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In the end, it was a birthday wish and the offer of a cigar that led to Walter Kendall Myers' downfall. The 72-year-old Myers and his wife Gwendolyn were arrested last week. They're charged with spying for Cuba for nearly 30 years. They have pleaded not guilty. Kendall Myers had top secret security clearance in his job at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He retired in 2007.

But two months ago, an undercover FBI agent posing as an emissary from Cuban intelligence, approached him on the street with that cigar, and what they discussed in several meetings that followed is now the basis for the couple's indictment.

Mary Beth Sheridan is following this story for The Washington Post. And Mary Beth, it sounds like if people were to imagine who might be spying for Cuba, they would never imagine it would be Kendall Myers.

Ms. MARY BETH SHERIDAN (The Washington Post): Well, that's exactly true. His friends and colleagues were absolutely shocked. This is a man from one of Washington's most prestigious and storied families, a prep school background, elite universities, and years of work as an academic and, of course, at the State Department with almost no sign of tremendous interest in Latin America or Cuba at all - barely a peep.

BLOCK: Kendall Myers is the great grandson of Alexander Graham Bell. And you have a great line from somebody who has a boat at the marina where Myers and his wife would dock their boat.

Ms. SHERIDAN: You know, the people who knew them at the marina said they were gracious, they were very kind, they talked about all sorts of things, but never Cuba. They said it's like they'd arrested Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. Nobody could've imagined this delightful couple as being spies.

BLOCK: Well, according to the FBI, anyway, how was it and why was it that Kendall Myers and his wife started spying for Cuba?

Ms. SHERIDAN: Well, it's quite interesting. The FBI produced in court what it said were excerpts from a diary that Myers kept. And in 1978 he talks about becoming increasingly bitter about the U.S. Watching the evening news, he said, radicalized him. He talked about greedy oil companies, about lack of health care. And he was invited at around that time to Cuba, which was an academic trip by a diplomat at the Cuban mission to the U.N. And he went there and fell in love with the island and felt as though these people had triumphed and thrown off their oppression. And he was completely smitten with Fidel Castro.

BLOCK: What other evidence does the FBI say they have?

Ms. SHERIDAN: You know, they have not yet produced all the evidence. They had gone to the State Department in 2006 with indications that there was a spy, but they were not yet sure who it was. And apparently it was around the time when Myers retired in 2007 that the focus was really beginning to be on him. And then the case has been built steadily since then, we're told, and includes conversations that the Myers have had with the undercover FBI agent that they thought was a Cuban talking, apparently, quite openly about their activities.

BLOCK: Kendall Myers and his wife have several meetings with this undercover FBI agent just in the last couple of months here in Washington. What did they allegedly say in those meetings that's now part of this indictment?

Ms. SHERIDAN: They talked about, funnily enough, how paranoid they were for many years about being caught, how cautious they were, how they would never use the telephone. Kendall Myers allegedly said he would rarely take documents out of the office. What he did, he would secrete them overnight in a bookend that had a secret opening and always return them the next day. And then, oddly, when this person introduced himself as a Cuban agent, they seemed to open up very readily - described, allegedly, all the ways that they had for years traveled to different countries and met Cuban handlers, and expressed a tremendous fondness and said that they'd really missed spying for Cuba. Their lives felt emptier without it, and talked about how much they planned to someday sail their boat and go home to Cuba.

BLOCK: And Mary Beth, what's the next step in this case?

Ms. SHERIDAN: Well, the couple will have a detention hearing on Wednesday. And then, you know, at the moment, it looks like it will go to trial. But, of course, sometimes there's plea bargains and so on. So we'll just have to see if, in fact, it does get as far as the courtroom.

BLOCK: Mary Beth Sheridan covers the State Department for The Washington Post. Thanks very much.

Ms. SHERIDAN: Thank you.

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