WASHINGTON — The 73-year-old great grandson of Alexander Graham Bell was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for quietly spying for Cuba for nearly a third of a century from inside the State Department. His wife was sentenced to 5½ years.
Retired intelligence analyst Kendall Myers said he meant his country no harm and stole secrets only to help Cuba's people who "have good reason to feel threatened" by U.S. intentions of ousting the communist Castro government.
But U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said Myers and his 72-year-old wife, Gwendolyn, had betrayed America and should receive heavy punishment.
"You never know what the effect will be" from stealing classified information, said the judge. Someone "could be killed."
Justice Department prosecutor Michael Harvey said the couple received medals from Cuban intelligence and were flown to the island nation for a visit with Fidel Castro in 1995. They pleaded guilty last November.
The couple's overriding objective was to help the Cuban people defend their revolution, Myers told Walton. He said that he and his wife tried to accurately report what U.S. policy was toward Cuba, to warn Cuba and to try to assess the nature of any threat.
"At the expense of the United States," Walton interjected.
In a sentencing memo to the judge, prosecutors said Myers, a descendant of Bell, the inventor of the first practical telephone, was a child of wealth and privilege, attended a private boarding school in Pennsylvania and Brown University and obtained a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University.
"Kendall Myers could have been anything he wanted to be," they wrote. "He chose to be a Cuban spy."
According to prosecutors, Myers, who began teaching at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute in 1978, was contacted by the Cuban intelligence service to be a covert agent, and he recruited Gwendolyn in 1979. The couple married three years later. The Cubans referred to him as Agent 202, his wife as Agent E-634.
Myers rose to director of European studies at the Institute, and then in the eight years before he retired in 2007 he was a senior intelligence analyst at State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Prosecutor Harvey said Kendall Myers had daily access to classified information and pursued government colleagues for more.
Court documents described the couple's spycraft changing with the times, beginning with code messages over a short-wave radio and shopping carts exchanged in a grocery. By the time they retired from the work in 2007, they were said to be sending encrypted e-mails from Internet cafes.
At the same time, they were enjoying the fruits of living in the United States, spending inherited wealth on a yacht, said Harvey.
One of the couple's lawyers, Tom Green, said the two lived a very modest lifestyle.
Divergent views of loyalty and country dominated the hourlong sentencing hearing.
"The United States is not a perfect nation," Walton said, noting that he has ancestors who were born into slavery. The judge told Myers that "neither is Cuba perfect." It is "not a beacon of liberty."
If they felt so strongly, he told the couple, "you should have defected" to Cuba.
Prosecutors had written that Mrs. Myers could have faced 10 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. Defense attorney Green argued for less because she has suffered a heart attack and minor strokes and the full amount "could be a life sentence."
Walton gave her 81 months, with time off for the 14 months she has already served. That works out to a sentence of just over 5½ years.
The sentencing came just a week after the U.S. swapped 10 deep-cover Russian spies to Russia for four men serving sentences for betraying Moscow to the West. The 10 were allowed to plead guilty to being unregistered foreign agents and then were deported.
Unlike the Myerses, who are U.S. citizens, the 10 Russian spies were all foreigners, mostly Russians, and the government said it had watched and tracked them for more than a decade and saw no benefit to be gained from imprisoning them. The government said the 10 had not transferred any secret information to the Russians.
Green said that the Myerses had undergone hundreds of hours of debriefings by interrogators from multiple federal agencies. The FBI concluded that Kendall Myers had withheld some information during that questioning, though Green disputed that. He said Myers had worked diligently to recall all information relevant to the criminal case.
Kendall Myers was caught in an FBI sting operation launched after he retired from the government. He was videotaped telling an undercover agent, posing as a Cuban agent, that he wanted to resume his work for Cuba.
"I was actually thinking it would be fun to get back into it," Kendall Myers said on the videotape, according to the prosecutor.
In June 2009, right after the arrests, Fidel Castro questioned the timing — just 24 hours after the Organization of American States voted to lift a decades-old suspension of Cuba's membership in that group.
"Doesn't the story of Cuban spying seem really ridiculous to everyone?" Castro asked, without commenting on its validity.
There was no immediate reaction from Havana on Friday to news of the sentences.
The Myerses have six children and seven grandchildren, and the judge agreed to recommend that the Bureau of Prisons lock the couple up near each other to make visits easier on family members.
The couple agreed to forfeit $1.7 million, the amount Kendall Myers was accused of defrauding the government of by receiving a federal salary while working for Cuba.