A former U.S. State Department official who once-held a top secret security clearance has been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for spying for Cuba for nearly 30 years.

The Justice Department said 73-year-old Walter Kendall Myers was sentenced along with his wife, 72-year-old Gwendolyn Myers, who was sent to prison for 81 months for helping her husband steal U.S. secrets.

In court Friday, Walter Myers said he and his wife did not take up espionage for money, or because they were anti-American, but because of their beliefs.  Myers said their overriding objective was to help the Cuban people defend their revolution.  Judge Reggie Walton told the couple that if they believed in the revolution, they should have defected.

FBI agents arrested Myers and his wife in June of last year.

Walter Myers pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit espionage last November.  His wife, who never held a U.S. government security clearance, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to gather and transmit national defense information.  Myers agreed to pay a fine of more than $1.7 million - the amount of money he earned during his years as a government employee.

U.S. authorities say the Myerses made a conscious decision to betray the United States by covertly providing classified national defense information to the Cuban government, and that their punishment should serve as a clear warning to others who would willingly compromise the nation's most sensitive classified information.

Walter Kendall began working for the State Department in 1977 as an instructor at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia.  He moved away from Washington briefly, but then returned and resumed his work with the institute.  

The Justice Department says he also worked for the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.  He received his top secret security clearance in 1985, and in 1999, also was granted access to "sensitive compartmental information."  Between August 2006 and October 2007, when he retired, Walter Myers viewed more than 200 sensitive or classified intelligence reports related to Cuba.  

He and his wife were also accused of meeting with then-Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1995.  Mr. Castro said he did not recall meeting the couple in Cuba and that the case against them was "ridiculous."

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.