Jack Barsky, born Albrecht Dittrich is a former secret agent of the KGB. He was born in East Germany. In 1970 he was studying to become a chemistry professor when he was approached by the East German Secret Police and asked to be a spy.
• Dan Harmon (Dan Harmon is an American writer and producer. Harmon is best known for creating and producing NB...)
• Dana Brown (Dana Brown is an American surfer and filmmaker, and is the oldest son of filmmaker Bruce Brown. H...)
• Gene Luen Yang (Gene Luen Yang is an Asian-American cartoonist. He is a frequent lecturer on the subjects of grap...)
Crazy stuff - there is no possible short version for my bio - I am on my sixth career!
And here is my proof: https://twitter.com/DeepCoverBarsky/status/844547930740678656
Why do you think the KGB didn't try to repatriate or kill you after you defected? The BBC article seems to imply that they just gave up on you after you told them you weren't going back.
They thought I was about to die anyway (this is what they told my German wife). After all, I told them that I had gotten sick with AIDS, and that was a death sentence in those days.
No responses?? Blink twice if Putin is in the room with you!
You made me check under the bed
What do you think about the allegations that Russia may have attempted to manipulate the 2016 US Presidential Election?
Red Herring! They try to cause trouble where they can, but I have yet to see one shred of proof that they attempted or much less succeeded in manipulating the election.
Do you think that the KGB could have actually gotten to you if they found out you didn't have AIDS?
Also, do you ever feel nostalgic for the cold war era? I've known a number of Canadians and Americans who seem oddly fond of that era given that everyone thought nuclear doom was just a button away. (Something to do with having the whole country being united against the Soviets from what I gathered, never quite understood it)
They did not look - they were too busy trying to figure out what to do with their lives after the SU collapsed.
Nostalgia for the cold war? That is crazy! I am rather not quite united against a common enemy than die in a nuclear blast while holding hands and singing kumbaya
Looking forward to reading the book. Question: what was your opinion of the US before coming here and how did that change over time
Also how much play did the "Evil Empire" speech get in the USSR?
I truly thought that the US was evil through and through (except, of course for Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Chubby Checker, etc.). Well, that opinion did not hold very long. I had a hard time finding the evil Americans. And when I was hired by one of those terribly evil insurance companies I found out that they were just the opposite. The "evil empire" speech scared the hell out of all of us. Some of that straight (and well thought out, I might add) communication may be what we need today.
Did you experience any culture shock? How hard was it to blend in as an average American and how did the KGB train you to fit in?
I messed up many times with regard to fitting in. I was essentially not trained in matters of culture. It was just dumb luck that my first job was that of a messenger. I interacted with folks who were not very curious, so I could watch and learn in a rather safe environment.
Do you believe intuition or gut feelings are useful or reliable feelings? If yes, what is an example of that i your life?
"Gut feelings" are fundamentally subconscious assessments by your brain of recurring patterns. Therefore, the more experience you have, the more valid your "gut". I came to that conclusion at age 50 when I had an opportunity to fire a guy who my gut hated but my conscious brain could not find anything wrong with. My gut was right - this guy eventually succeeded in destroying the department I had built.
Favorite alcoholic drink? Non alcoholic drink?
Beer - but only German beer. Vanilla almond milk
Do you miss any Soviet products? Like a favorite shampoo or bread?
Actually, a good question. The Russians make the best bread, period! Stoli is pretty good too, but all the other stuff is rather crappy
How realistic is The Americans?
The shooting, the stuffing of corpses into suitcases, the picking of locks, and the wigs - pure entertainment. No agent who did that kind of stuff would survive more than a week. Having said that, they do a very good job with the psychology of being an undercover agent. That part is very much like me.
Partially, but not with regard to all the blood and adventure. The life of a spy is mostly rather boring. You would not want to see that in a movie.
do you think the internet has made espionage easier or harder than when you were active?
It makes the spies lazier. Sort of like when you are looking for a new job and all you do is post your resume on the internet instead of making contact with human beings. Humint (that is the professional term for human intelligence) is still the most valuable intelligence and the hardest to get. This will stay that way as long as people make decisions and brains cannot be hacked
Did anyone in your family know you were in the KGB while you were in the KGB?
Only my wife. My mother and brother were in the dark, and I had no contact to my father any more. All others (uncles, etc.) knew just the same lie I told my mother (I was in a stop secret location in Kazakhstan to do space research - that eventually led to the rumor that I had died in a rocket accident).
You said that your handlers were primarily concerned with the appearance of success rather than actually delivering material results. That sentiment pops up a lot in interviews with former Communist bureaucrats. Did the KGB (and perhaps by extension, the rest of the USSR gov) actually believe that communism would work?
What do you think when some politicians here call any attempt at wealth redistribution 'communism'?
First question: That is part of the human condition. If you can convince your boss that you did a good job when you did not you come out ahead, and (unfortunately) vice versa. This is how really good people often get the shaft because they are their own worst advocate.
Second question: A lot of them believed that it could work. Gorbachev (and he is a very smart man) thought all that was needed was some tweaks here and there to right the ship
Third question: They are not the same. In a communist society there is nothing to RE distribute. Things are rather evenly distributed from the get go. That takes the incentive to be productive out the equation and the economic system goes into a tailspin. Some redistribution of wealth in a capitalistic system is not only just but also good for the economy. What the heck is Bill Gates going to do with all his money? I am glad he is giving some away. That way it re-enters the economy which in turn creates more opportunity and wealth. Caveat - I am not an economist, I don't even play one on TV
Who do you trust today, and why?
I trust God because it makes no sense to not trust the most powerful being there is. And I still trust my 6 year old because she is still rather innocent. With that said - I am generally a trust extender to every new person I meet. I assume that you are good and you have to prove to me that you are not (I will be watching you, though). The opposite type, a trust denier is incredibly difficult to deal with.
Do you enjoy retirement comrade?
Retirement from the "game" sure! But I have not retired from life, and in many respects I am working harder than I have during my career in corporate. And you can call me Mr. Comrade, or Genosse (that is German)
Have you tried Belgian beer?
Are there people who still believe you died in a rocket accident?
There could be a handful. The last one I disabused of that notion was my first girl friend who almost had a heart attack when I called her out of the blue............
Coolest gadgets you used as a spy?
None. I had only two things you could not buy in a store. One was a one time pad that contained a sequence of numbers to decipher messages (the numbers had to be developed with an iodine solution) and a writing pad that contained pages of contact paper to be used for secret writing. I was purposely low tech to avoid having evidence on me if I got caught
Hello! I saw recently a post about how a Russian MiG pilot thought the CIA specially stocked the grocery stores as propaganda for his defection. What was your first experience like when you came to America? Did you have an initial shock at daily American life?
First shock: First TV program I ever saw was "Gilligans Island". Second shock: I spent my second night in a fleabag hotel in the Southside of Chicago - that was scary
What's in the book that wasn't in the 60 Minutes profile?
Lots of funny stuff (mistakes I made as a spy that are only funny in hindsight, also how I almost killed myself in the chemistry lab), what it was like to grow up behind the iron curtain, and lots and lots of unusual idiotic things that happened in my life. Look at the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads - you can't fill 350 pages with boring crap and get those reviews
Have you tried the dark chocolate almond milk? Simply addicting.
I will definitely try that - I also hear that Almond milk takes 10 years off your age - I can use some of that....
What were your thoughts when the Berlin Wall fell and later when the USSR broke up? Also what would you say to those who have some nostalgia for the USSR and the East bloc countries?
I watched the fall of the Wall from my apartment in Queens with emotional detachment - I was not part of that equation any more. The fall of the Soviet Union was a big surprise, but at that point I tried to be apolitical, and I did not give a hoot. But, given my past, it was impossible to stay apolitical, and to everybody who has romantic notions about communism, the Soviet Union, etc. I say "wake up!" a) it does not work, and b) there has never been a communist country, they were all dictatorships, and some more murderous than others
I feel like Putin is a dangerous man to have as an enemy.
Do you think the intel you sent back to the USSR was actually useful?
Also, do you have any thoughts on Anna Chapman/Kushchyenko?
Have you ever met a fellow spy post defecting? Either another KGB agent or a Western spy in the Eastern bloc? I imagine that would be an interesting conversation!
Thanks so much for replying :-) I can't wait to get my copy of your book!
I have a web site which can be reached at jackbarsky.com. In a week or so, I will add a blog which will allow me to interact with folks (to the extent I can handle the volume). As to your question: A month ago I met Oleg Kalugin. He was the head of counterintelligence of the KGB in the 80s (essentially #2). He had a falling out with Putin and wound up in the United States. He is a bit too old to have a conversation with, but he produced some highly interesting monologues.
I think some Cold War nostalgia might be because it was a fairly simple US versus USSR versus all the terrorism stuff today. Nostalgia still seems foolish to me, but I somewhat understand it
Sorry, as horrible as terrorism is, it does not rise to the threat level of a nuclear war, or even WWII for that matter
Would you do it all again if given the opportunity? What would you change given what you know now?
I would not do it again - it messes up your mind in a big way and most people do not recover from that. What would I do different? Well - getting married to two women at that same time was really not a good idea
How is your relation with the family that you left in Germany nowadays? (I think I read somewhere that you had a son when you was sent to US...)
My son has a doctorate in chemistry and runs a drug store. He speaks fluent English and calls me "dada" (same as my six year old). I am finally a grandfather - Marlena just turned one. So, we really have a good relationship now - it is a miracle.
Can you give an example of a time you were undercover in relation to the 5% action and cat and mouse game? Thanks!
Okay, so I was a mouse for over ten years. It was important for me to figure out if I had a cat following me. Thus signs in my apartment to see if it was searched, periodic surveillance detection runs, and even letters mailed to self to see if they were opened. This is a rather frustrating exercise, because it is the same as trying to prove a negative, you can't! This becomes only "glamorous" for Hollywood, when there is a cat, but it is just as intense when there is none.
What's the closest you ever came to being found out?
Not really. The only reason I was found out is that somebody smuggled top secret documents out of the KGB archives. Otherwise, I would be living a quiet life in retirement rather than talking to you.
Right at the beginning. I was on a trip in Canada and was trying to get a birth certificate of an American boy who had passed away at the age of four. Except, the authorities knew that this person did not live any more. Law enforcement was on my butt, but I managed to be one step ahead of them.
What was your training like? How did you come upon your line of work?
Training was all one on one - it took altogether five years to get me ready. For more details you need to go to the book. You did not volunteer for the KGB, they recruited you.
Did the KGB try to take you out after you stppped working for them?
Nope, they thought that I was about to die from AIDS (I told them that I had caught that deadly disease)
Was there any cooperation with other Communist spy agencies? I imagine there's a Chinese version of the KGB, though back then they'd probably have a harder time blending in.
There may have been at very high levels, but I believe that the various countries walled off their intelligence from their "friends". The strongest indication for that guess is that there was not a trace of me found in the Stasi (East German Secrete Police) records. Highly unusual - everybody had a record with the Stasi
Is intelligence work as it really is in the movies? Like all the espionage, assassinations, trailing, phone tapping, and such? Or is it mostly surprisingly mundane jobs akin to management work at companies?
There is both, but most of the work is mundane most of the time. My time as an undercover agent was 95% waiting and 5% action. And the action was never violent.
Thanks for this. Just got the book on Amazon. Looking forward to reading it.
Enjoy - I get a lot of compliments concerning readability of this thing
Do you think Trump's whole campaign colluded with. Russia?
what was the most sought-after contraband in Russia during your time as an agent?
Any consumer goods from the west with Blue Jeans, cigarettes, and rock music at the top of the list.
I mean did you have to dispose of a body in a trunk or kill anyone.
I did not even have weapons training. I bet you that they had killers in the ranks of the KGB, but they tried to keep those tasks separate.
Nope - "Disposal of bodies 101" was not in my curriculum
What do you think of the National Enquirer cover this week?
At first I got scared - but now we are getting a big laugh out of it. Just another bizarre moment in my life. I am really getting used to not being quite "normal". That is why I stated before that becoming a secret agent is not a good idea.
Now the high bp, that's another thing altogether 😂 while undercover all those years, did you do anything in particular to pass the time such as a hobby? Also, how were you able to sustain yourself financially, just curious. Thanks again.
Initially, the Russians sustained me with cash. But even as a lowly bike messenger I made enough money to fend for myself. This led to a situation where the salary they paid me ($600 a month plus the rent) added up to a substantial savings. This money, by the way, they handed to my German wife (because did believed that I was truly dying from AIDS) and my son recently used it for a down payment on a house. Yeah! Hobby: I became an avid runner, not much time for anything else. Also, I really LOVED programming, it developed some stuff at home, but never managed to sell it.
Did you ever have to tie anyone up and put them in your trunk like in The Americans?
Not sure what you mean by "trunk line", but I will be an extra on the Americans show that airs on May 9th on FX at 10PM
Does your book cover aspects of the action? I'm interested.
Of course it does - I would be stupid not to put that in there. Some of it is rather tense, but it is in no way the same as depicted in movies and on TV. No car chases and no shootout, but quite a bit of cat and mouse games.
What are some intelligence techniques and questions that an average person could use for practical purposes? For example predicting whether or not a love interest is likely to cheat or the veracity of a manager during a job interview.
Actually, it is the other way around. A good intelligence agent typically succeeds in perfecting skills that make people successful in "normal" life. For the most part, success in life depends how well you deal with others. Thus it is important to watch, listen, analyze, categorize. Over time you will build a database, both at the conscious and unconscious level, that will allow you to read people quickly and operate accordingly (and I do not mean manipulate for your own gain but influence to make both of you better). I guess that is not the answer you wanted to hear, but there is nothing extraordinary they teach you in "intelligence school" that you cannot learn in regular psychology classes
The way you worded this reply is interesting. Do you see yourself completely as an American? If you had to make a final choice between the countries, could you choose? I ask as a Canadian immigrant with dual citizenship - I still consider myself (at least partially) Canadian.
Good catch. The litmus test is when I talk about Germany and the USA and use "us" for the United States and "you" or "them" for Germany. People have noticed this often enough to prove that I am a bona fide first generation American. The only German thing I truly miss is the food I grew up with.
Is it true the soviets would send there criminals to siberia?
And what type of religious freedom was there under the soviets?
b) None - whatever remnant existed of the Russian Orthodox Church was controlled by the KGB (I have that from the horse's mouth)
Your thoughts about evgeniy bogachev, whereabouts, connection to KGB or other intel agencies?
Sorry, have not followed this story
What attitude do you think the United States should take toward Russia going forward? Should we be readying ourselves for a new Cold War, or aiming for detente?
We need to give them a strong and consistent message. Ronald Reagan was very good at that. The Presidents after him, not so. We need to openly recognize that they are adversaries but do everything possible to avoid for them to become enemies. We do have some interests in common, and the most important one is survival.