Strolling among spies

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A new book takes readers on a walking tour of a Washington, D.C., neighborhood that has been home to everyone from covert agents for the Cuban government to Henry Kissinger and Kermit the Frog.
The book, “Spies, Bombs and Beyond: A Walking History of Washington, DC’s Tenleytown,” was written by Mark Fitzpatrick, a career diplomat, author and historian.
A press release about the book states:
“From Indigenous quarries through superpower competition to conspiracy theories like #pizzagate, Washington DC’s Tenleytown and its environs have offered a microcosm of the nation’s history. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Charles Dickens wrote about the town long before its streets and corridors were thick with spies.
“Exploring 70 sites, Spies, Bombs, and Beyond walks readers through the neighborhood, connecting the local to the global and the past to the present. Mark Fitzpatrick examines how diplomacy works and how espionage (sometimes) fails by exploring nearby embassies and the residences of ambassadors and traitors.”

Mark Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick has served at U.S. embassies in South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Austria. He also held senior posts at the State Department in Washington.
His website states:
“As a diplomat for 26 years, Mark wrote hundreds of reporting cables (all in the name of whoever was ambassador, and some of which came to public light through Wikileaks).”
One chapter in his book is dedicated to the stories of several people who spied for Cuba, including Gwen and Kendall Myers. See “Espionage: The Myers case 10 years later.” Fitzpatrick writes:

Kendall seemed to have had a midlife crisis after he hit and killed a teenager at a time when he was divorcing his first wife. He started working for Cuba in 1979 after a two-week visit there at the invitation of a Cuban agent he had met at a Georgetown soiree. At the time, Kendall was working in an unclassified job at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI). (This was the year that I joined the State Department and was myself attending classes at FSI.) Later he applied for an intelligence position at the State Department at the suggestion of the CuIS.
At times, the couple passed information to their Cuban handlers at the Giant Food supermarket at Wisconsin Avenue and Newark Street and other grocery stores by exchanging shopping carts. This required letting the other side know beforehand what groceries they wanted.

Earlier today, Fitzpatrick agreed to answer a few questions about his work.

Cuba Money Project: Is part of the attraction of Washington, D.C., the fact that it’s a city of intrigue, a place where even today we can imagine that spies and double agents could be our next-door neighbors?

Fitzpatrick: For political junkies, Washington is the center of the universe, the epicenter of superpower politics. This confluence of power also means it a center of intrigue, all of which makes Washington, D.C., an alluring city. In researching the history of my corner of the city, I was surprised to learn how many spies lived in and near DC’s Tenleytown and how much espionage was conducted from its streets. A few blocks away from my wife and me, for example, is the house where notorious British double agent Kim Phliby lived from 1949 to 1951. I tell his tale in my book, along with that of his fictional daughter, created by novelist Daniel Silva, who had her living on my street, in a house that sounds much like mine. So yes, it is easy to imagine that spies could be a next-door neighbor.

Cuba Money Project: As a former diplomat, how do you see the cases of such people as Kendall Myers and Ana Belen Montes? Do you have any sympathy for either one? Can we learn anything from their cases?

Fitzpatrick: I never can understand why officials who take an oath of allegiance would break that oath. The reasons commonly cited for betrayal – lucre, ideology, despair and excitement – are wholly outside my own frame of reference. The more I read about turncoats like Kendall Myers and Ana Belen Montes, the more disgust I feel. My own sacrifices as a Foreign Service Officer were minimal, but I know colleagues who lost their families and their health because of service to the United States. Many also lost their lives. For Myers and Montes to use their government positions to assist the enemy betrays those sacrifices. Over the years, I have personally disagreed with many of the policies of my government, but when I was an official, after making my case internally, I saluted and carried out the decisions of my chain of command. The Myers and Montes cases remind us that some people choose a very different response. In my book, I called the Myers couple “liberals gone bad.” This is nothing pejorative about liberals; I count myself as one. On the other end of the political spectrum, FBI turncoat Robert Hannsen was a conservative and a member of Opus Dei. The lesson I draw is that traitors can come in all political persuasions.

Cuba Money Project: Do you have any sense for how Cuban espionage in Washington, D.C., has evolved over the years? Are Cuban spies and their operatives as active as ever?

Fitzpatrick:. I am not able to give a good answer to the question about how Cuban espionage has evolved over the years. When I started the research that became my new book, I expected that most of the spying cases involving Washington would have been hatched in the Kremlin. But I found cases also involving Japan (before WWII), Israel, India and, of course, Cuba. Among the latter, I only studied the three cases explored in my book: Kendall and Gwen Myers, Ana Belen Montes, and Jennifer Miles. I am sure that Cuban agents continue to be active. Much of their activity is directed at the Cuban exile community, centered in Miami, rather than Washington. No doubt that Cuban agents are also engaged in cyber espionage, as is the case with other U.S. adversaries. I would not be totally surprised if another case came to light like that of Myers and Montes.

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4 thoughts on “Strolling among spies”

  1. One side’s traitor is the other side’s person of principle, rising above national chauvinism to higher values of democracy or human solidarity.

    It should be noted that while countries go out of their way to protect their own nationals who are caught spying, they seem to abandon nationals of the target country who risk all on their behalf.

    The US effort to regain Allan Gross and the Cuban demand to free the Five resulted in a four or five year delay against the interest of both countries to normalize diplomatic relations until a trade could be arranged, but did Cuba make any effort to include Ana Belen Montes or Kendall and Gwen Myers?

    Americans who met with Ricardo Alarcón when he was President of the National Assembly usually saw Miguel Alvarez first, his adviser for twenty years. Miguel and his wife Mercedes Arce were charged by Cuba with espionage in 2012, tried secretly in 2014 and sentenced to 30 and 15 years respectively.

    Diaro de Cuba, a right wing on line publication, wrote:

    “Álvarez fue acusado de haber pasado información secreta a su esposa, según las fuentes, mientras que Arce recibió una sentencia menor, supuestamente por usar esa información para escribir informes analíticos sobre Cuba que habría vendido a compañías privadas en México.

    Nunca hubo precisión alguna sobre la gravedad de la presunta brecha de seguridad que habría provocado el matrimonio.”

    https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1604403573_26169.html

    Miguel developed cancer in prison. After one of his sons who lives in Mexico made public his appeal to see their father before his death, Cuban authorities released Miguel to spend his final days in house arrest and permitted his three sons to come from Mexico to be with him.

    There was speculation at the time that the arrest of Miguel was a way to attack Alarcon who left his position as head of the National Assembly one year later.

    Certainly 30 and 15 year sentences for selling economic data to Mexican businessmen seems out of proportion.

    A natural question is whether the US government was a client for the information or whether more serious charges were made in the secret trial. If the US was even marginally involved, why didn’t it include Miguel and Mercedes in the Alan Gross – Cuban 5 deal?

    I met Miguel three or four times at Alarcon’s office and found him to be warm and as open as one can expect of people in his position. During my visits to Cuba during that time of the Bush Administration, I often also met with the head of the US Interests Section. I was always grateful to Miguel for sharing his insights into prospects for improving bilateral relations. All I could do in return was share my views of Cuba debates in the US–and pass on a recent book or two about our politics and culture.

    For two decades after the end of the war I had similar unofficial conversations with government officials of the US, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during my work for normalization of relations. No doubt such an independent pro-reconciliation role provoked suspicion but I don’t think my presence compromised my interlocuters. I hope Miguel’s interaction with me did not contribute to his problems.

    Twenty years after the end of the war, the US ended its embargoes and normalized relations with Indochina and work such as mine was considered a positive contribution in all four countries. The US and Cuba have been locked in conflict for sixty years. Even though Presidents Obama and Castro normalized diplomatic relations, the economic warfare of the unending embargo poisons trust.

    If Presidents Biden and Diaz-Canel can achieve real peace and full natural engagement between our countries, history may look with greater sympathy on the roles of Belen, the Kendals, Alvarez and Arce whose sanctioned illegal actions were probably in part motivated by a desire to overcome the endless deadlock.

    Reply
    • Would recommend you take a broader look to put your thinking in perspective. Start with the CIA-related assassination in Argentina 1976 of the two Cuban diplomats Jesus Cejas and Crescencio Galañena, then span the gamut to the current kidnapping of the two Cuban doctors, Landy Rodríguez and Assel Herrera Correa, in Kenya by the jihadist group Al-Shabaab due to CIA activities in Somalia. Presidents Biden and Diaz-Canel have little to do with “real peace”, call the CIA, they’ll tell you. If you want to look up top, look at what the VP has DONE prior to taking office … co-signed what Municipal Resolution in Oakland? (look it up) … don’t let the media confuse you, do the hard research.

      Reply
    • I Like you point of view. It not seems driven by hate or or some outdated feeling. I hope some day we, the Cuban people, don’t have to deal with the US blockade anymore and we don’t have to be so freaking alert to any harm, just for trying to see it coming,… it will be a lot more easy to live in Cuba, without too many shortage of so many thing.

      … I just can’t understood why so many manipulation, and despite differences of ideologies , US can’t treat us normally, like any other country. But as Cuban, we have the right to choose our destiny without harming anyone. Every country in the world have this right, I repeat: causing no harm to anyone.

      Reply

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