The Magazine

At Least He Isn't a Traitor to His Class

The all-too-familiar story of W. Kendall Myers.

Jun 22, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 38 • By SAM SCHULMAN
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The W. Kendall Myers treason story--the retired State Department gent and never-published scholar whose 30 years of skillful espionage on Cuba's behalf has recently come to the notice of the authorities--has already produced one great benefit. Not for some years have we seen newspaper writing like this in the Washington Post:

He was a courtly State Department intelligence analyst from a prominent family who loved to sail and peruse the London Review of Books. Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies, but to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary. "We were all appalled by the Bush years," one said.

Mary Beth Sheridan and Del Quentin Wilber in only a few Updikean brushstrokes paint the character of W. Kendall Myers (age 72) and his wife Gwendolyn (age 71).

Until he retired in 2007, Myers was an official at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), a group within the State Department that scrapbooks intelligence supplied by the 18 federal and military agencies that actually do legwork and plops it on the desk of the secretary of state. Myers is also one of some 130 "professorial lecturers" at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, a title he has held since 1979. Although Myers is a Ph.D.--his 1972 Hopkins dissertation defending -Neville Chamberlain was titled "A Rationale for Appeasement"--his SAIS rank is really nonacademic, shared by a floating crew of 130-odd part-time lecturers, mostly State Department employees and other diplomatic professionals who give classes from time to time. Mrs. Myers was an executive in the computer department of Riggs Bank--a bank often said to have cooperated with the CIA. And since 1979, the government believes that the Myerses have been passing classified information to the Cuban authorities. The couple told FBI agents that they are passionate and committed supporters of Fidel Castro and the transformation he has wrought upon Cuba.

It is astounding to the Washington Post team and to the neighbors and former colleagues they interviewed that a man of Myers's breeding, education, and charm could have dedicated himself to the enslavement of the Cuban people. A colleague from State was particularly astonished because Myers never spoke about Latin America at all, much less Cuba, "ever, ever." It is depressing that our striped pants brigade expects so little of what John le Carré calls "tradecraft" from our spies. Did they imagine the Myerses would wear Che T-shirts and hang souvenir Venceremos Brigade machetes on the walls of their offices?

Myers's academic colleagues are also stunned. SAIS professor David P. Calleo, who often invited Myers--despite his lowly rank--to co-teach with him, thinks Myers's treachery is "out of character." He told the Post that Myers "has this amazing intellectual curiosity" and is "open to all kinds of ideas." This description is high praise, since Calleo is himself open to all kinds of ideas. One of these ideas is that disloyal American Jews have mesmerized the United States through their control of the media into supporting a friendly power that really ought not to exist at all.

Despite his learning and his intellectual curiosity, Calleo is unaware that some of the greatest traitors to the Western democracies were notable for their intellectual curiosity. The KGB spy Guy Burgess, for example, was the "most brilliant, compelling, promising human being" that his Cambridge peer Noel Annan had ever met. Myers, too, has a high opinion of Burgess and the Cambridge Ring of traitors. According to Tom Murray, a SAIS student in the 1990s who looked up his lecture notes when Myers was arrested, "Myers suggested they were called by their sense of duty to 'save' Europe (rather than the British Empire), and that U.S. and U.K. policies 'turned them into' spies." Murray was also impressed by Myers's "dapper Anglophile" wardrobe and sense of style.

Myers didn't charm everyone at SAIS. Another colleague remembers Myers in a different way: "droopy mustache, air of fey, bemused irony, obvious condescension about the petty follies of U.S. foreign policy, love of Europe, unexpressed but evident disdain for America"--in other words, a man with no curiosity at all who feels taking in new ideas is beneath him. One begins to see the truth in Fielding's observation that it requires an unusually "penetrating eye to discern a fool through the disguise of good breeding."