“I couldn’t force myself to hate America”: the incredible history of the Soviet spy in the USA
Jack Barsky's story is unique. He was the first Soviet spy in America who refused to go back, and at the same time managed to avoid both the revenge of the KGB and the arrest of the FBI. After many years of life in the United States, he was nevertheless opened up, but in the end, it was not prison and deportation that awaited him, but, on the contrary, American citizenship. ForumDaily talked to a former Soviet spy who now lives in the vicinity of New York.
His own among strangers
When in 1949 a boy was born in a war-ravaged and Soviet-occupied East Germany Albrecht Dittrichnobody could imagine that in many years he would become known in America under the name of a Soviet spy illegal Jack Barsky. It was under this name that Albrecht came to the United States in 1978 on the instructions of the KGB. Almost 20 years he lived in the United States on other people's documents, and led a double life, torn at 2 country and 2 family, unaware of the existence of each other.
In the 1988 year, when the curators ordered him to return to the GDR, the agent made the final decision to remain in the United States. Another 9 years Jack Barsky lived in America as an ordinary good citizen, until in May 1997 of the year he was detained by the FBI. The most surprising thing in the history of Barsky was that he did not spend a single day in prison, and even deserved American citizenship - this time legally, after years of cooperation with the authorities.
“The trajectory of life is largely determined by where and when you were born. At least in my case, that was exactly the case. In many ways, I am a product of the Second World War. My parents met after the end of the war, and the Soviet occupation of East Germany became a factor that made me a communist. In the end, this led to the fact that I began to spy on behalf of the KGB, ”says Barski in an interview with our website.
According to Jack Barsky, almost everyone in his circle truly believed in communism. Another attractiveness of Marxism in the eyes of the young Albrecht was the emphasized “scientific character” of the Marxist approach.
“It seemed logical to me that communism would replace capitalism, and I wanted to take part in accelerating this process,” he admits.
Albrecht graduated from a university in East Germany and received a degree in chemistry. It was then that the KGB officers appeared in his entourage, who ultimately offered an unusual “special mission” - the introduction of the “main enemy” into the country using fake documents.
“The very idea of going undercover to work is a mission akin to suicide. No normal person can decide what he is capable of. But for me to pretend to be American was a kind of challenge, and I decided that I could. Probably, I was too arrogant, and there was no one around who could dissuade me, ”says Barsky.
Before starting to prepare a new agent directly for the assignment, the security officers looked at him for a long time, building "friendly" relations, and then giving various training tasks.
“They seemed trustworthy, I felt I could rely on them. They communicated with me while I was studying and working at the university, and were very friendly, although, I am sure, they then reported in detail about each of our meetings. I even confessed to them that I am embarrassed to meet girls, and they gave me advice on this matter, ”recalls Barsky.
“Interesting: they never offered me psychological or personal tests. But they gave quite definite tasks - the specific name of a person who has relatives in the West, his exact address - and told him to talk to him and learn more about these relatives. I remember once during the next such assignment I introduced myself with a fictitious name and told the “object” that I wanted to ask him a few questions for the research conducted by the university. Initially, my questions had nothing to do with the subject of the investigation, but in the end I managed to incline him unnoticed to this topic. When I went to Bulgaria, I also had to write a report about all my impressions. Sometimes I was assigned to compile profiles of certain my fellow students or students. I do not think it could somehow affect them — rather, it was a form of practice, ”he lists.
Albrecht was not the only new agent the KGB was preparing at the time. According to the data transferred to the West by a defector Vasily Mitrokhin, at that time there were only 6 agents, but they were prepared individually.
Jack Barsky recalls: the most difficult thing for him was not even to take on someone else's identity, but to stop being who he was, to drop his past, leave home, family, career and even his favorite basketball team, which he played from childhood.
They followed the 2 year of study in Moscow (first of all - the English language), which he now calls no other than an unhappy period.
“Having arrived in America, I was already pleased that I could again interact with ordinary people, and not just with KGB officers,” he admits.
Dittrich arrived in America with a birth certificate in the name of a boy who died in 1955 at the age of 10 years - Jack Barsky. A member of the Soviet embassy in Washington saw this name on a headstone and suggested using it. The KGB officers obtained a birth certificate from the father of the child. Before setting off on a mission, the spy was carefully drafted a legend, in particular, showed photographs of those places in New York where he allegedly studied and grew up: the school, the first job related, as in his “first” life, to chemistry.
“My first impression of the United States was that East Germany was a black and white film, and the West was a color. Even the facades of houses and the clothes of the people here were much brighter than at home. I will not say that it could shake my ideology at that moment, but that was the first impression, ”says a former spy.
However, even the external attractiveness of the West could not immediately engender doubts in the soul of the KGB agent: not in the matter of the superiority of communism, nor in the "hostility" of the West. Jack Barsky recalls how in Germany he communicated with a man whom the East German Stasi was preparing to work in West Berlin. However, at the last moment this failed agent was so frightened by the prospect of going to the West that he refused the proposed assignment.
“We were prepared to the extent that we would be in enemy territory, that many people simply could not bear it psychologically. When I arrived in the States, I could not even immediately determine how people treat me, and it took a long time to figure it out, ”says Barsky.
At the same time, his teachers in the KGB were well-known spies who at one time recruited, among other things, several American physicists who transferred atomic secrets to the USSR. Even now, having long been disappointed in his original ideas, Jack Barsky considers them wonderful people.
“They were childishly naive, and they firmly believed in communist ideas, to the extent that by the year 80 there would be free bread in the USSR,” recalls the former illegal.
In Moscow, Albrecht Dittrich underwent extensive training in the field of spyware: skills of encryption and decryption, detection of observation, etc. However, the main achievement of the young German was mastering English with little or no accent.
“As for the accent, I myself still hear it. Some people hear it too, some do not, at least for the majority it is not obvious. However, learning English was very hard. Many English words are ambiguous, for example, the words “can” or “do” are devoted to 3 pages in the dictionary. Sometimes you just do not know which word is best to use in a given situation. This is an almost impossible task. I was lucky that in the first company where I worked, people didn’t worry too much about who you were and where you came from, and I tried to take a closer look at their style of communication. During 2 of the year, I began to communicate, practically, like a real American, ”said Barsky.
The first country where Jack Barsky got after the Soviet Union was Canada, where he spent the 3 month. From there he arrived in New York. However, the Soviet training was clearly not enough to understand the cultural nuances. For example, once Jack could not understand what he was offered to buy marijuana, having decided that they simply wanted to ask for cigarettes from him — the way it used to be done in the Soviet Union.
“Even Soviet residents who worked at the embassy and then returned to the USSR from the USA did not really know what it means to be an American. They looked at American life from the outside - the way we look at the life of the fish in the aquarium because of the glass. And when they tried to teach me how to “be a fish,” it definitely didn’t work because these people were never integrated into American society, ”Barsky said.
Working undercover was dangerous. The former spy remembers: he tried to think only about his next step, not remembering the past and not thinking about the future.
“In Germany, I left my wife, but I didn’t allow myself to think about her, focusing only on my assignment,” he recalls.
Barsky married his girlfriend Gerlinde in one of his visits from the USA to Germany in 1980, they had a son Mathias. Every 2 of the year, Dittrich visited them on 3 weeks on vacation in East Berlin, bringing expensive gifts to his family. The German family was completely unaware of what he was doing. My wife and son thought that dad got some very secret and well-paid job at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. At the same time, Barsky himself admits: until the last moment he managed to share these 2 lives.
In America, Barsky, using a fake birth certificate, was supposed to receive official documents. According to a legend developed by the KGB, his mother died when he was a teenager, because of which he had to give up high school and instead work several years on the farm to earn a living. This technique helped him get an SSN as an adult, explaining that he simply did not need a social security number on the farm.
“It was one of the most dangerous moments for me, since I had to go to the interview. I understood that the main question would be why I did not apply for a number earlier. I deliberately got dirty, dressed carelessly and tried to look as if I had just fiddled with potatoes on the farm. Surprisingly, everything went smoothly, ”he admits.
Later, he was able to get another ID - a driver's license, and then - the coveted American passport, though not on the first attempt. By submitting the documents for the first time, he did not enter the name of the secondary school where he studied, fearing that it could be revealed, and, depicting irritation about the American bureaucracy, left the building, taking the documents. He managed to get a passport after Jack got a real education in the USA, and was able to indicate a real university in the application form.
In Germany, Albrecht Dittricht had a doctorate in chemistry, but the American Jack Barsky could not explain to anyone where he got it, so he had to finish college first, and then the university, in the United States. He mastered programming, which helped him get a new, more prestigious job in an insurance holding. Over time, his attitude toward American society began to change. With all his efforts, he could not see in him that evil incarnation that the instructors in the KGB instilled in him. In addition, American work began to take more and more time.
"During the oncolls (weekly online duty, often practiced in IT companies - FD) sometimes I had to work at night, sometimes on weekends. I often simply did not have time for espionage activities, and the need to carry it out caused more and more irritation, ”Barsky admits.
“They began to demand information about scientific achievements and technologies from me only during my last visit to Moscow in 1986 year. At first, I worked mainly in the field of political intelligence. Then they told me that the KGB needed any technology that would fall into my hands. However, I could not find more than computer programs and codes used in private business. I also gave them the names of candidates for possible recruitment, ”says a former spy.
In his activities, Barsky used caches, and tried to avoid personal contacts with the Soviet residency.
“The FBI had no reason to follow me, but it certainly followed them (by Soviet residency. - Author), and therefore I still took risks,” he explained. For the rest, his espionage technique did not differ much from what we used to see in the cinema: the secret places for laying caches, special addresses to which he sent letters — in particular, to South America; secret radio transmissions of signals.
Spy, get out
In 1988, Barsky unexpectedly received a conditional signal from the KGB that he needed to go back to East Germany. It seems that the KGB decided that the agent could be disclosed in the United States. This meant that the task of the spy had come to an end.
"In addition to the red dot depicted in the conditional location, I received an encrypted radiogram describing the exfiltration plan (emergency departure from the country. - Auth.) and describing where were the documents used in unforeseen circumstances. With them, I had to go to Canada, from where exfiltration was supposed to take place. They already knew that this should not take me long. However, I did not take the documents prepared for an emergency, ”says Barsky.
The Soviet spy decided to stay in the United States because of Chelsea’s little daughter, whom the American wife Penelope gave birth to.
“It was the first time in my life when I realized that I felt unconditional love for someone, expecting nothing in return. I saw my son in Germany for 3 weeks once every 2 year, and this is a slightly different feeling. But when you see a little creature every day that is completely dependent on you, it feels different. Chelsea was also a charming girl, ”the former spy admits.
According to him, the choice between the son and daughter was not easy, but Barsky decided that he was more necessary for his one and a half year old daughter. Moreover, he was harder psychologically involved in espionage: reality stubbornly turned out to be stronger than ideology, and he again and again convinced that the West was not as cynical and hostile as the KGB curators said.
“I always tried to find the real“ villains ”, but I did not find them even in the insurance company. In reality, I did not find anything of what we were told, nothing of what I expected. I really wanted to hate these people and the country, and could not bring myself to do it. Even just to convince myself that I don’t like them, I couldn’t, ”he admits.
As a result, Barsky told the KGB that he was infected with AIDS and could receive treatment only in America. On this, his double life is over.
“When I found out on television about the fall of the Berlin Wall, it didn’t completely touch me emotionally. I realized that this means nothing to me. I knew that I would never return to Germany. The collapse of the Soviet Union was for me an even less significant event, ”says Barsky.
However, living the life as an inconspicuous "American burgher" from a former spy did not work out. Due to the transfer to the West of the already mentioned Vasily Mitrokhin, the name of Barsky became known to the FBI. Agent Joe reilly from the American counterintelligence department, he followed him from 1993 and finally detained in 1997. Interrogations continued at the motel throughout the weekend, after which the FBI man decided that the former spy was no longer a danger to the United States, but his information could be useful to America.
“I did not know a single name of other agents, but I knew a lot about how the KGB conducts its operations, their technologies, some of which I was able to transfer National Security Agency"Says Barsky.
As a result, Barsky managed to not only escape prison, but also in 2014 year legally obtain US citizenship. At the same time, he preferred to get it to his “second” name, since, as it is claimed, he got used to him much more than to German Albrecht Dittrich. Thanks to Joe Reilly, the government made the concession. By the way, Barsky and Raleigh, who delayed him, are still friends, and even regularly play golf together.
True, the marriage of the former Soviet spy did not save - the former spouse did not forgive deception.
“I tried to explain to her that I loved her, and even refused to return to Germany, staying in America for her and her daughter. However, she did not forgive me that, having lost my American citizenship, I made her stay in the country illegal. She was an emigrant, and it was important for her to marry a US citizen, ”laughs Barsky.
Penelope, however, also allowed to remain in the United States, but the former spouses did not maintain good relations, and litigation proceedings over the divorce lasted for a long time. But the children understood and accepted their father, and to this day they maintain close relations with him. In 2015, he traveled to Germany for the first time in all this time and even reestablished his relationship with his adult son, Mathias. True, the first wife, Gerlinde, did not want to communicate with him.
“I have a very good relationship with my son Mathias and his wife, and I have now become a grandfather,” says a former spy.
Now Barsky is happy in his third marriage with Shavna - an emigrant from Jamaica, and the spouses already have a little daughter. He considers his espionage "career" to be a mistake and, in his words, extremely glad that he at least at the end of his life gained what other people receive much earlier, and with fewer losses: home, family and true love.
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