Saturday, June 06, 2009

Spies and Numbers - The Kendall Myers Case

On June 5, 2009 the US Department of Justice announced that US State Department official Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers were arrested on charges of espionage for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years. Myers, now retired, worked at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). He held a Top Secret security clearance and had daily access to classified information. This is without a doubt a most damaging spy case.

He and his wife acknowledged having received encrypted messages from Cuban Intelligence via a shortwave radio they possessed. The Columbia State District Court indictment stated that "Cuban intelligence broadcasts encrypted shortwave radio messages in Morse Code or by a voice reading numbers" and also that "It was part of the conspiracy that Cuban Intelligence would and did broadcast shortwave messages in Morse Code which were receive by Kendall Myers". Cryptome published the State Court indictment (3.3 MB zip file) which contains sections describing the numbers station.

This case once again confirms that the mysterious numbers stations are indeed used by Intelligence agencies to communicate with their agents. The streams of numbers or letters are sent by powerful shortwave transmitters in Morse or by voice. Although there were more numbers stations in the Cold Ware era, many are still very active and, not surprisingly, some of them are Cuban. Radio amateurs monitor these broadcasts and they sometimes give nicknames to stations, according to the introduction phrase. The Cuban Spanish Lady "Attencion", described at Simon Mason's Shortwave Espionage pages, is one of them.

Although no government or legal broadcaster has ever acknowledged the existence of numbers stations or admitted any involvement with these stations, the official court documents again show clearly that these stations are indeed used by intelligence services to send secret messages. And still, every day, numbers messages are transmitted all over the world. Who's listening to them?

More about the Myers case is found on the US DOJ website. If you want to read more about the mysterious numbers stations, just visit my numbers web page. The FBI affidavit (pdf) and the Court Indictment on the Ana Belen Montes case, a Cuban agent caugth in 2001, are also published. It describs in detail how she received and deciphered numbers messages. And as a bonus, here's a video of a numbers reading machine, used by the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit. Update: In november Tom Diaz wrote a good two-part post called "Spies Like Them" on the Myers case. Read Part One and Part Two on his Fairly Civil weblog.

Update July 16, 2010: The US Department of Justice announced that Walter Kendall Myers is sentenced to life imprisonment without parole and that Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers is sentenced to 81 months in prison, for their 30 years spying carreer and for passing highly-classified U.S. national defense information to the Cuban Intelligence.

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