Politics & Policy

Spies in Plain Sight

Communist agents pass for run-of-the-mill liberals in our elite institutions.

We’ve had Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames. Now another case of spying has emerged from the halls of our government institutions. And this one may raise a sardonic chuckle over how casual liberal sympathies and knee-jerk Bush bashing made a Communist agent seem normal among the elites in academia and our nation’s capital.

Kendall Myers, who worked for the State Department for some 30 years starting in 1977, eventually earning Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) clearance, pled guilty and was convicted last month of spying for Cuban intelligence for virtually all that time. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment. His wife, Gwendolyn, was not employed by the State Department, but pled guilty as his accomplice and received a sentence of six to seven and a half years.

In addition to his top-secret State Department work — and along with sending radio dispatches to Havana, and dropping envelopes full of government intelligence in shopping carts, and voyaging through Latin America to convey classified information to his handlers, and using false documents to travel to Cuba to spend an entire evening with Fidel, and staying in shape in case he had to sail his yacht “home” to the island paradise — Mr. Myers kept busy teaching part-time at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, where he had earned his Ph.D.

David P. Calleo, director of European studies at Johns Hopkins, knew Myers for 40 years but was taken completely by surprise at the news of the arrest in June. “Anyone who knows him finds it baffling and finds this completely out of character,” Calleo said. “He has this amazing intellectual curiosity. He is open to all kinds of ideas.”

Why such traits would make spying “out of character” in Professor Calleo’s judgment is not clear, but being “open to all kinds of ideas” is probably the ultimate compliment in the liberal mind, at least on a theoretical level. There were some warning signs, however.

In a heated speech at Johns Hopkins in 2006, which the State Department had to repudiate, Myers raised eyebrows when he denigrated the “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain as a myth, and argued that Prime Minister Tony Blair had been duped by President Bush into supporting the war in Iraq. “His was not the measured, balanced presentation you might expect of a State Department official,” said Robin Niblett of the U.K. Another possible eyebrow-raiser was Mr. Myers’s work on a biography of Neville Chamberlain, whose policies toward the Nazis he admired.    

Nonetheless, during the couple’s time in Washington, nothing about Mr. Myers seemed exceptional. He fit right in with his anti-American attitudes and bitter fury at U.S. policies — his “deep and long-standing anger toward his country,” as court documents put it. “To his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary,” according to the Washington Post. “We were all appalled by the Bush years,” volunteered a neighbor. 

On the other hand, Myers left the State Department for a year shortly after joining, during which time the couple lived in Pierre, S.D. “They were different than what we were used to seeing in South Dakota,” says an acquaintance quoted in the New York Times. “They dressed different. They lived different. There was no question in my mind that Kendall, with his Ph.D., was looking to do more than sit in a small house in Pierre all his life.” Another South Dakota resident remembers Mr. Myers rhapsodizing over life in Cuba.

And indeed it was in South Dakota that a Cuban intelligence officer recruited the Myerses, convincing Mr. Myers to return to State in 1980 so he’d have access to official information. The couple took no money for their efforts.   

A former colleague of Mrs. Myers during her time in a low-level Capitol Hill job observed, “She was not remarkably different than dozens and dozens of other people that you ran across in the 1970s who were McGovernites that got into politics for reasons other than to make a lot of money.”

Well, let’s hope she and her husband were at least a little different from all those other McGovernites. Certainly, not all ex-McGovernites receive the personal commendation of Fidel Castro himself for their “disinterested and courageous conduct on behalf of Cuba.”

– Carol Iannone is editor-at-large for Academic Questions and writes on literature and culture.

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