegedly passed along secret documents to other Cuban agents by exchanging shopping carts in supermarkets.
Both have pleaded not guilty. The Justice Department says the information they passed along was "incredibly serious."
My favorite headline generated by the arrest of the couple was: "AP Sources: Cuban Spies Very Difficult to Find."
In fact, however, they should not have been very difficult to find. And that is because they acted very stupidly. The problem is that the people looking for them seem to have acted even more stupidly.
First of all, Myers, a lifetime civil servant, and his bank-employee wife own a 38-foot yacht docked at a marina in Anne Arundel County in Maryland. This was their second yacht. They "traded up," according to The Washington Post, because the new yacht had "teak decks."
Spies often seem to live somewhat beyond their means.
Aldrich Ames, an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, got away with spying for the Soviet Union and Russia for at least nine years, even though the CIA was furiously hunting for a mole in the agency.
At a time when Ames had a take-home salary of $38,800 per year, he bought a home for $540,000 in cash, spent $99,000 on home improvements, $7,000 on furniture, $25,000 for a Jaguar and $19,500 for a Honda.
No alarm bells went off at CIA headquarters.
Flash forward. Walter Kendall Myers had been put on a "watch list" by the State Department in 1995, meaning he was under suspicion. But the FBI did not start investigating him until 11 years later. Myers retired from the State Department in 2007, but in his last year there, he accessed more than 200 classified or top-secret documents related to Cuba, even though the documents were unrelated to his job.
Alarm bells? What alarm bells?
What did Myers do with the documents? He took notes and kept them "locked in his office safe."
(Note to State Department: In the future, periodically check the office safes of those people under suspicion of being spies for hostile foreign powers.)
In a locking-the-barn-door exercise, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now called for a "comprehensive damage assessment" as to what secrets the couple may have conveyed to Cuba.
Why did they allegedly spy in the first place? There are clues.
You can argue which conditions were actually more degrading and oppressive — those of pre-revolutionary dictator Fulgencio Batista or those of Fidel Castro — but a more important question comes to my mind: Myers kept a diary? An alleged spy keeps a diary? He is that much of a nitwit, and we still couldn't catch him for 30 years?
And how did we actually get him after all this time? That may be the most interesting part of the entire story.
On April 13, the White House announced it was easing certain travel and financial restrictions involving Cuba, which is sure to be a huge boost to the Cuban economy.
On April 15, an undercover FBI agent met Myers outside the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where he was an adjunct professor. The FBI agent told Myers that he was under orders from Cuba to contact him "because of the change that is taking place in Cuba and the new administration."
Myers apparently fell for it, revealing that his goal was to "sail home" to Cuba.
On April 16, Cuban President Raul Castro publicly welcomed the Obama administration's easing of restrictions, saying, "We are willing to discuss everything — human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything, everything, everything they want to talk about."
On April 17, speaking in Trinidad and Tobago, President Barack Obama said he wanted to "seek a new beginning with Cuba."
On June 4, Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers were charged with conspiracy, being agents of a foreign government and wire fraud. The State Department said it would also seek a return of his salary and retirement benefits.
The timeline suggests to me that the Cuban government may have ratted out the Myerses to U.S. authorities as a gesture of goodwill. We extend an olive branch to Cuba, and the Cubans throw us a couple of old spies.
So perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here: Think twice before you agree to spy for degrading and oppressive dictatorships. You just can't trust them.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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