Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Traitors among us

So we’ve caught another spy

Washington Post
American Thinker

This one was at it for thirty years (or so he says). Under the best of circumstances, it is going to take a long time to do a thorough damage assessment.

Unfortunately, the US rarely does thorough, rigorous counter-intelligence investigation when these stories break. Part of the reason is that the DOJ and FBI are interested in winning a conviction at trial. Their investigations focus on building a case against the defendant. The are uninterested (or opposed) to the sort of wide-ranging intelligence analysis that might provide an opening for a clever defense attorney.

This law enforcement mindset is one of the reasons that US intelligence missed opportunities to disrupt al Qaeda before 9-11. After the murder of Meir Kahane, the FBI and DOJ did not mine the intelligence available to them. Instead, they worked to convict the shooter. Thanks to those investigative blinders they missed their chance to break-up the terror cell that bombed the Word Trade Center in 1993. The 1993 mastermind--Ramzi Yousef--was the nephew of 9-11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Peter Lance has done more work on this willful blindness that anyone else.

The State Department, like any bureaucracy, had a natural instinct to CYA. No one wants to dig too deep because it no one knows what else might turn up.

A trapped spy is a mighty temptation for failure laundering. Take all the accumulated doubts about intelligence breaches and blame them on the guy in handcuffs. That way a bureaucracy can say “problem solved” at the same time the public first learns that there is a problem.

Old Angletonians will surely note some of the details in the story. Walter Kendall Myers was able to enter the State Department and begin his espionage career in 1978. That was the nadir of US counter-intelligence. DCI Colby had fired James J. Angleton in 1974, dismantled his staff, and destroyed most of the CI files. Stansfield Turner (DCI from 1977-81) was openly contemptuous of counter-intelligence, security requirements, and human intelligence. Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers are the bitter fruit of Colby and Turner’s regimes.

I suspect that Angleton himself would have a host of questions as he looked at the reports on this case. For one thing, he was deeply interested in the working relationships between the KGB and the intelligence services of satellites like Cuba. A Cuban spy who worked on European affairs at the State Department would certainly pique his interest.

Beyond that there are a few red flags with Myers story that raise further questions.

For one thing, was he really recruited by a Cuban diplomat in South Dakota? During the Cold War, Communist diplomats were under travel restrictions within the US and the FBI conducted surveillance against them as a routine matter. Sending a diplomat to sparsely populated South Dakota to recruit an American spy seems like a high risk move.

Did the Cubans just get lucky because US counter-intelligence was so bad?

Did the Cubans know (thanks to other spies) that their diplomat was not under surveillance on that trip?

Is this part of a cover story to hide the real place and time of Myers’s recruitment?

These are obviously important questions. Knowing when, where, and by whom Myers was recruited is critical to the investigation because it is the starting point for finding others who took the Cuban bait. (Think of Philby, Blunt, Straight, Maclean, and Burgess all recruited at Cambridge in the 1930s).

The current answer--by a diplomat in South Dakota in 1978--seems almost too convenient. It makes Myers a simple fluke.

Had the answer been “in Washington, by an illegal, in 1975,” the hunt would be on for other spies. (Just as the unmasking of Donald Maclean led to the other members of the Philby ring.)

As a former CI hand told Edward Jay Epstein: "moles, like mice, are not often found as singletons".

All of which makes this passage from the American Thinker important:

From 1971-1977 he was an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; later in his career at the Department of State he was a part-time Senior Adjunct Professor in Western European studies until arrest.

(This is the same school senior DIA spy for Cuba, Ana Montes, graduated from with a Masters degree in 1988. It would be interesting to know if Myers helped spot Montes for the Cubans, if they knew each other, if they had friends/Cuban contacts in common in the school at the time

An Angletonian damage assessment would be suspicious of a convenient story that offers an easy out. But does US intelligence have the capability and willingness to do such a damage assessment?

Any one who has read Tennent Bagley’s Spy Wars must have grave doubts.

Spy Wars also offers up a tantalizing thread that screams for follow-up. From the WaPo story:
He got a taste of spying while serving in the U.S. Army from 1959 through 1962, according to friends. Fluent in Czech, he was stationed in Germany, where he monitored broadcasts from what was then known as Czechoslovakia, which was under communist rule.

As Bagley details in his book, the KGB at that time made special efforts to recruit or compromise military personnel engaged in intelligence work. Inquiring minds want to know: are we sure that Myers only turned traitor in 1978? Or was the 1978 actions a reenlistment into a new branch of the Communist cause?

Even if Myers is what he now says he is--a Cuban spy--that does not mean his information stayed in Havana. Intelligence agencies share and trade information all the time. Beyond that we have the example of Robert Hanssen who provided valuable information to al Qaeda via an entrepreneurial KGB agent.

There is no telling who is profiting from the fruits of Kendall Myers’s treachery.

UPDATE: From The Telegraph:

American intelligence officials believe that Cuba acts as a conduit for secrets, receiving them from its agents and selling or trading them with countries such as China, Russia and possibly even Iran and North Korea.

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