Lex Fridman Podcast - #301 - Jack Barsky: KGB Spy

Something happened where they forced my hand, and this is the only time that a Soviet agent

was anywhere near me on the territory of the United States.

So I’m waiting for the A train on a dark morning still in Queens, and there’s this man in a

black trench coat comes up to me from my right, and he whispers into my ears, you gotta come

back or else you’re dead.

The following is a conversation with Jack Barsky, a former KGB spy, author of Deep Undercover

and the subject of an excellent podcast series called The Agent.

There are very few people who have defected from the KGB and live to tell the story.

It is one of the most powerful intelligence organizations in history.

And this conversation gives a window into its operation, both from an ideological and

psychological perspective, but also it tells the story of a man who lived one heck of an

incredible life.

This is the Lex Friedman podcast, to support it, please check out our sponsors in the description.

And now, dear friends, here’s Jack Barsky.

Let’s start with a big basic question.

What is the KGB?

Комитет Государственной Безопасности.


So that is the Committee of State Security.


There’s an opossumist.

Opossumist is a threat, right?



And BS means…



And I guess that directly translates to security.

Without threat.

So, and don’t exist anymore.

It was disbanded when the Soviet Union fell apart and the successor agencies are now the

SVR and the FSB, FSB supposedly the equivalent to the FBI and SVR, the CIA.

But the SVR is relatively weak and the FSB has taken on a lot of espionage and active

measures and they’re much bigger and stronger.

But the most capable intelligence agency in Russia is the GRU, Military Intelligence.

That nobody knows very much about.

That’s right.

When I was in the KGB, I had no idea that there was military intelligence.

Nobody ever mentioned anything like that.

And by the way, I recently had the pleasure to give a talk at the DIA.

When they reached out to me, I didn’t know they existed either.



That’s always the question.

If you want to be an intelligence agency, should the world know anything about you?

Because in some sense, you want to create the legend in order to attract great competent

individuals to work for you, but at the same time, you want it to be shrouded in complete


If nobody knows you exist, you might be able to operate well as an intelligence agency.

That is fascinating.

But FSB is the thing that carries the flag of KGB, KGB being probably one of, if not

the most sort of infamous, famous, infamous, and powerful intelligence agencies in history




It was founded in 1954 after the death of Stalin.

In writing your book, you’ve looked back at the predecessors of the history.

Is there some way in which the KGB is grounded in the culture, the spirit, the soul of the


Its predecessors.

Oh, absolutely.

They just changed names and they changed personnel rather frequently, and that had something

to do with Stalin’s paranoia.

From between 1923, and I don’t remember what, I think it may have been the NKVD at that


It started as the Chika, and then it became the GPU, the NKVD, but with those name changes,

you also had changes at the top.

Between 1923 and 1953, when Stalin died, that is 30 years, they had eight heads of intelligence,

and of those eight, six were executed when they were replaced.

So that’s an indication that this was an organization that ate itself from the inside.

The Soviet Union was the only dictatorship in history that did not rest its powers on

the military.

They rested its powers on the intelligence apparatus, and that thing was unstable.

So you know where that leads.

Eventually, if you rest your power on something that is made out of bricks that don’t hold

a lot of load, it will fall apart.

On sand.


Why was it unstable, would you say?

What of human nature makes it unstable?

It’s the paranoia.

Stalin was always worried about the most powerful people coming after him.

So he proactively killed off heads of the KGB, and he had this great purge where he

got rid of a lot of his generals, really capable generals, and that cost him dearly when World

War II started, because he started off with a force that wasn’t as capable as it could

have been.

Was it paranoia at all levels?

I believe so.

It comes from the top.

And so if the top doesn’t trust you, you always have to worry about your peers snitching on


And I think we have a very similar situation in Russia today, and in this kind of atmosphere,

the truth will never get to the top.

So no matter what moral rules the organization operates under, trust is fundamental to its


Oh, absolutely.

And I want to extend this to my own existence, and this is kind of strange.

It’s almost dichotomous, because I was running around lying to everybody, and I couldn’t

fundamentally be trusted.

But the relationship that I had with the KGB was based on trust.

If they don’t trust me, they don’t send me out.

And if I don’t trust them, I’m not going.

And I eventually broke that trust, and they knew there was always that danger.

They knew that because something about you or just something about human beings that

can be broken.

There were hints about how long my assignment would be, so 10 to 12 years.

And you see, it makes sense.

I was becoming an American, and over time, I would become more and more American, and

there was always a chance that I liked it more here than there, that I was really successful

in what I was supposed to do.

And it sort of happened, but in my case, it happened because I fathered a child who I

didn’t want to leave when they wanted me back.

Love always screws up your employment competence, yes.

You’re absolutely right.

But they thought that I had an anchor at home because I had a wife and a son at home, which

you’ve got to worry about them if you defect.

Because in the past, the KGB would go after family ruthlessly.

Including perhaps violence?


This is a hard question about the KGB because it’s one of the most ruthless organizations,

but in general, are there lines, KGB agents at every level of the hierarchy that they

would not cross, political, legal, ethical, or does anything goes to achieve the goal?

I was only in touch with two types of agents, the technical experts, the ones that taught

me tradecraft, and they were like engineers and they were in charge of the secret writing

and the Morse code, shortwave radio reception, decryption, encryption, and that kind of stuff.

Those were just doing their job.

And the others, the ones that trained me, that prepared me for life in the United States,

they were nice people.

They were elegant people.

I don’t think they would not fit into the stereotype of the ruthless gun carrying agent.

Is it possible that you would not be aware of the parts of the KGB, I mean, it’s very


Would you?


It’s possible that you’re not aware of the parts of the KGB that are the quote unquote


Oh, I didn’t know.

I would find out afterwards, after I retired and started doing some research, I had no


So you’re kind of operating in a bubble.

Oh, very much so.

I mean, this is what the KGB did really, really well, compartmentalization, and that was based

on the communist movement while it was still underground.

The cells were very small, so that maybe there were three, four members in one cell that

knew one another, and then they had a liaison to another cell.

The bottom line is if you got one of those folks were caught, they could maybe betray

four people or three, something like that, and the KGB continued with that tradition.

I have reason to believe that my handler, the person in Moscow that sort of directed

me and made decisions what to do and where to go, never met me personally.

There’s no reason to.

This actually was a big advantage over other intelligence services because you look at

what the CIA does.

Everybody blabs.

There’s a lot of leaks coming out of American intelligence.

I don’t think there’s as many leaks coming out of the Mossad.

Strong words from Jack Barsky, by the way.

That is a question I want to ask a little more systematically.

Is there something unique about the KGB compared to the other intelligence agencies?

Let’s talk British intelligence, MI6, Mossad, CIA.

Is there unique cultures, spirits, souls of the different organizations that maybe somehow

connect to the structures of government, connect maybe the values of the people, those kinds

of things?

I believe we were all pretty much strong believers in communism and the future of the world being…



I think that unified us to a large degree, even the technicians.

It wasn’t something like, yeah, yeah, the parents believe this thing, but we know the


You really believe the story of communism.

Absolutely did.

And you need to look at the timeframe.

The Soviet Union after World War II made quite a bit of progress in influencing the Third


I still remember when I was in middle school, we had a map, the map of the world, and it

was color coded.

So red was communism, that was the Soviet Union and the Eastern states, and then blue

was capitalism.

And then we had green, which were the Third World countries, and the green slowly turned

pink because a lot of Third World governments, like I’m looking at Angola, I’m looking at

Vietnam, a lot of these countries were very sympathetic to the Soviet Union.

And so we sort of knew that this would go on like that, and eventually we would take

over and pretty much overtake, that was the myth, overtake the United States, not only

militarily but also in terms of industrial production and so forth.

That was a stupid pipe dream.

The military, it was a standoff, as we know.

A stupid pipe dream.

Hitler had a stupid pipe dream that he executed it exceptionally effectively and on, if not

for a handful of military mistakes, the world could look very different today.

Well, the biggest one being invading the Soviet Union, particularly at the time that he did

it because he ran into the same thing that Napoleon ran into General Winter.

Well within, so Operation Barbarossa, within that he could have made different decisions.

For example, attacking, skipping Kiev and attacking Moscow directly, overthrowing the


So marching, I guess that would be learning lessons from Napoleon as opposed to a different

kind of distribution of forces and then getting bogged down in the winter.

But the point is these ambitions sometimes do, the ambitions of empires sometimes do

materialize in the growth and the building and the establishment of those empires and

those empires write the history books in such a way that we don’t think of them as empires

or we certainly don’t think of them as the bad guys.

They write the history books, therefore they’re the good guys.

And right now America has effectively written the book about the good guys.

I happen to believe that book, but it’s, we should be humbled and open minded to realize

that that is in fact what is happening is effective empires write the history books

and tell us stories and tell us propaganda and tell us narratives that we believe because

we are human beings and we love to get together and believe ideas.

We love to dream of a beautiful world and try to build that beautiful world together

in the United States.

That’s a beautiful world.

The freedom of respect of human rights of all men are created equal pursuit of happiness.

You know, it always sounds good.

If you look at what the dream of communism is, it sure as heck in its words on the surface

sounds good.


Respect for the workers.


The working class, the lower classes that have been trodden on that have been stolen

from by the powerful, they deserve to have the money, the power, the respect that they

have earned through their hard work.

Sounds great.

And everybody gets along and we just have to, you know, uh, all men are wonderful people.

And if they, if they go bad, it has something to do with the fact that they have, they have

been oppressed, right?

And uh, that dream just never worked out.

And even, even it is when you think about it and I didn’t think about it when you’re

young, you know, you just emotionally, you accept it.

But when you think about it, somehow, uh, that new wonderful organization has to organize

itself even though Lenin predicted that the state eventually would go away.

Well, how does it, how does that work?

Then you have like anarchy, right?

You have to have an organization.

The only way to really organize a large number of people is with a hierarchy.

So and who gets to the top, the ones that are, that want to go to the top, the ones

that believe in themselves, the ones, the ones that know better than everybody else.

And once you have that hierarchy established, uh, there is no guarantee that it doesn’t

that it won’t go bad.

And actually when you look at history, every such hierarchy has gone bad.

You know, you look at Cuba, for instance, I believe Fidel Castro was a, an honest revolutionary.

I do believe that.

And so what did Cuba turn into?


There’s something about, and you speak about Vladimir Putin in this way, but let’s step

away from that for a second.

Is there something about being an honest revolutionary that wants to do good for their country and

you start to believe that, you know, better than everyone else how to do good on the country

and you very well might first, but then somehow that grows into a distortion field where,

you know, you keep believing, you know, what’s right.

And all the people who disagree with you, you stop seeing them as having a point.

You instead see them as like, um, um, evil manipulators of the truth that are actually

trying to hurt people for their own greed, for their own power.

And you will protect the people because you know, what’s good in the case of Stalin.

I, I mean, I don’t know, but it seems like he really believed that communism would bring

about a much better world.

I mean, there was a sense the, you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, this idea

that sacrifice is necessary to bring about a greater world.

And then the other aspect is sort of ruling by terror, creating terrorism, justified political

mechanism to achieve a better world.

But it wasn’t, I mean, perhaps he had to do that to be able to sleep at night with the

atrocities he’s committing.

He’s, I think he believed he will bring about a better world.


And by the way, the terror didn’t start with Stalin.

It started right after the Bolsheviks took over when Lenin told Mr. Dzerzhinsky, Commodore

Dzerzhinsky to build the Cheka and then execute the, this is what he called it, the red terror.

So at the birth of the Soviet Union, there was already terror and it was deliberate.

And it also was, it wasn’t just focused on the enemies, it was focused on whoever you

didn’t like.

There was no rule of law, there was no court cases, people were just pulled out of their

apartments and shot on sight.

And this was done by revolutionaries who were convinced that eventually, these sacrifices

had to be made and eventually that would lead to a much better planet.

And the populace believed this too, that those sacrifices in part.

I mean, this is such a dark thing about dictatorships is you believe it, but you’re also too afraid

to question your beliefs.

Like, you’re not directly afraid, but almost like, I don’t know what that is.

That’s almost like a subconscious fear.

Like don’t, there’s a dark room with a locked door, don’t look in that door.

Don’t check that door.

And there’s something about the United States that says, especially modern culture, it’s

like go to that door first and sort of question everything kind of, that’s the power of the

freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, but you can get almost become too critical

and too cynical of your own culture in that way.

So there’s a balance to strike, of course, but man, if communism is not a lesson of human

nature, I don’t know what is, but you believed, without thinking too much about it, you believed

in the story of, what did you see, just, you know, I came from the Soviet Union.

What did you maybe feel that’s right and good about communism, about the vision of communism?

Do you remember?

I think the biggest impetus in me believing in communism was that the communists, just

before Hitler took over, the communists were the only force in Germany that fought the

Nazis in the streets, and that’s a historic truth.

And communists were hunted down by the Nazis, killed, put in concentration camps.

And so what we knew, what we were taught, and I think that was a huge unforced error

by the Western countries, particularly the United States, that there were ex Nazis in

the government in West Germany.

And the most famous one was Reinhard Galen, who was in charge, was the general in charge

of the intelligence on the Eastern Front under Hitler.

And when the Allied won the war, it was decided that Galen was too important, his knowledge

and his organization was too important to not use.

So he was coopted by the CIA and eventually wound up being the head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst,

the CIA of West Germany.

That gave us, us, when I say us, the East German party, a huge propaganda victory.

I wanted to, because the emotional aspect of this was as follows.

When we were in, juniors in high school, and in those days, you were only allowed to go

to high school if you were in the top 10% of students, okay?

So this was going to be the next set of ruling elite in the country.

We were sent, we were required to visit a concentration camp.

And if you know what we as 17 year olds were made to look at, it was gut wrenching.

How can men do something like that to men, piles of corpses, lampshades made out of human

skin because that skin had tattoos on them, and shrunken heads like the size of my fist.

I mean, the girls all cried, and it made a huge impression.

And that was the Nazis, and the Communists defeated the Nazis.

They were the good guys.

Of course, in hindsight, if the Communists had come to power, it would have been just

the other way around, as we know, given the example of Stalin and Mao, right?

But we didn’t know that.

From the Russian and Soviet perspective, the Communist regime banded together to win the

Great Patriotic War.

And that was the second one, the big brother, the Soviet Union.

I mean, when I was approached by the KGB, that was like, oh, I felt so honored.

So we should say that we’re talking about East Germany, that you’re from East Germany.

Can you describe, you were born four years and what is it?

Yeah, four years.

10 days?

Yeah, sort of.

Very good.

After Germany’s unconditional surrender in World War II.

So what is East Germany?

What is West Germany?

What is East and West Germany?

What is that?

What’s the difference?

What’s the historical context here?

What is World War II again?

And then, let’s do it for some…

We don’t have to go to World War I, the result of which actually seeded World War II in some



There’s a long history, yes.

But let’s start with World War II.

So when Hitler came to power, he and his leadership decided that the Germans needed more what

they call Lebensraum, that means room to live.

And they would start expanding and they went into France, they took Belgium, the Netherlands,

they annexed Austria and got a piece of Czechoslovakia.

And then they decided to march into the Soviet Union after they took Poland.

Cut up Poland together with the Soviet Union.


They were friends.


There was a nonaggression pact that was signed by Ribbentrop and Molotov, right?

I think both parties knew that eventually they would fall apart.

But at the time, it gave the Soviet Union a little more piece of Poland and a little

more time to prepare what they thought might happen down the road.

And the Germans had the time and the ability to pretty much conquer all of Western Europe.

Do you think Stalin really knew that it’s gonna fall apart?

Why would somebody like Stalin trust somebody like Hitler?

But why did he blunder so bad not to read the intelligence that was coming his way?

Oh, he doesn’t…

The troops are amassing on the border of the Soviet Union.

He didn’t trust his own intelligence apparatus.

Oh, boy.

Here’s one example.

There was a German communist who went underground when Hitler took over and he went to Japan

as a journalist.

His name is Richard Sorge.

Richard Sorge had really, really good intel about what the Japanese would do and not do.

I forgot exactly what it was, but it came to Moscow and Stalin totally ignored it.

And when Sorge was captured by the Japanese, the Soviet Union denied that he was one of

them there, so he was executed, the paranoia, again, does a lot of damage.

When you don’t believe your own intelligence apparatus, why bother having one?

Yeah, I mean, there…

But I’m sure there’s contradictory information coming in from the intelligence apparatus,

so it’s difficult.

I mean, first of all, nobody likes to be disagreed with, especially when you become more and

more powerful, and then the intelligence apparatus is probably giving information you don’t like.

It’s often negative information about, basically, information that says that the decisions you

made in the past are not great decisions, and that’s a difficult truth to deal with.

So in the modern times, if we hop around briefly, Vladimir Putin has been not happy with the

intelligence of the FSB, thereby, at least if you read the news, choosing to put more

priority to the GRU for the intelligence in Ukraine.

But I guess I suppose the same story happens there, as it does throughout history, is paranoia.

I give you an example that comes from a very reliable source, and that my best German friend

worked as a chemist in the Stasi, East German intelligence.

And he eventually, he rose to the rank of major and was in charge of the forgery department.

It’s very likely that he made passports that I use to travel.

He was aware that there was intelligence that was collected.

The Stasi was really good.

They had about a thousand people in West Germany, undercover agents, some of them in government,

and the central committee of the party, the decision makers ignored it because it didn’t

quite fit in their worldview, it didn’t quite fit into their plans.

So and one delicious thing that I just want to add on to this, when Gorbachev wrote his

book about Perestroika and Glasnost, the East German rulers did not like it.

They were much, much more orthodox.

So they had to print the books in translation, guess where they wound up.

They were piled up in the hallways of the Stasi.

They bought the entire print run.

It’s fascinating.

So but let’s backtrack.

So Operation Barbarossa, invasion of Hitler to the Soviet Union, and then hopefully that

leads us all the way to East Germany, West Germany after the end of the war.

So what happened was the Soviet Union rolled into the eastern part of Germany and the Western

allies took a larger chunk, which was eventually, it was occupied by the three allies, the French,

the English and the Americans, and the eastern part was occupied by Soviet troops.

And the Soviet troops actually conquered Berlin.

But in a contract, they decided that Berlin would be ruled by the four allies and they

all had free access to that city.

I was born in the East German part, which very quickly became ruled by communists, socialists,

the Communist Party and the Socialist Party United, but the leaders of that new party

were all communists.

It’s nevertheless called democratic.

Yes, German Democratic Republic, which was formed a couple of months after I was born.

I was born into a remote southeastern corner of East Germany.

And interestingly enough, genetically, I’m only half German.

The other half is Czech and Polish.

Because where I grew up, I could walk to the Nysa River, which was the border with Poland,

and it was only about an hour by bus to get to the Czech border.

So that’s why I’m a mix.

So okay, so East Germany after the war was communist, socialist, and then the West Germany

was representing the Western world with democracy.

And what the United States did, this was really, really very forward looking, very strategic,

the Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy in the West as compared to what the Soviet Union


Whatever they hadn’t destroyed on the way in, they took with them on the way out for

reparations because they had every right to do that.

But it was not a good idea because East Germany was always behind in economic development

to their Western counterpart.

So when you were young, as today, but when you were young, you were clearly an exceptional



You’re a brilliant academic superstar.

Let’s go to your childhood.

What’s the fond memory from childhood that you have in being woken up to the beauty of

this world and sort of being curious about all the mysteries around you that I think

ultimately lead to academic success?

Or was it…

The fondest memory that comes to mind is my first kiss.

How’s that?

Do you want to go to the details of that?

What did you make of that kiss?

What did that teach you about yourself and human nature and all that?

It taught me only in hindsight.

At the time, I was just like, my God, I was head over heels in love.

I was 16 years old.

And I knew in those days, I admired girls.

I knew the girls were like sort of magical beings.

They were not capable of doing evil things.

They were beautiful and they had to be adored.

And one of them actually loved me too.

She came after me initially.

And that too was magical for you.

Oh my God, yeah.

And literally, I dedicated…

That’s when I started studying.

Up until that point, I just did whatever I had to do to be in A minus students.

And that’s when I started studying.

And every A that I got, I dedicated to her, sometimes explicitly, because I knew I was

going to take care of her as I grew up.

So you’re going to have to work hard in this world to be somebody that could be adored

by those you love.

Yes, you’re right.

You know that kiss, the next day, I was running around in school with a grin on my face.

And maybe that in some way, that grin never fades.

So what about the heartbreak that followed?

But just to expand on this a little more, because that passion that I had was an indication

that eventually love would play a big role in my life.

I wasn’t aware of it.

I was just directed at this one girl.

But you understood that that feeling that taught you something, like that you’re somebody

that can feel those things.

And that’s a strong part of who you are.

And therefore, it will also be a part of directing your life trajectory.


So we were an item for two years.

I lost my virginity.

She was not a virgin at the time.

My competitor was, he studied medicine in college already.

In which ways was he better than you?

He wasn’t.

He was older, and he was more experienced.

And he was going to be a doctor.

But I was there, and he was not.

The presence wins.

But you still had big dreams.

You wanted to be a tenured professor.

Yes, yes.

So you still want to outdo that guy.

Oh, yeah.

And she eventually told me that he was not in the picture anymore.

So it was back and forth, back and forth.

And our senior year, we were an item, and I was just dreaming of the future.

But we didn’t figure out that in those days, if she went to college in Berlin and I went

to college in Jena, and the distance between the two cities was too much for a weekend

visit, public transportation was very slow, and nobody had cars.

So the circumstance of life, you drifted apart.

And so we interacted with a couple of letters, and then I got the goodbye letter.

Oh, my God.

That hurt?

I can still feel it.

That’s a good thing.

You could feel the pain.

That’s still part of love.

It’s that the pain of loss is still part of love.

And then you kind of change that.

You shape it, and you give that love in deeper, more profound ways to future people.

That’s very well put.

But at the time, it emptied me out.

If I had a tendency to have suicidal thoughts, I might have killed myself.

Would you say that was one of the darker moments of your life?

Let me see.

As a single moment, yes.

So I still remember we had a mail slot in the front door, and I wasn’t expecting a letter

any day, and there was the letter.

I go upstairs into my bedroom, and I open it, and I read it, and just like the life

went out of me.

You’re just there alone, and you have to experience this pain alone.

And now you’re deeply alone in this world.

Yes, because there was no emotional relationship with my parents.

I literally had nobody.

So this love you have in you had no place to go.

It was choked off, all right?

But what I did was I wanted to go on, right?

And so I threw myself into the study of chemistry.

I outworked all of my fellow students in a big way.

I worked my ass off, and since I was pretty smart, too, I just aced practically everything.

And for the first two years in college, and look, we go to college, there are all these

pretty girls, and there’s dances and everything.

We had this great student club where I didn’t look at any girls.

Eventually I knew I was going to, you know, want to have female companionship, but love?

Uh uh.

No more.

That hurts.

There’s a song that goes, love hurts.

Yeah, I know that one.

That’s true.

There’s actually many songs that have a similar message, yes.

So during that time, during your excellence, just being an exceptional student of chemistry,

let’s go to your story.

So in your book, Deep Undercover, My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy

in America, and in the really, really excellent podcast series that I’ve been listening to,

people should definitely listen to, it’s called The Agent.

You document your time as a KGB spy before, during, and after.

Can you tell the story of when you first were contacted by the KGB, how you were invited,

the offer to join was made?

Well, it was a big surprise, and I never thought of myself as a potential agent.

You know, I was going to be a tenured professor and join the ruling elite, because in Europe,

tenured professors are few.

It’s not like in the United States, you know, anybody who teaches at colleges has a title

of professor.

Easy now.

It’s true.

That’s not a criticism.

That’s 100%.

So we should also clarify that, tenured professor or not, it is a very prestigious position

throughout history of Europe.

I would say, especially communists, I don’t actually know the full landscape of the respect,

but at least in the Soviet Union where I grew up, it’s a prestigious position.

Absolutely was.

And the town of Yanuk had about 100,000 people live there, and I would, it’s a wild guess,

but maybe 30 tenured professors, and they were part of the ruling elite.

I was trying to do as much as I can to live the good life, right?

You know, have access to things that are nice.

Yeah, but I think the powerful thing about being a professor in that context of East

Germany is the prestige.

And the feeling of superiority.

You know, I was full of myself.

You know, when you are the best of the best, and in my third year I received a scholarship,

the Karl Marx Scholarship, that was limited to 100 concurrent recipients in the country.

So my God, you know, I was full of myself.

I believed in myself, hook, line, and sinker.

And I was also, I got a lot of accolades from teachers and fellow students.

They were feeding the ego, the old, I mean, you have to believe in yourself often when

you’re young to truly, to excel.

And you sure as heck did.

But you know, as a balance, you need a mentor, somebody who puts things in perspective, and

I didn’t have one.

My father was a nonentity and nobody else.

They all looked up to me.

I was an up and coming guy, right?

So there’s no father figure that put you in your place.

Not at all.

And I give you one extreme example.

It was down the road when I fathered a child out of wedlock.

That was in my fifth year, I believe.

The Communist Party in East Germany was very moralistic.

If you did that, they would have a talk with you and give you whatever, a severe reprimand.

Nobody even mentioned a word about this.

So yeah, so this is how this ego gets nurtured.

But anyway, getting back to how the KGB came in contact.

So they most likely got knowledge of me by, you know, looking at Stasi records.

What’s Stasi?

That was East German secret police, Staatssicherheit, security for the state.

There’s that word security again.

And they pretty much kept a record on everybody in the country.

And so when you look through this, and this is what the KGB was looking for.

They were looking for candidates, particularly for this kind of job that they had in mind

for me, for candidates who were not, you know, in their mid 20s, who were not fully developed

yet, but mature enough to get there and still young enough, right?

Because at that level of maturity, you can test whether they can handle this kind of



Absolutely right.

And one day I got a knock on my door and my dorm room door was on a Saturday.

And they knew that I was by myself.

How did they know it?

We had a, I pieced this together.

We had an exchange student from the Soviet Union, and he was next door to me.

And he befriended me.

So he got to know me a little bit.

And the pattern was that my roommate would always go home for the weekend.

And of course they also knew which door to knock on, even though there were no nameplates.

Somebody knocks.

And I knew it was a stranger because if it had been a student, the pattern was that we

would knock on the door and then go in.

We wouldn’t wait for somebody to let us in.

So I waited for 10 seconds and he didn’t come in.

I knew that it was a stranger.

I said, come on in.

And in came a person who spoke fluent German.

So that was not a KGB guy.

That was a collaborator.

And so he started making a bunch of small talk.

He introduced himself as a representative of Carl Zeiss Jena, which was the optics company

that made really, really good optical instruments, was one of the best in the world.

So it’s like the super prestigious company in that place.

And he said that he was a representative of that company and he would just want to find

out what my plans were after graduating from college.

And at that point I knew he wasn’t from Carl Zeiss Jena because in those days there was

no recruitment.

When you were done, if you were in the top 10% of the graduates, you would most likely

pick to stay and get a doctorate.

And the rest of them were assigned.

You had no choice.

So that guy was an idiot.

He didn’t know the basics about…

You interviewed him a little bit to understand, like feel out, is this guy full of shit?

Because yeah, he’s a stranger showing up to your dorm room.

I knew that at that point, I knew he was a Stasi, which is wrong, but it doesn’t matter

because he was German and I had no idea that the KGB would be involved.

So sorry to pause briefly, did you have a sense, did people know that there’s a Stasi

type of organization, that there is a large number of people doing this kind of work in

East Germany in order for you to make that guess?

Yeah, we knew that the Stasi existed.

We even had our James Bond, we had a series called the Invisible Visor where a Stasi employee

in East German would go into West Germany and hunt down Nazis.

So yes, the Stasi was known to be there.

And admired in part or feared or both?

I thought they were necessary and I admired them.

James Bond.

Yes, the reason I did so because I had no information to the contrary.

I never knew anybody personally or even somewhat removed who was followed by the Stasi, was

put in jail.

I had no clue.

I had no clue that they did a lot of damage and that they were doing a lot of surveillance

of the East German population the same way the KGB did for the Soviet Union.

So for me to be talking to somebody from the Stasi, it raised my interest.

I was curious what comes next because I sort of knew something interesting would be coming

at me and I had no other thoughts about that at that point.

So when he was finally, when he went for the kill by reversing himself, he said, you know,

I got to tell you that I really, I really am not from Karl Stasi, you know, I’m from

the government.


Thank you for pointing that out.

And then he asked this question, he says, can you imagine to one day work for the government?

And so I gave a pretty clever answer.

I said, yes, but not as a chemist.

So I answered the question that he didn’t ask.

I helped him out.

So we made an arrangement to meet for lunch, which in Germany is the main meal at the number

one restaurant in Vienna, you know, I still remember what I ate.

What was that?

Rump steak with butter on top and French fries, it was my favorite.

Anyway, so when I get to the restaurant, I saw this fellow sitting in the back there

at the table and there was another person at the table.

So I was a little bit hesitant because in those days it was not unusual for perfect

strangers to share a table because there wasn’t enough tables and chairs and so forth.

So I didn’t know if I could approach him, but he got up and came to me and he took me

to the table and he said, I want to introduce Herman.

We work with our Soviet comrades.

Aha, KGB.

And then he disappeared.

He says, I got something else to do.

I never knew his name.

He just handed me over to the KGB.

What was the relationship between the KGB and Astazies as collaborators, close collaborators

or just distant associates?

They were pretty close collaborators as I told you that they bought forged documents

that the Germans made because the Germans were better at forgery.

They also exchanged information, but they didn’t trust each other 100% and I tell you

why I know that.

So they recruited me to send me to West Germany.

As I already said, East Germany had a thousand agents over there.

Why would they want to have their own?



This is a fascinating internal and external dynamic of distrust.



So there you are welcomed by the KGB.

When did the offer, the invite come?

Well, that took a while.

So Herman and I had an unofficial relationship for about a year and a half.

I would meet him once a week, once every two weeks, initially in his car, but then he took

me to a conspirational flat that was an apartment that was occupied by a party member, a lady,

single lady.

When we came in, she would leave, she left us tea and cookies and then we could freely


He also at that time gave me some West German literature magazines to read, which was of

course forbidden.

So I’m starting to feel somewhat special and as we were talking about what they had in

mind for me in general, I knew that I was going to be even more special because I would

be above the law.

I would operate outside the law of the countries I would go to as well as East Germany because

the magazines and eventually when I joined up, they told me I had better watch West German

television, which was also not explicitly prohibited, but it was something that could

get you in trouble.

So on many levels, you’re super special, you’re the James Bond.


What was that recruitment testing process like?

Testing whether you have what it takes to be a KGB agent?

First of all, we had very in depth talks, Herman and I, about life and I still am very

honest in sharing my feelings.

Philosophical or personal?


I even told him that I was shy around the girls.

He was giving you relationship advice or what?

How old was he?

So what was the dynamic?

Can you tell me, was it a father, son?

No, older brother.

Older brother.

Yeah, he was maybe in his early to mid 30s and I was maybe 10 years younger.

And what languages did he speak?

He spoke German pretty well.

But he’s originally from Russia?

Yeah, with a Russian accent.

So I got in trouble one time with him when I asked him, is your real name German?

He didn’t like that.

He didn’t like it.

Was he good with girls?

No, no.

I remember what he told me, he says, you’ve got to understand one thing, they’re looking

for guys too.

That’s all.

Oh, girls are looking for guys too?



It’s a competitive game.


So that little flame of love that we talked about and all the shapes that it takes in

our life, did he talk to you about that, that that could be taken advantage of, that that

could be used or was it implied?

Yeah, but not in, it was not very focused, not in great detail.

So let’s, so we talked about personal stuff and you know, like, dislikes, he gave me tasks.

For instance, when my friend and I hitchhiked from East Germany all the way down to Bulgaria,

he told me to write a report about it, what I saw.

So fundamentally he wanted to see how well I can write and how well I can report, how

well I observe.

He also asked me to write some profiles about fellow students.

I don’t believe that was for them to give him to the Stasi, it was just like, how well

do I characterize people?

That’s important when you’re talking about, when I was in the US, active in the US I operated

as a spotter.

So I did exactly that.

I wrote profiles about people.

He also gave me some tasks to do that were rather unpleasant.

He would give me an address and a name of the people who lived at the address and he

told me to go there, ring the doorbell and find out something about a relative who lived

in West Germany.

That is undercover exploration, right?

So you go, you make up a story and somehow win the confidence of your target to tell

you something that you want to know.

Was that, did that come naturally to you?

No, no, I hated it.

The charisma involved, which part did you hate?

Charisma, I think, I didn’t know that I had it.

It took you some time to discover.

You know, I was, I always was and I still am to some degree a bit shy.

I lost a lot of the shyness after moving to the South because, here in the United States,

because you don’t have to be shy, you know.

You can let your love shine.

That’s exactly right.

So, but anyway, I hated doing that, but I did it well.

I still remember.

So I, in those days, I had a beard and I rang the bell and…

Tall, handsome fella.


And I looked the part, I said, I’m a sociology student and I’m doing a survey and I asked

a whole bunch of questions, would you like to answer the questions?

No problem.

And then I directed the conversation to the lady’s private life and she actually gave

me information.

She volunteered information that I wanted to know.


I did well.

And the other one that I didn’t like, but I also did well with, when Herman drove me

around the city and showed me a building and he said, find out what organization is in

there, what they do.

We get to know some people and I did that pretty well also.

You know, you have to be inventive, you know, to come up with a cover story and I’ve always

been quite inventive, you know, I’m a storyteller at heart and that, I didn’t know it then,

but you know, I…

But there was still something unpleasant about it.


Which part was unpleasant?

Well, the shyness and then, you know, I wasn’t very comfortable lying.

I became comfortable down the road, but you know, I was brutally honest and never hid

anything of me.

But you know, over time you lose that uncomfortable feeling and you rationalize that you’ve got

to do it.

There’s only one way, right?

And you’re serving a good cause.

So you were talking to Herman for a year and a half?

A year and a half.

And then how did that progress?


So he finally, I guess he sent a report to headquarters in Berlin and then he sent me

on a three week, quote unquote, practice trip to Berlin.

This was the first time when I had like a conspiratorial meeting where I had an address

and a time and a code phrase and I met another agent.

His name was Boris.

These names were meaningless.

They were all like cover names, right?

So what was the code and the meaning?

What was then?

Can you give a little more detail?

That code I don’t remember.

Not the code, but like, what do you mean by code?

So what was…

I tell you, the code we used when I met while I was active, I would approach the other person

who I thought may be the person I want to meet.

We both had something with us or on us to make us more likely to be the right person.

And I would ask him the following questions, excuse me, I’m looking for Susan Green.

And he would answer, yes, you must be David.


If I ask a stranger, they would look at me, well, how could I help you?

So I know it’s the wrong guy.

It’s just a low probability that the right thing would be said, so it’s a nice entry.

And it seems like a safe statement if it’s not the right person, it would just come off

absurd or crazy or whatever.

You would have made a good secret agent.

You know exactly…

How do you know I’m not?

This is…

We’ll discuss this further.

I’m dressed like one.

Actually, yeah, were there any dress code?

No, just fit in.

Fit in.

No matter what.

And then be creative.


Figure out ways to fit.


So anyways, he gave me some tasks and since I had rented a room in a house, he gave me

Western literature to read and we spent time together and there was a practice run to West


Actually, there were two and that was very important.

In hindsight, I figured that out.

So I traveled to West Germany, no, not to West Berlin, with an East German passport

that was stamped that that individual was allowed to go to the West.

And there was a part of the border that was only guarded by Soviet troops and that’s where

they smuggled me into West Germany.

I got on the subway and then appeared in West Berlin.

No Americans, no Brits, no French knew that I had entered.

Irish documents?

No, no, this was an East German passport.

It was real.


So and the first trip, all they wanted me to do is just walk around, smell the air,

have a beer or whatever and eat a sausage and then come back.

The second trip, I had a task very similar to the one that I had back in Jena to ring

the doorbell someplace and talk to some people and that worked very well also.

I should mention that you talk about that, you know, eat a sausage, drink some beer.

I suppose that’s a good test too to see how you behave under Western, like when first

introduced to the Western culture.

Like this is why I might not make a good agent is when I first came to the United States

in the supermarket, like bananas, as many bananas as I want to eat.

That I think that would break me.

It’s a shock.

It’s a shock to have access to Western culture.

You’re getting very close to the reason they actually made me do these two practice trips.

When I first emerged on West Berlin territory, I felt highly uncomfortable.

That was at the enemy, right?

And I saw the cops everywhere and even though those cops had like light blue uniforms, nothing,

they weren’t standouts.

So I was wondering, you know, if they knew that, you know, I had like KGB on my forehead.

So you were paranoid that they would know, they would see.

I was scared, but I overcame that.

So that’s, can we just linger on that because I suppose that’s a natural, like if I give

anybody on the street the mission to do the mission you had to do is they would be paranoid.

That’s a natural human feeling is am I being watched?

Do they know?

Like if you try to steal something from a store, there’s going to be a feeling like,

are they watching me?

Are the cameras watching?

Are the people watching me?

They all know that kind of stuff.

So you have to over, or you have to be somehow rugged and robust to that kind of feeling

and overcome it.

Yes, exactly.

So and something very interesting happened while I was being trained in Berlin, I met

a classmate of mine from high school and he confided to me that he was recruited by the

Stasi to become a spy, go as a spy to West Germany.

And he also had this practice trip and he peed in his pants.

He went back and told him, I can’t do that.

Just from the terror, that paranoia.

Now this guy’s career was over.

He had an engineering degree, he was a pretty smart guy, he was just for the rest of his

life and he’s still alive I believe, floating around and trading in model railroads and

stuff like that.

You mean do you think that experience broke him?

They wouldn’t let him back in.

Oh, I see.

They, oh.


So this is a test that if you fail, you pay the price.

I had no idea that, you know, something bad would happen if I failed that test, but I



I didn’t fail.

So, and this led then to the offer, all right, and after, you know, Boris was happy with

me and he told his boss who was most likely the head of the KGB in East Berlin and I had

an appointment to meet.

In East Germany.


In East Germany.


All of East Germany.


That’s right.

An appointment to meet with him and as we walk into the room, there was this huge desk

and a little guy sitting behind it, very, very, just like little and unimpressive, right?

A lot of paraphernalia, like, you know, had a bust of Dzerzhinsky on his desk and some

paintings of Lenin and so forth, but when the guy opened his mouth, he went like, whoa.

Huge psychological energy.

He spoke only Russian now and initially, he would, you know, start the bet with five minutes

worth of propaganda, why we’re doing what we’re doing, I didn’t need that, I understood

most of it, but when I didn’t understand, I’d ask Boris to translate and then he sprung

it on me and I was not prepared.

He said, so what, are you in or not?

And I was, no, I hadn’t made up my mind.

I wasn’t expecting that would come and so I said to him, I’m not really trained, you

know, there’s a lot of things I need to learn and I came up with a couple of really stupid

things, one not so stupid, but the other one was, I don’t know why I said that, I said,

for instance, I need to learn how to drive a car and to type with a typewriter and he

got really annoyed and he said, don’t worry about it, we’ll train you.

But I got to tell you, we need people who are decisive.

So you got until tomorrow noon to give Boris your decision.

That made for a sleepless night.

So what was going through your mind?

Well I had, this was almost 50, 50, I knew I was going to have a huge career, a good


It was on my way because I was already employed by the university as an assistant professor.

So that career would be to become a professor, become a 10 year professor, be a world class.


Jena had become my hometown.

I really loved the place.

It was my oyster and my family was my basketball team.

You love playing basketball.

Oh absolutely.


So this is home.

This is home.

This is where your love is.

This was home.

Did you understand that the choice involved leaving the home behind?


And the one thing I didn’t have, the two things I didn’t have, an emotional relationship

with my mother and I didn’t have a steady girlfriend at the time.

I think Freud would have a lot to say about that, but yeah, go ahead.

But the connection between those two, but yeah, I’m sure.

By the way, my friend Günther, the one who worked for the Stasi, was also, the Stasi

tried to recruit him as an agent, but he had a love relationship at the time and he said

politely, no, I won’t.

I can’t.

So you didn’t have, that’s the one thing that really could have held you to this place

is love.

So you got the career on the one hand, my basketball team, the town that I would be

part of the ruling elite of, and then we had this great adventure and the ability to contribute

to the victory, the worldwide victory of communism and stick it to the Nazis and of course the

feeling that you’re really special.


James Bond.


What’s, the question, do I want to be a tenured professor or James Bond?


And as funny as that sounds, that was probably a difficult decision.

It was a difficult decision, but fundamentally it wasn’t, and it wasn’t my zeal to help the


It was my, what they called, what the Stasi was looking for, the KGB was looking for in

a character that they would send over a well controlled inclination to adventure.



James Bond.

What do you say?

In the love of women.


I was, yes, I got to put this in right here because I’m telling people I have two things

in common with James Bond.

These are my initials, JB, and I got the girl too, three times.


I mean that’s, and that’s adventure.


And the ability to travel to the West because the West was closed off to us, we could go

to foreign countries, but they all had to be communist countries.

You know, I wanted to see Paris because I had fallen in love with the Honore Balzac

who wrote a phenomenal set of novels that I just ate up.

And so when I eventually did go to Paris, I knew all the places already because he described

them all.

Okay, so that one, it was a, it was 5149, but eventually it, and you know, when you,

when you do the side by side intellectual comparison, that doesn’t work.

It becomes a tie.

And then, you know, you just go with your gut and I said, Hey, I’m in.

So now that you successfully passed the test and you were sitting with this unimpressive

man and had the invite and had to sleep on it and have made the decision to join.


What was next?

I was just told, you know, that I was being recruited by the state department of East


I was going to become a diplomat.

I must have had some paper, but I forgot because just by saying so, then that would, that wouldn’t

have worked.

There’s some kind of document that says that, and that was the only entanglement you had

to that, to that place.

No love.

No basketball, basketball, giving up basketball was huge for me.

I love playing that game.

I started playing basketball when I was 18.

That’s a little late.

Are you better offensive, defensive?

What do you like more?

Do you like to shoot from a distance?

Do you like, I was a runner.

I was very, very quick on my feet and I was a good jumper too.

I typically played the, uh, the, the four position, you know, what’s that, uh, forward

or the forward position, forward position.

But anyway, um, so that, that, that was the hardest, uh, uh, for me to give up.

Um, but indeed the other thing that I remember I had to do to hand in my party document to

the party secretary of the university.

And uh, he made a comment.


We probably won’t hear much about you, but, uh, we know that you’re going to do something

very important.

So he sort of had an inkling that, uh, I’m going, I’m going to go someplace, uh, undercover

or something like that.

And then I packed my bags and got on a train, uh, to Berlin for another one of those secret

meetings with, uh, my, my new handler, Nikolai.

So and here, here came another test that, that would have been quite easy to fail.

So I, I had lived, uh, in Yena for six years in a dorm, even when I became a, an employee

of the university, they didn’t, they didn’t have apartments.

I was still living in a dorm and, and they won in a single room with a bed, a chair and

a table and a toilet down the, down the hallway.

So I figured, you know, Berlin KGB, I’m going to get a nice apartment, right?

And so, uh, uh, Nikolai took me into his car.

We started talking a little bit and then he said, I have a task for you already.

Your first task is to find yourself a place to live.

I mean, I don’t think I showed it in my face, but you know, my heart, my, my, my, my heart

dropped like down to into my pants.

I, I knew this was nearly impossible because it was a severe shortage of, uh, of housing

and in, in, in everywhere in Germany, East Germany and all the apartments and homes were

controlled by, by the government.

You know, there were long waiting lists.

Uh, I know, I knew couples that, uh, were promised maybe to get an apartment, uh, five

years down the road.

So then they would postpone the decision to have a child.

Anyway, this was impossible.

Uh, well, yeah, but this was a test, you know, because I had to be inventive.

Now I had to figure out, uh, how to get out of an impossible situation.

I didn’t realize it then at all.

I just went with the flow, you know, what do I do?

So what I did, I went, I took the train, the city train, uh, to the very last stop, a little

town called Ackner.

And I wandered around in that town and knocked on doors and asked people if they knew where

somebody might have a place to live.

And after a couple of hours, somebody said, there’s this lady that, and she gave, and

they gave me the address and I talked to the lady and she said, I happen to have a place

that you might, uh, that where you might be able to stay.

It was an outbuilding.

Uh, I don’t know what it was, what it served.

It was not a garage.

It was concrete.

And it had, um, a bed and a chair, uh, running cold water and a stove, a cold stove.

That was my, was going to be my…

Pretty basic.

That’s your…

Pretty basic?

Are you kidding me?

That’s the, uh…

Toilet across the yard, of course.


Well, all the essentials.

What are you complaining about?

So you were, you had to run the, uh, the special, James Bond had to run a special operation

out of the house.

To, to, to my credit, and I think that, that, uh, that established part of my reputation.

I didn’t complain at all to Nikolai.

That was part of the test probably.


I just told him, you know, I found something.

And so, uh, for six months I would get up in the morning, get on the train and walk

around in the city, you know, uh, did some operational stuff, uh, operational training.

I went to the library, did a lot of reading in the library.

And then I found a basketball team that I could join.

So at least I could take a shower twice a week.

Um, and, uh, and apparently it took about six months that I was still on probation because

after six months, Nikolai, one day we were still meeting in his car, he said, he handed

me a key and he said, I’m going to take you to your new apartment.

Now I, and I didn’t know this, you know, that now I was really in.


Imagine the hurdles you have to jump over and how many times you can fail, but you know.

But not complaining, not asking questions.


I mean, that was something you’ve written about.

Um, I think you wrote that bosses do not like to hear complaints or problems.

They prefer solutions.

That’s right.

So what was your interaction like with the bosses?

Is that essentially, um, represents the way he went forward as well?

I, no complaints, no arguments, no, no, I know this better.

I was taking it all in now that the, the, the technical guys, you know, they taught

me something I didn’t know that made sense.

Um, what Nikolai, some of the stuff that he taught me was somewhat questionable.

He was a generalist and there’s some things he didn’t know really well.

So I could have like asked, probed a little bit, but I didn’t.

So I just played along.

So this new apartment was, uh, uh, it was a studio at, at, at, at a kitchen with running

cold water and the bathroom was just one flight down the toilet, not a bathroom, uh, one flight

down the stairs, uh, it was a big upgrade.

And he gave me, uh, I think he gave me a thousand mark to buy, buy furniture.

And in that place, I actually, I also bought a TV and started watching West German television.

So I finally had a decent place to stay.

Um, and the, the, my training in Berlin took about two years.

What was the training?

What were the interesting aspects to the training?

What were sort of, if you do an overview systematic of what was the training process, what was

difficult, what are some insights that generalize to the training process of what it takes to

be a KGB spy?


So, uh, let me start with the trade craft.

So I was taught Morse code that took a while, uh, I, I, I was, uh, instructed in how to,

you know, use a shortwave radio and to receive, uh, the, the shortwave, uh, transmissions

with Morse code.

I was taught, uh, uh, and a encryption and decryption algorithm, manual algorithm, you,

you might be interested that eventually I figured out, uh, at least one of the patterns,

uh, the, the algorithm was such that the, and this was all about digits, like, uh, and

the algorithm was such that in the end, the, uh, the digits that were used to decipher

other digits that were handed, uh, that were sent to me by a shortwave radio, there were,

let’s say if there were a hundred digits, there were an equal number of ones, twos,

threes, fours, fives, six, and seven, and up until zero.

And I was told that, uh, these, um, uh, algorithms, these manual algorithms were, were good for

about 300 uses.

After that, they could still be deciphered.

I’m assuming nowadays that, uh, wouldn’t take as much.


With, with computers for sure.

But there’s probably, they’re probably designed in a way that you can manually sort of, uh,

it’s efficient and convenient to use them manually, it’s not to optimize cryptographic

security, it’s to optimize, it’s like to balance security and like humans being able to actually.


No, I got to disagree.

It was neither efficient nor convenient.


It took a long time.

So it wasn’t decipherable.

When, what was, what was significantly easier to do, uh, but, uh, that would require you

to have spied paraphernalia with you.

This is what’s called a one time pad.

So you have the set of numbers on, on a sheet of paper, uh, that had to be developed.

I had to use iodine to make those numbers visible.

Those are known to be unbreakable unless they are used multiple times, the same, the same

sheet of paper, because, you know, the person who encrypts has the same set of numbers as

the person who decrypts and one, one time use, you cannot figure out what the message


Oh, interesting.

But this is a quick way to communicate from one person to another one time, one time.

One time, but I had a pad with multiple, uh, sheets of paper, right?

And, uh, the reason that they gave me a manual one is because I literally, I had only when

I, when I wound up in the United States, I had only one thing with me that, uh, only

a spy can have.

And that was a, uh, a writing pad with, uh, uh, where the first 10 pages or so were impregnated

with a trace of a chemical that was used for secret writing.

Uh, but you really would have to know what you’re looking for to, you know, you see this

pad it was bought at, uh, you know, Walmart and.

Can you explain a little, a little further?

What is the chemical here that, what are we talking about?

So how, I don’t understand how it’s possible to have a physical pad that does the encryption

without any computing.

How does it encode?

All right.

So, so no, no, it doesn’t, it doesn’t do any work, you know, so, and the, uh, the communication

that the encrypted communication was, uh, was, uh, a set of, uh, uh, groups of five,

five digits and then another five and there’s always a gap in between, um, and, uh, so let’s

say if I get this radio transmission, I write them all down and then I, then I use my, uh,

develop my algorithm and then I do mathematics, either addition or subtraction.

The resulting set of digits had then had a one to one correlation to letters.

And this is an easy way to then do the correlation.


Well, that’s cool.

So you’re saying the algorithm was not efficient.

It was not.

Oh, the manual took a long time and, and you can’t make an error.


Uh, would you know where, can you, is it easy to debug?

No, no, you do it twice.

You do it twice and that’s how you check.

If it’s identical, then you know, but like, if it’s not, then one is right and the other

is wrong.

You gotta do it again.

Don’t make mistakes.

No, that’s right.

And I really didn’t.

So I was, I was learning that, uh, I was also, uh, told that I was required to become proficient

in another language and they gave me a choice and I picked English.

That’s what was the other one.

Oh no, pick one friend, you know, whatever is spoken in the West.

Got it.

Uh, what was, what was, what would be second to you?

Would you, would you think French because of Paris?

What would you, what, why English?

English was a no brainer because I, I was a straight age to a student in English without


I like it came so easily to me.

So that’s why I chose it, right?

So that was that, uh, then, uh, um, I, uh, I w I was taught the basics of, um, uh, counter

surveillance, you know, some trickery and, and, and, uh, um, uh, surveillance detection

routes where you wander around in the city for three hours and determine whether you’re

being followed or not.

That requires you to plan the route very well.

I give you one example that, uh, that will illustrate that as my, my favorite spot.

When, when, when I was in Moscow, I did a lot of that also.

And if my favorite spot was, I wasn’t a not well traveled, uh, uh, road.

It went down the hill and, and curved.

And at the bottom of the hill, there was a telephone booth.

And when you open the door and pick up the telephone, you have to look back.

So it wasn’t like this, right?

It wasn’t a giveaway.

This was normal.

That was natural.

So I could see if somebody would come walking after me, you know, these kinds of things.

Or you would, uh, uh, you know, use, um, public transportation, uh, big buildings, uh, where

you needed to use an elevator and see who’s because surveillance, the, the object of

surveillance is to never lose sight of the individual who you’re surveilling because

at that point you may miss the window where he does something that you’re looking for.

So somebody always has to come close, right?

Did you have to also study surveillance?

No, only counter surveillance.

And what helped me in, in, in all my training, uh, you know, I, I would be, uh, would have

a competition with, uh, uh, folks that were coming, they were following me and me.

And I beat them every time, uh, they were at a disadvantage because one of them always

had to be close and, and if you saw the same face twice, you know that you were being followed.

And I had a very, very good, uh, memory for, for faces.

So basically figure out a fixed route and then a fixed route that allows you to, uh,

survey the area and then record the faces you’ve seen inside your mind.

And if, uh, you see multiple times a single face, that’s, that’s a bad sign.

And then they could, they could, uh, you use, uh, different clothes, uh, but they didn’t

have was face masks.

The CIA does nowadays.

They can give you a different face within seconds.


So how big, I mean, again, you talk about paranoia, um, is that part of the, is that

a big part of the job, uh, counter surveillance, like being constantly paranoid that you’re

being watched?


I was supposed to.

Isn’t that quite stressful.

So is that, is that one of the, is that actually an effective way to operate?

Uh, nobody, it sort of becomes a routine.

Uh, I was told to do it, uh, while in the U S once a month and, uh, okay.

It’s like a cleaning out.

Oh, not, not every day.

No, no, no, no, no.

Once a month or before I would say, mail a letter with secret writing.

So I was sure that, you know, nobody saw me put an envelope into a postbox.

So this is one of the tools in your toolbox is Morse code.

There’s the decryption and encryption.

There’s the car surveillance, photography, um, making, making microdots, you know, what

a microdot is?

What’s a microdot?

It’s, uh, you use, you, you take a photograph and you use a microscope in reverse and, uh,

make that photograph really small, so small that it’s like the head of a pin that can

be used to, uh, hide under a postage stamp.

Uh, in reality, I knew how to make them, but in reality, they, they never asked me to make

use of that technique.

So it’s a, it’s a sort of an encryption mechanism for photographs.


So what we do nowadays, embed, uh, code in, in, uh, PDFs and stuff like that.





All right.

So that, that was a learning, a training process, both in the physical space and sort

of, um, algorithmically.

Is there other things?


You bet.

Uh, interestingly enough, the, uh, I was, um, the first book I was given to read was

the history of this, uh, these, uh, communist party of the Soviet union.

Oh, so understand.

That’s interesting.

Cause you said you had to read Western literature.

Yeah, that too.

How much, how much reading, so history, how much history of politics, geopolitics, culture.

Not much more, but they made me read that document.

Other than that, I wasn’t supposed to study the Soviet union.

I wasn’t supposed and that was not, and I didn’t, when they sent me to Moscow, it wasn’t

to learn Russia, Russian, right?

It was to learn English.

Um, the, the second document they gave me was the, the constitution of West Germany.

And then I got lots of magazines and stuff like that.

Uh, as I told you, I was, uh, also told to, uh, uh, watch West German television, which

I, which I, uh, embraced with a vengeance because it was better than East German.

So I would get up in the morning and have a little breakfast and watch the German version

of Sesame street.

And that, that, that helps you, uh, that helps you get an understanding of the culture.

You have to do any kind of, uh, interaction, kind of spying that you have to be, be able

to effectively integrate.

Well, you, you also have to know, like, and, and that would have been easier, uh, if I,

they had sent me to West Germany, you know, all the soccer teams, you know, stuff that

everybody knows when I came to the U S I knew very little stuff that everybody knows.

That’s why I had to be very cautious and, you know, take it in all the time anyway.

Uh, and the, the last thing I want to mention is, uh, they, uh, I was strongly encouraged

to, uh, expand my, my cultural education.

In other words, go to visit museums, uh, go to the theater, uh, not so much movies, uh,

opera, read, read books from all kinds of authors.

Uh, that was important to them.

And once a month I had to write a report what I did, but the interesting thing, there was

not a, there was no curriculum, there was no agenda, there were no check marks.

It was all ad hoc.

You know, now you do this and then you do that.

Uh, and, uh, and a lot of this also, they relied on my initiative.


I mean, that’s part of the evaluation too.

You bet.

Um, are you able to have creative, it’s interesting that they’re like developing a James Bond

type of character here, which is what, what’s the reason to go to the opera as you become


In a certain kind of way where perhaps that makes you, uh, more charming, more charismatic

in terms of your ability to integrate yourself in different situations.

You absolutely right.

Uh, uh, I, I was, I was, um, uh, uh, when I came to the US after about, uh, two years

roughly, um, I was cultured enough to, uh, not, uh, make a bad impression at a, at a

diplomatic soiree in Washington, DC.

I mingled freely.


All right.

And, and, and so the whole idea was for me to sort of reach into the upper, uh, realms

of society where the targets would be juicier than, you know, the worker bees.

And how did you end up in Moscow?



What is that journey?

Well, so I, uh, I told you, and I started studying English, so I started back from scratch,

you know, they paid for a tutor and I went from like English 101 and then I went through

that in a couple of months then.

And then I got another guy with whom we, I expanded this.

We had conversations rather than working from a textbook and I, and I worked like a maniac.

I threw myself into the study of, of, of, uh, uh, English.

Like you wouldn’t believe.

Um, and, and my inspiration came from Vladimir Lenin.

I had read somewhere in a book that when Lenin was in exile, he studied German and he learned

100 German words every day, new German words.

So I started reading newspapers and every word that I didn’t know, I wrote down on an

index card, uh, German, English, and, uh, and I piled them up.

And so I really learned 100 new English words every day.

I know this because I counted them and I had a system how to do this.

Uh, uh, so you take your index card and you have five categories is a really good way

to learn wrote by wrote.

Uh, so you’ve got category one, that’s the new ones and you’ve got category five.

So you start with, uh, with five, five, you already had right four times.

If you have it right again, it goes to the archive.

Oh, in like longterm cold archive.



If you get it right, it goes to five.

If you get it wrong, it gets relegated to three or so.

And so you go through this and, uh, um, and occasionally I would throw the archive things

back into one.

So I really, I really acquired a phenomenal vocabulary.

When I was done with my English, my vocabulary was significantly higher than the average

American because I, I, I didn’t discriminate whatever word I didn’t know I learned, which

is not necessarily the best way because you know, English has a lot of synonyms, right?


And one synonym is usually the, the preferable one and, and I, um, when I first interacted

with people, I very often used the one that wasn’t as good.

And people have found that I, you know, I have an interesting way of talking.

They didn’t know what that meant, but yeah.

So it builds a good foundation for a language is getting a large vocabulary.


It’s really interesting.

There’s something I do, which is called space repetition, which is a programmatic way of

doing this kind of system that you’ve developed yourself, which is if you successfully remember

a thing, it’s going to be a longer time before it brings it up to you again.


Now that’s requires a computer to keep track of information.

If you have cars, that’s a really interesting pile system.

One, two, three, four, five, you upgrade it one, two, three, four, five.

Maybe I wouldn’t go to the archive and go to them to, to pile one right away.

I would go to like, I don’t know, pile five, perhaps is probably the right place to put


Cause, cause you have to go through that full step again, but that is a really powerful

way to learn definitely language, but also facts.

Like people that go to medical school.

Disconnected facts.


And, and you pretty much, when you’re done, you, you know what you know.


You don’t have to.

Then again, to use it, to integrate it into the music of language.

That’s more difficult.

That’s what you’re talking about.


There’s a charm.

I mean, maybe it’s not good for Spycraft, but there’s a charm to this kind of, to having

an accent and using words incorrectly, but confidently there’s a, because language isn’t

a simple formula.

Language is the play of words.

So actually using the incorrect synonym, you know, as it, you know, if, instead of saying

I’m cold saying I’m chilled or something.

Like using off beat words can actually be part of the charm.

So it’s interesting if you can learn how to use that correctly.

Cause I’ve known a bunch of people with the Russian accent and I feel like they get, get

away with saying a lot of ridiculous shit because they’re able to sort of leverage the

charm of the non sequiturs.

And by the way, by the way, just one, one thing that we talked about using a computer.

When I had my first personal computer, I actually wrote a program that does that.

It does that.

By the way, when was that?

When, cause you were a world class programmer for a time.


You were a very good programmer.

When, when did the birth?

First PC was probably 1984.


When did you fall in love with programming?

When I went to college in the US and part of the core curriculum was that you were required

to take a course in computer and it was mostly just, you know, talk, but we also had to learn

a language.

Uh, we had to write some programs and Fortran, which was what five at the time, it was a,

it was a dumbed down Fortran, but listen, so I, I see the ability, I see what, what

you can do with this, I programmed a sine curve and then I divided the, the sine curve

into really, really small rectangles and then ran the program and it came up with the right



This is great.

That’s incredible.

It’s incredible.

That’s so powerful.

It’s, uh, you’re creating, you’re creating a little helper helps you understand the world

to help you analyze the world and so on.

Uh, we’ll, we’ll return to that cause it’s interesting.

So you have so many interesting aspects to your life, but Moscow.


Yeah, no, let me, let, no, let me, how I was sent to Moscow.


So one day I had a visitor from Moscow, uh, and he came to visit me in my apartment, uh,

together with, uh, Nikolai and he, you know, we talked and then he said, how’s your English?

I said, I pulled a book from the shelf and says, I can read that without the help of

a dictionary.

Oh, that’s interesting.

And he said, you know what, we’re going to send you a tape recorder and you just talk,

say something, you know, for 20 minutes, whatever you want to talk about.

Uh, they sent this thing and two weeks later I was on a plane to Moscow because I also

spoke English, sort of the British variety of English with not a strong German accent

because I’ve always had the ability to imitate others and sounds that was an innate ability.

I would, uh, you know, when, when, when we were in a lab and, uh, as students, I would

very often do, uh, monologues, uh, imitating East German comedians.

You know, I just, yes, yes.

I’m not good enough to make a living out of it, but, uh, that raised some interest.

And so when they sent me to Moscow, that was the first time on a plane, by the way, um,

and, uh, I had a conversation with two ladies who spoke English.

One was a, a Russian, a professor at, uh, Lomonosov University.

She was obviously KGB, that was her cover.

And the other one was an American born lady.

Oh, by the way, she was an actual professor and using that as the cover or is it just

a story?

No, I, she said she was a professor.

She may have taught there too.

That’s an interesting distinction.


One is like a story you tell people and one is like you legit are doing the thing, but

are also as a cover.

Anyway, that’s, that’s an interesting aspect of how to be a good liar.

You might, you might as well live the lie.

Yeah, exactly right.

Uh, so, uh, and the other one was a middle aged, the, the Russian was pretty young.

The other one was middle aged and American and, uh, and so we talked for maybe a couple

of hours and then they withdrew and I was left alone.

Eventually my liaison, he came back in and he said, it was close, but the American thinks

you can actually, uh, become, uh, you get close enough to become, becoming a native

speaker of American English.

And he said, the Russian was very doubtful.

So I think wishful, it was, it was a tie, literally wishful thinking prevailed.

So, uh, within a couple of weeks I was moving to Moscow.

And what, what was the task in Moscow and what, how long were you in Moscow?

Two years.

And what was the task there?

Is it training or is it espionage?

No, it was training.

It was, uh, so it was, uh, I, uh, the, the American born became my tutor.

I met with her twice a week.

Uh, I, uh, I also listened to a lot of BBC, shortwave BBC worldwide, uh, I read, uh, more

English books.

So a lot of that was about the language and the culture of English, uh, American.

And, and I did phonetics exercises every night.

I had a tape that was about a half hour long and they would say a word and I would repeat

the word, say a word, repeat the word.

And it was mostly about the vowels, by the way, most of the accent and, uh, uh, particularly

because let’s say coming from German into, into English, but also Russian.

It’s the vowels.

You’re talking about the, so you would have a single word, a word, apple, and you would

just say apple.


And American English or British English?

No, American English.

And, and I give you one, uh, example that almost nobody gets right.

The difference between hot and hut, you know, and in German speakers, it’s very tough.

You know, which one, uh, for everyone is different.

For example, uh, I could say this on a podcast, something that my brother struggles with,

I struggled with too, when I first came to this country to learn English is there’s differences.

There’s embarrassing differences, uh, like beach and bitch, right?

And you get so, as a young kid, also you get so nervous of, I don’t want to say the wrong


I, um, I can also say that this is almost as a jokey thing, but, uh, there’s a, there’s

a famous philosopher, uh, Immanuel Kant, and you can, uh, guess which other word is very

similar to that.

So there’s a, there’s a nervousness about the, what is that?

That’s interesting.

I mean, and Germans probably have a different, uh, tension of like what is hard to learn

the difference between the pronunciation of the vowels or the control of the vowels.


It’s interesting.

So you had to really master this daily exercise and, you know, and this, this was my discipline.

I did this every night, routine, boring as hell.

Uh, so English was the focus.

And I also had interaction with some, uh, agents who had operated in the United States

as diplomats on the, on the diplomatic cover.

They would come and talk to me a little bit and tell me and sort of prepare me what was

ahead of me.

And then I did a whole lot of operational training, particularly surveillance detection.

That was big.

They also, they also taught me how to drive a car in Moscow.

Finally, the one skill you needed.

What’s a surveillance detection?


So this is what, when, when you find out whether you’re being followed.

Ah, got it, got it, got it.

So it’s the, yeah, got you.

The abbreviation that’s used in, uh, in, in, in, uh, yes, uh, in, uh, intelligence circles

is SDR, surveillance detection route, you know, when they say that, you know what that


Uh, and, and that was it.

Uh, and a, and a few other things, you know, one offs, for instance, uh, I was once, uh,

taught, uh, to read silhouettes of ships.

When you see a ship from a distance, what kind of a ship it might be.

They, they thought this would come in handy.

Actually they, they, uh, there was in, in 1982, Andropov, uh, started, uh, a campaign

that was, uh, now I forget the name, Operation something, something where everybody who was

in the West was supposed to, uh, look for science that, uh, the West was, uh, uh, getting

ready for war.

And I had an, everybody had an object to, uh, to pay attention to.

I had a, uh, uh, a harbor, a military harbor in, um, um, in, in New Jersey, uh, near Red

Bank that was called Earl Weapon Station.

And the code name for that was early.

So they asked me to just wander by there to see if there was something unusual going on

because the Soviet Union were at that point, it was Ronald Reagan were really afraid that

Reagan was going to start a war.

They were absolutely 100% afraid of him.

Is there something memorable to you on a personal level and a philosophical level about your

time in Moscow?

Something that kind of stays with you outside of the training stuff, maybe like the details

of the training.

You love the answer.

You will love the answer.

Uh, I was, uh, I was given tickets to two, uh, performances by Americans.

Uh, there was a theater troupe that, uh, played Our Town.

Uh, and then there was this, I forgot the name of the guy, but, uh, uh, you may not

be old enough.

Have you ever watched Hee Haw?

Uh, maybe, uh, there was a, it was a country music show, real kitschy, but, uh, the star

of Hee Haw, uh, was giving a concert in Moscow and I guarantee you at least half the audience

were KGB and at the other end, the, uh, uh, um, the, the, the opposite of, uh, of a, of

a highlight was my visit to the, uh, to, to my, to the mausoleum where Lenin, uh, is still,

still today.

There, there was so, there was a nothing, you know, he was, he was my hero, but he,

he looked like a wax figure and, and, and you walk by there, there was nothing inspirational

and not, not, it was not a religious experience, nothing, it was, it was a big old nothing.

Is that, did, did your faith and belief in communism start to crumble at some point here?


Is that around, that was still pretty strong.

What I did notice that, uh, the standard of living in, in, in Moscow was significantly

lower than in East Germany.

The, uh, uh, in the supermarkets, uh, you could, you could expect, uh, with reliability

that you can find, uh, canned fish and, uh, mineral water.

Everything else was whatever.

And if you saw a line and at a store, you just line up.

You don’t even ask what they have because if you don’t like it, somebody else will.

It was, it, it was, uh, not poverty, but it was close to poverty.

There were a lot of drunken men in the streets.

And uh…

This is the eighties?

No, this is the late seventies, mid to late seventies.

And uh, and also the, they had these high rise apartment buildings that looked pretty

good from the front, but you went into the backyard, ouch.

You know.


You’re describing my childhood here.



Uh, but it’s interesting even, even with the professor, even with everything else, um,

it’s interesting because I think the standard of living was much lower.

You’re right.

Even in Moscow.


Absolutely was.

The one thing that they always had, at least in my days, was in those two years, there

was always fresh bread in the Bulatnoyars.




That’s probably one of the memories I have of childhood is, well you’re hungry a lot,

but when you eat is bread and the bread was good.

It was good.

I mean, I don’t, I actually wonder, I wonder how good it was, but I remember it being incredibly


To me it was really good.

And, and you know, you had it from white to very dark and all the varieties.

The other thing that was good was, um, if you knew where to get it, Stolichnaya was

four rubles.

Not only is it good vodka, but it’s a cheap vodka.

I like it.


But you had to know where, you know, this would be like holes in the wall someplace.

Well, I think a lot of the way they operate, I don’t, I wonder if East Germany is this

way, but a lot of the ways that Moscow operate is you kind of, you had to know.


Like there’s a very kind of, um, if you make the right friends, if you give money to the

right guy, the guy, the friend of the friend of the friend is going to hook you up and

that’s, there’s a culture that this is how you work around a very big bureaucracy.

Underground economy.


Underground economy.


You have to know, which is, uh, boy, um, such a stark contrast between, between that and

the United States, the capitalist system.

Um, yeah, that was a very big culture shock to me to understand the different, the different

fundamentally different way of life.

But the interesting thing is, um, human nature pervades both systems and there is something

about the Russian system that reveals human nature more intensely because of the underground

nature of it.

Because you get to deal with greed and trust and all those kinds of things in the United

States, there is much more power to the rule of law.

So there’s rules and people follow those rules, they had to break the rules nonstop.

Well, in East Germany and Russia, I believe, uh, theft, if you could get away with it was

part of your economic activity.


I have a friend, uh, you know, who, who I went to school with, uh, up until my fourth

year and, uh, we reconnected and he told me how he survived, you know, he would, you know,

he would just steal stuff and then sell it and trade it.



I mean, it’s a relative concept.

You are taking stuff.

Uh, bribery, all those kinds of things, people, you know, um, corruption, you know, it’s a

relative term.

No, I’m just kidding.

I mean, it is, you have to work around the giant bureaucracy about the giant corruption.

Corruption builds on top of corruption and then it just becomes this giant system that’s

unstable as you talked about.

One last word.


The two years in Moscow taught me how to be alone.

I had no social interaction.

Not with friends, not with women, not.


I was, the only interaction I had was with the folks that trained me.

So I was alone.

It was a lonely two years.

For a person who, who loves love.


Is that difficult?

It was for my first year and first and second year in the United States because I could

not interact socially without giving away that something was wrong with me.

I had to learn how to be an American.

They didn’t teach me in Moscow.

They couldn’t.

So the first two years in, uh, in America, you had to kind of listen more than talk.

Oh, you bet.

The very first year I couldn’t even work because I had to acquire the documents, the social

security card and a driver’s license, uh, to get a job.

And then when I had the job, uh, I worked as a bike messenger, uh, that gave me a good

opportunity to listen as, as, you know, because these people, they weren’t very curious about


What was your name in East Germany, what was your name in Moscow, what was your name in



So my, the name I was given at birth is Albrecht Dittrich.

It’s so sexy when you speak in German with a German accent.

I hate, I hated that name, the Albrecht.

I didn’t like it.

It was, it was very rarely used.

Uh, my mother named me after a famous German painter, Albrecht Dittrich.

My cover name in Moscow was known as Dieter and, and, and in the United States I became

Jack Barsky.

In between I used a whole bunch of other names that were associated with, uh, false passports

that, uh, uh, I used.

One of the names I remember is William Dyson because that is the name that was on the Canadian

passport I used to enter the United States.

So how did you enter the United States?

Can we take the journey from Moscow to the United States?


What was the assignment?

What was the, what was that leap?

What was like, what, uh.

Just one, one, one thing in between, I had a three months practice trip to, to, uh, Canada.

That was, that was a good idea and I got to tell you this, this one thing that happened


Yes, please.


So, because, you know, the one, one thing that I like to tell people nowadays is the,

one of the secrets to happiness is the ability to make fun of the worst situations that you’re


Yes, absolutely.

You see the humor.



In hindsight, at least, uh, one of my, uh, the tasks that I had in, in, in Canada was

to acquire a birth certificate, uh, with the name, uh, the name was Henry Van Randall,

who was born someplace in California.

And I was supposed to, uh, you know, write a little letter saying, I’m Henry Van Randall.

Please send me a copy of my birth certificate.

The fee is enclosed and, uh, and, and I, uh, I lived in a small hotel.

So the return address, it wasn’t visible that it was a hotel.

That was important.

So, and it took like three weeks and I get nothing, four weeks, I get nothing.

Eventually I got annoyed and I, I, I, I mustered the courage to call them up from a pay phone.

I called up the office registrar, whatever they were called in this, in this town in

California and I, and I yelled at them, I said, you got my money, where’s my birth certificate?

Well, a couple of weeks later it came.

So I see the envelope and it says Henry Van Randall.


I had prepared the caretakers of the, um, of the hotel to, that I’m expecting a letter

from my friend.

So I went up to my room, I opened it and I was like, yes, yes, this is success.

And then, and then I opened this thing and it was, it was a copy of a birth certificate,

but it was stamped with big letters across in red deceased.

Now think about it.

So here’s a dead people who was asking for that person who was asking for a birth certificate.

I had the presence of mind to, to leave.


I went to a couple of other cities.

I should have left the country.

But I know that the Royal Mounted Police was following me and I was given that information

by the FBI later on.

And they were,

You were able to, oh, you were able to at least suspect that at the time through the,

the, the,

I knew that, I knew that there was trouble.

So I, my counter surveillance route, yes, didn’t discover anything.

So I kept on going, I had to, supposed to, I was supposed to visit two more cities and

they were always one step behind.

What, what, what is interesting to me is that they didn’t catch me on the way out.

You have to show your passport to the airline.

I mean, I, I, I was known by name.

I would then, the path, because I had to give that to the hotel, right.

And I, and I escaped with, by a hair.


They, they would have to keep you on a list, right?


Yeah, that’s interesting.

But that requires like a good computerized updated system to track all that stuff.

This was Swiss air, so.

Well, you got lucky.


Part of life is luck.

You bet.

So, so, and, and other than that, the, the trip to Canada was a big success because it,

it gave me the culture shock that, that I needed to not be blown out of, out of the


And when I get, get to the United States.

So you hopped a few places in Canada and then Swiss air.

I even had a, I even had a relationship with a young lady.

A Canadian, French Canadian, regular Canadian.

French Canadian, and she, she gave me a book, Winnie the Pooh, because we went to see the

movie and then she wrote the dedication, she says, to the nicest German I’ve ever met.

Was she lying?


Or you don’t know, maybe.

Speaking of Spycraft, and that, that led to heartbreak too?


That was sexual.

I was not at that point.

Ready for love?


Ready to return to that old.

Well, and I was, I was already married in Germany.


That woman I loved.

We should return to this.


So Swiss air, where did you land in the United States?

Oh, when I came, where did I land?

I, I, American Airlines, a flight from Mexico City to Toronto, but they made me deplane

in Chicago.

I have no idea.

I think this was overengineering.

That didn’t make any sense to me.

You know, why can’t a Canadian just take a, take a flight from Mexico City?

With this stopover, this kind of nonsense.

Yeah, but, okay.

But nevertheless, that was it, and then you landed in Chicago.


And tell me the story in America.

What was the day to day life?

Now this is, now you’re a spy.

No, no, no, no.

I got to tell you another funny story.


So it’s another, there’s two things that happened that could have ended my career as a spy right

then and there.

So I’m, so I’m, I’m arriving in, in Chicago in the evening.

It’s already dark.

I had no idea what kind of a hotel to take, you know, I picked one out of a, out of yellow

pages and got a taxi.

When I gave him the address, he looked at me like a little funny, you know, whatever,

what do I know?

You know, it was keep on going.

I need to get, I need to get sleep because I was extremely tense, you know, having gone

through customs and border control.

So and we were going in the Southern direction and I noticed that the neighborhoods became

less and less inviting.

Didn’t know what that meant either.

I get, I enter the hotel, it was a five story brownstone and something else looked funny.

So the reception desk was protected by plexiglass.

Not having enough background, I didn’t know that this was unusual because all I knew that

there was a lot of crime in the United States.

So I thought maybe every hotel was like that.

So I go up into my room and drink a half a bottle of, uh, Johnny Walker red because I,

as one does, yeah, because I was so damn tense.

I just wanted to sleep.

I wanted to get into a coma, which I did.

And then the next day I woke up with a head that was twice as big as felt twice as big.

But you know, I was prepared.

I had aspirin with me, so I killed the headache and went outside to see if I can get something

to eat.

And, uh, so I was right smack in the middle of the South side of Chicago.

I didn’t know that the South side of Chicago existed.

I found later, I found out where I was.

So it was time to go very quickly, uh, go up there.

And at that point I decided I would, uh, uh, I would register, uh, at the next hotel on

the Jack Barsky.

So I went to the bathroom and I tried to kill, kill off, uh, uh, Mr. Dyson by burning his


Um, unfortunately I was not trained in how to train passport, uh, how to, how to destroy

passports was, uh, so I tried to burn it and these things are flame retardant.

And, uh, it created a cloud of smoke and I’m looking up there and there’s a smoke detector.


Oh no.


So presence of mind, I threw this thing in the toilet and then, then took out a pair

of scissors and cut it into small pieces and flushed it down.

If that smoke alarm goes off, I’m busted.


If somebody, if, if some, some criminal steals, I had $6,000 on me in cash, uh, steals either

my passport or my, or my money or both.

I don’t know what to do.


You can’t go to the authorities.

You can’t do anything.

There weren’t, there weren’t any Russian, the Soviets in Chicago.

Do you have any contacts?


There was no, there was no, um, there was no plan B for Chicago at all.

That’s an oversight.

I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t have gone to Chicago.

They, they could have shipped me into, uh, um, uh, San Francisco or Washington DC because

both of them had Soviets.

My end goal was, uh, was to go to, to, to New York.


Uh, you know, I would have been a really, really, uh, dangerous agent if I had gone

back and worked with the KGB because I could have told them all the things, how to do it


So in that sense, there is some, given the scale of the KGB, there is, uh, some incompetence

in this.


A lot of incompetence.

Uh, to preparing me to be an American was almost total incompetence.

And that, do you think that’s representative of the way they operate is, uh, there’s an

incompetence like to the, uh, logistics, to the strategies involved, all that kind of



None of these guys had operated as illegals.

They, they were outsiders to American society.

They had interaction with Americans and, uh, but they all lived in, you know, in New York,

they lived in a compound, uh, and in Northern Manhattan where they all lived together with

their families.

And, and they, most of the time they spent, uh, interacting with, with themselves, with

their own people at work.

So they really didn’t integrate well.

They did not know what it’s like to be an American, to have a job, to, to, you know,

live like an American.

They didn’t know it.

It’s interesting that KGB didn’t put a high value to that kind of integration.

They didn’t know what they didn’t know.


And by the way, this was mutual.

Do you think the CIA had, had, uh, good knowledge of the Russian culture?

Uh, same thing.

And so, um, there was a lot of lack of understanding because good, good intelligence could have,

uh, possibly avoided some of the, uh, high tension that, uh, situations that we had when,

when in the eighties, we got close to nuclear war.

So good intelligence would be integrating yourself in society.


Much, much deeper.

And that Ronald Reagan was not a warmonger, but he was talking about the end times because

he was a Christian.

But then that kind of integration can be dangerous because you start to question the propaganda,

the narratives that, on which the KGB is built, on which the CIA is built.

And then they have, they always have had the option of ignoring the intelligence that they’re

getting, right?


Well, let me ask you this question sort of to jump around.

There’s a lot of conspiracy theories in this, um, in this current climate, I mean, throughout

history, but now especially, and some of the conspiracy theories put a lot of power in

the hands of the intelligence agencies like CIA, FSB, Mossad, uh, MI6, they’re basically

the conspiracy theories go that they control the powerful people in this world.

And are able to thereby manipulate those powerful people and manipulate the populace in order

to deliver different kinds of messages and so on.

Given your experience with this kind of tension between competence and malevolence, would

you say there’s some truth to those conspiracy theories?

Not one way.

I think, I think there is, there’s collusion, there’s collaboration, but I would think that,

uh, like for instance, uh, uh, some folks in the CIA and the FBI, uh, are being used

by the ones that are really in power.

Power is money.

Power is wealth.

I know power is not the other, it can go both directions.

You can acquire wealth first, which leads you to power, or you can acquire power first.


Power is also knowledge, I understand, and, and, uh, and a position in the society, in

the military or in intelligence, but I don’t think it’s a straight one way that all the

intelligence agencies control the powerful people in their country.

You see what’s happening in Russia.

I mean, Putin dominates his intelligence agencies, right?

Well, uh, so the question is which way the direction goes, but you’re saying that there

is, um, it’s not one way flow of power.

I would think so.

It, and, and I also believe it exists, but it’s not as prevalent as, you know, not every

conspiracy theory, uh, pans out and most of them don’t, they’re just damn rumors, but

that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

I guarantee you that they exist.

There’s collusion, there’s people getting together and, uh, not necessarily, uh, preparing

a specific action, but more sort of a plan to go forward and maintain the position or

even, you know, uh, uh, strengthen the position that they already have.

So KGB, but we can generalize this, FSB, CIA, do you think a KGB agent would kill someone

against international law if they were ordered to do so?

So we talked about…

They did.

Uh, and there’s, uh, there’s a famous, uh, case of, uh, one, uh, uh, I think it’s Vasily

Kuklov who defected.

He was a killer.

He was a trained killer and he had, had, uh, done assassinations in other countries.

He was sent to West Germany to kill a defector, a KGB defector, and he decided not to do it.

He, he talked to the guy and he said, I’m supposed to kill you.

I’m not.

And then, and he eventually wound up in the United States.

I have a connection to this fellow because the KGB once asked me to go to California

and see if the guy still lives and works there.

And, uh, we, uh, I found him and we looked at each other.

So there was an active KGB agent looking at a man that he didn’t know was the KGB defector,

looking at each other.

Neither one knew who the other one was.

I found out later.

But he was able to survive.


And, you know, there, there have been assassinations, not, not a lot.

And, uh, you know, that, that we know of, a good point.

This is very difficult, uh, the, the, the, the, the question is how many lines are intelligence

agencies able, willing to cross to attain, to achieve the goal?

I, I think none of these agencies have the ultimate line.

I think eventually they, the last line will be crossed if they believe it’s necessary.

Well, I think you can justify a lot of things, especially in this modern world with nuclear

weapons that you can justify that you’re saving the world actually.

Let me ask a few difficult questions and we’ll jump back to your time in America.

But Vladimir Putin has been accused of ordering the poisoning and assassination of several

people, including Alexander Levinenko early on all the way to Alexei Navalny.

Do you think these accusations are grounded in truth?

And we will return to a couple more questions maybe about Vladimir Putin’s early days in

the KGB, which would be interesting.


There, there’s a, there’s a phrase that I like to, uh, say in the response is called

plausible deniability.

I don’t think Putin gave a direct command as they do that.

He would just maybe muse.

It would be nice if something were to happen and then somebody picks it up and does it.

Is there, can you steel man the case that, uh, Putin did not have direct or indirect

involvement with this?

Who, who, who would know, who would know?

You know, just the, the international, the reputation perhaps, um, perhaps catalyzed

by Putin himself is that he is the kind of person that would directly or indirectly make

those orders.

Perhaps the case there is he’s somebody to be feared and thereby you want that person

out there.

Uh, but the act itself, uh, the, the, the poisoning of, uh, Litvinenko and, uh, Oh,

and then the assassination of the Bulgarian, uh, Markov and with a, with the umbrella

and, and they all directly traced back to Russian, uh, Soviet intelligence.

Uh, and so that’s enough to be feared, right?

Um, my answer that I gave you is an educated guess, you know, I can’t pretend to know this

for sure, but

It’s frustrating to me because there’s a lot of people listening to this would say,

but even, uh, sort of would chuckle at the naive nature of the question.

But if you actually keep an open mind, you have to understand what is the way that intelligence

agencies function?

Is it possible to the head of an intelligence agency not to make direct orders of that kind

where there’s a distributed

No, the head of the intelligence agency would most likely give the order.

Even though it’s compartmentalized.

Yeah, but, but, uh, but not the head of state.

Not maybe not the head of state, although, uh, in the case, this is the case in the United

States as well, but certainly is the case in Russia.

There are close relationships between the head of the FSB and the GRU and personal relationships,

not just even

The head of the FSB who is now in jail.

There’s a interesting details, especially, uh, coming out recently around the war in


So let me actually ask about the war in Ukraine.

What is your analysis of the war in Ukraine from 2014 to the full on invasion of Ukraine

by Russia in 2022 in February, 2022?

But um, there’s many questions we could ask.

One is, what are the sins of the governments involved?

What are the sins of Russia, Ukraine, America, China?

Are those sins comparable?

Who are the good guys and the bad guys?

That was more than one question.

Let me just, uh, uh, give you my, the basics about this savvy observers saw this coming.

There were very small minority, uh, because Vladimir Putin was pretty open about what

he told the world his mission was, was the reestablishment of a strong Russia, the reestablishment

of something like the, the Russian empire to unite all the Russian speaking, uh, uh,

people, uh, in, under one country and, uh, the world ignored him.

I mean, he was open, uh, what was, was at a, at a conference in, in, in, in France,

I believe when we, we set this out, out in the open, uh, and then what we had, uh, in

the United States, we had wishful, wishful thinking, you know, Obama had this reset with

Russia, you know, we all get friendly.

And then when, when, uh, uh, Putin invaded, uh, Crimea, we did nothing.

So and it, and it just escalated slowly, but surely it was pretty clear.

And then they said, uh, it was, I think two years ago, there was an essay published by,

uh, Putin, whether he wrote it or not, it doesn’t matter, but that was also out in public

where he was, again, quite clear what he was going to do.

Now how do you do this with force?

And, uh, and the, the sins committed by the American government was that we ignored it.

We weren’t engaged in wishful thinking and we didn’t stop it with sanctions before the

shooting started.

To push back, I don’t think you’re fully describing, you are describing the sins of the Russian

government and Putin.

I don’t think you’re fully describing the sins of the American government here because

not only didn’t, you’re doing, you’re describing the miscalculation.

So not only did they not pressure correctly with sanctions and so on and, and, and clearly

respond to the actual statements and the essays and the words spoken.

I know where you’re going, but keep on speaking.


But they also, at the same time, pressured, pressured Russia and they also, as, as Putin

himself said, sort of, there’s a rat and they pushed the rat towards the corner by expanding

NATO and, uh, and arming Ukraine and the military industrial complex is a machine that, uh,

that led us, um, and I think a lot of younger people, I mean, when I came to this country

and this is the country I love, I lived through 9 11, I lived through the full roller coaster

of emotion.


I’m a, at that time, before that and after was a proud American.

I went through the whole roller coaster of, uh, being sold, uh, I would say a lie about

the reason to invade Iraq and even Afghanistan.

And I’ve got to live through understanding of this military industrial complex that leads

to the expansion of vampires, of the delusion that we have in the populace, in, in the government

that convinces us that we are the good guys and somehow with military force, we can instill

our values, instill happiness, the pursuit of happiness that all men are created equal

these ideas in, into other lands and we can do so with drones and we can do so with weapons

and we could do so without significant cost to our own, from our own pockets.

And so this idea, this machine doesn’t just apply to Afghanistan and Iraq, it doesn’t

just apply to Yemen and Syria, it doesn’t just apply to China, it also applies to Ukraine.

It also applies to Russia.


Two thoughts, if I may, uh, first of all, when does not hear the term military industrial

complex in the public discourse these days, Eisenhower warned about it, Eisenhower was

a capitalist, he was the president of the United States.

So it exists and it is very powerful.

The more weapons you can sell, the more you have to replace them or send over, you have

to replace them.

So yes, the other thing is there’s also a messianic streak that powers American foreign


We want to make the world just like us.

Why don’t they get it?

Because they don’t want to.

It’s almost like it’s not communism, but it’s a, it’s a very similar romantic idea that

we can make the world then fashion the world the way we are.

And that’s the romantic side and the sort of honest side, but it doesn’t work.

It failed every time, right?

You know, Afghanistan is a Royal mess and was, would never become a functioning democracy.

I don’t know if, if Ukraine can become a functioning democracy.

So well, I don’t know if American weapons can help Ukraine become a functional democracy.

I yeah, but there’s a huge amount of interest in seeing the world in black and white and

selling the story of the world is black and white that Ukraine is the symbol of democracy

in this East Eastern European world.

And Russia is the symbol of authoritarian dictatorship.

And the story is not so simple as, as, as many indices show, Ukraine and Russia are

the number one and the number two most corrupt countries in Europe.

There are two P’s in a pod.

One is bigger and one is in this case, the aggressor.

Now, you know, two P’s, the aggressor is still ultimately responsible.

And the person that throws the first punch.

Now there’s a lot of people going to disagree where the punch came from, but there is, there

is magnitude and the struggle by Ukraine for its sovereignty stretches back to the beginning

of the 20th century.

It stretches back even further than that.

But there’s been the Ukrainian people are proud people and they’ve been in many cases

tortured by those that sit in the Kremlin throughout the 20th century, the, the, the

famine in the, in the early thirties.

And it’s always, it’s never the middle class and upper class that suffer.

So is the lower classes, the peasants in that time that this history stretches back far.

And this is yet another manifestation of that.

And there’s a lot of interests at play.

China watches closely, Russia, America watches closely.

And there’s an extra caveat here that there’s nuclear weapons at play as well.


And it’s what this is the situation is as dangerous as I have lived through in my entire

life, I believe.

And because it’s not necessarily at the highest point of escalation, but it will be in my

view, a protracted crisis.

And the longer that crisis lasts, the more of a chance there is of an accident.


One rocket.


There’s seems to be a strong incentive to prolong, to do siege tactics, to prolong this

conflict over perhaps many years, which is terrifying to think about.

And over that, a single rocket can lead to, given that there’s leaders that might be losing

their mind and Ukraine is not part of NATO, the thing I’m really afraid of is that somebody

might think it’s a good idea for Russia.

So Putin might think it’s a good idea for Russia to send a message by launching a nuke

against Ukraine because they’re not part of NATO.

So surely the West is not going to respond.

What is the West going to do if Russia nukes Ukraine to send a message?

I don’t know if anyone knows the answer to that question, but it’s a terrifying question.

And I don’t know the exact protocol that needs to be followed to launch a nuclear strike

on NATO’s end because we have several countries in NATO that have nuclear weapons.

So let’s say for France to fire a nuke, does the United States have to agree?

I don’t know how that works.

I don’t know if anyone knows how that works.

I worry, now we have different, very kind of anecdotal perspectives on these things,

but the people I’ve interacted with in the DOD, Department of Defense, in the military,

there is a compartmentalization, there is a bureaucracy, and within that giant bureaucracy,

there’s incompetence.

We’d like to think that there is like really well organized for really important things.

There’s going to be the best of the best in the world that’s going to execute on the correct

decisions both geopolitically, militarily, all that kind of stuff.

And I’ve seen enough to know that competence at any level of government, at any level in

the military is not guaranteed.

Let’s go back to the law of hierarchy.

The government is the biggest hierarchy there is.

And so invariably, politicians find their way to the top.

And once you have politics dictating substantive decisions, they’re going to be weak or wrong.

I don’t know how this could work any other way.

Right now we have some functional idiots in the central United States government.

Well, let me, because you said that, I think elsewhere you said that Putin was not a good

KGB agent.

That’s right.

A mediocre one, but is an excellent politician.


And a good organizer.

He was known as a really, really good organizer.

When Yeltsin hired him as prime minister, he cleaned up the mess because under Yeltsin,

Russia deteriorated tremendously and it became sort of a mix of an oligarchy and a criminal

enterprise and chaotic.

So he had skills that made him a good executive.


Now let’s go back to him as a KGB agent.

He was a KGB agent.

I mean, according to him, once a KGB agent, always a KGB agent.

But 16 years, let’s say, something like this.

What do you think about, from your experience, now you’re maybe the same age as him, approximately

the same age as him.

He’s a little younger.

A little younger.


So what do you think about the KGB experience he had made him the man he is?

What aspect of that, from your own experience, how much does that define you, who you are,

how you think about the world, how you analyze the geopolitics of the world, how you analyze

human nature?

Now I got to tell you one thing.

He had a different type of training than I did.

Mine was one on one and he went to school, so to speak.


Classroom training.


But fundamentally, he was not a top agent.

This is very simple to… There’s only one thing you need to know.

He knows German pretty well.

So where was he deployed?

In East Germany.

Not in West Germany, not in Switzerland, not in Austria.

That’s where they sent the best, right, one would think, generally.

We’re learning here.

So this is your classification of where they send the best.

People classify all kinds of stuff, like what is the best university in the world?

What is the best football team in the world?

You start to get a sense, the good guys get sent, the best athletes get sent to… Well,

we disagree on this, but the football team is… But you have a sense and you’re saying

that the best agents would have been sent to West Germany.

One would think so.

So this is not a forcing argument, but I also have it from a word from the horse’s mouth.

Which horse?

I mean, what kind of horse?

What’s the breed of the horse?

Oleg Kalugin.

You know who Oleg Kalugin is.

He’s still alive.

He was, at one point, the head of counterintelligence for the first directorate, espionage, right?

And Putin was in the first directorate and reported to Kalugin for a while.

And Oleg told me, to my face, that Oleg was not an impressive agent trainee or agent.

That Vladimir Putin was not impressive.

Not impressive at all.

Now he’s biased, given this current situation.

Well yeah, he could still make it up because he had this big ruckus when he was in parliament

and called Putin a war criminal about the war in Serbia.

Not only could he make it up, I wouldn’t trust his analysis.

I mean, I have to, you know, when people, I’ve been working very hard even before this

war to try to understand objective analysis of all the parties involved.

You have to really keep an open mind here to see clearly, to understand if you are to

try to help in some way make a better world.

In this case, stop this war or have all the countries involved flourish, bring out the

best of the people, remove the corruption and the greed and the destructive aspects

of the governments and let the people flourish.

For all of that, you have to put all the biases aside, all the political bickering, all the,

I don’t know, all the biased analysis.

And there’s a lot of propaganda that says that, in fact, Putin was a good agent.

How else would he rise through the ranks, right?

Because he was a good politician and he made a lot of good connections within the KGB.

Allow me to say something here.

You just taught me a lesson and the lesson I should have figured out myself because I

keep on telling people that in the intelligence world, you never know the truth 100%.

So when you said, oh, I could make that up, of course you could have.

But you get to a point where you’re forced to make a decision or have an opinion and

then you use your best educated guess.

So I’m gonna take the certainty of the statement that I made back because it’s quite possible

that you’re right.

Well, what I’ve noticed about Vladimir Putin, and this is true about, for example, Donald

Trump and all those kinds of divisive figures, that for some reason people’s opinion on the

details of those people are very sticky.

Once you decide this is a bad guy, there’s like a black hole and people are not able

to think one act at a time.

You don’t have to, that doesn’t somehow justify this, this somehow doesn’t remove all the

evil things that are done, but you can analyze clearly each of the actions.

And to me, it is interesting to see how did this man rise through the ranks.

Now you’re saying that to be a KGB agent, there’s a lot of skills involved.

Perhaps raw technical skill of spycraft is perhaps not related to the skill of rising

through the ranks.

And you’re saying as a politician, he was good at rising through the ranks.

Lying and influencing, that is something that is significant as a significant talent and

ability that an agent must have, that helps you as a politician.

Continuing the kind of thread of the role of KGB in defining the heart, soul, and mind

of Vladimir Putin, let me return to Yuri Bismenov, who was a Soviet KGB agent that wrote a four

step framework for ideological subversion on a national scale as practiced by the Soviet


And the four steps are demoralization, destabilization, crisis, and normalization.

He had a lot of other kind of systematic ways of describing this kind of stuff.

So can you speak to some of these ideas about the systematic large scale ideological subversion

goals of the KGB?

Is there truth to that kind of those ideas?

Yes, but I think I already sort of mentioned that I think Bismenov was a fraud.

And I have, again, good arguments, let’s put it this way.

First of all, we know that the KGB was involved in active measures, which is…

You can call it fake news.

Putting fake news into the countries that are your adversaries.

And the Russians have been doing this lately by meddling in our election and focusing

on the left and the right fringe and influencing them to become more left and more right.

And Vasily Mitrokhin has in one of his books, he has a whole chapter about active measures.

Okay, so what he has to say about the department, and I forgot what department that was, was

the one department that was the least desirable for KGB agents.

Because these were desk jobs for people who had to come up with fake stories in countries

where they didn’t quite know too much about the country.

Now there were some successes, like one of the two most famous successes that I’m aware

of is that the AIDS virus was concocted in a CIA lab, and a lot of people around the

world believe that.

And the other one was that J. Edgar Hoover was a secret cross dresser.

That is still known by a lot of Americans who are of a certain age that this was the


But Mitrokhin actually traces it back to a story that was placed in a sort of left wing

but close to mainstream French magazine, and it was then taken up by larger newspapers

and well established papers.

So they had some successes, but this kind of a massive, well thought out campaign to

destabilize the United States, I don’t believe the KGB was capable of doing that.

Mitrokhin seems to agree with me.

I was trained, I would think, I was one of the crown jewels of their agents.

One would think that they used the best that they had to help me how to become an American,

and they didn’t have a clue.

If you don’t know how a country operates, how do you come up with this kind of a very

detailed long term plan that’s also timed, two years this and one year that and all that?

Yeah, so we should actually just clarify.

He has this whole idea that there’s 15 to 20 years needed for demoralization where you’re

basically infiltrating a country or people from a young age, manipulating their mind.

You’re destabilizing them, that’s the second step that takes two to five years.

You target the country’s foreign relations, defense and economy.

You create a crisis artificially and then you normalize it as if it always was this


So it’s basically saying that the KGB is capable of, at scale, over many years, manipulate

an entire population of people.

And this is kind of, there’s a lot of people that believe in conspiracy theories that are

amenable to this kind of idea.

Now, my own experience is that there is, in fact, just a giant amount of incompetence

and that this is something that’s actually very difficult to pull off because it’s incredibly

difficult to achieve this kind of manipulation.

I think it would require, first of all, not much bureaucracy, not much slowing down.

You have to have incredible, in the modern world, digital systems that are able to do

surveillance, manipulation.

There has to be a strategy that is carried out in secrecy across a huge number of people

effectively that also requires you hire the best people in the world.

And I think it’s difficult to execute on this kind of thing if you compartmentalize because

there has to be great collaboration.

There has to be a great, where there’s a unified vision and coordination across multiple groups.

There has to be, I mean, it’s very difficult to do.

Now, nevertheless, especially with technology, this becomes easier and easier.

So the bar goes lower and lower.

To achieve mass surveillance becomes easier and easier and easier.

Mass manipulation through platforms, because we’re now digitally connected, you can now

do that kind of manipulation.

So it becomes more and more realistic that you could do this kind of thing.

But you’re saying that, no, intelligence, first of all, intelligence is hard.

And to do it at scale and to do it well and to do it in a way that it’s also not just

collecting information about the populace, but manipulating the populace is very, very


Now, let me give you another argument why I think that Besminov was a fraud.

I mean, I already have, I have Matrokin on my side and my personal observation of the

incompetence that I witnessed.

I mean, they really, really didn’t know what they didn’t know.

So now Besminov was KGB, where was he stationed?

In India.

He was a low level agent in India.

And I told you it was the one thing that the KGB was really good at was compartmentalization.

How does Besminov in India find out about this massive plan that should have been super

secret, right?

He made it up, sorry.

And you know why he got away with it?

Because Americans eat that up, because it’s not our fault.

It’s the damn Russians that doing all that bad stuff.

Speaking of the damn Russians doing all that bad stuff, you know about the Internet Research


They have been doing quite a bit of damage and I’m now familiar with the world of enhanced

artificial persons.

These are the avatars on Facebook and Twitter and so forth that look like real people.

And there are quite a few of them.

And I have a good friend who operates in that realm and he uses, for instance, facial recognition

when he thinks that there’s a suspicious character, say, on LinkedIn or on Facebook.

And very often he finds out, yeah, that that person exists, but it’s not the person who

it pretends to be.

So basically detecting the artificial, the enhanced artificial person.

But he can also make them.

You think the United States doesn’t do it?

We do it too.

Well, this is to push back against your pushback, right?

Yeah, Bezmenov might be a fraud, but is it possible, especially in the modern age, that

there is these kind of large scale systematic operatives?

Wouldn’t you, as a government that’s investing billions of dollars into military equipment,

in a world that’s more and more clearly going to be defined by cyber war versus hot war,

wouldn’t you start to have serious meetings, large amounts of hires that are working at

how do we manipulate the information flow, how do we manipulate the minds of the populace,

how do we sell them a narrative?

So even though he might have been making up a story because people eat it up, could it

speak to some deep truth that’s actually different than the truth you came up in as a KGB agent?

I agree with you 100%.

It’s much easier when all you need is an army of nerds who also know.

No offense to nerds.

That’s a term of endearment I use.

Yes, I love nerds.

I used to be one myself, but anyway.

Once a nerd, always a nerd.

So what I was going to say here is.

All you need is an army of nerds.

And what also experts in the culture of the target country.


And nowadays the world is different.

There’s a whole lot more fluidity.

There’s a whole lot of more people that like say Russians, for instance, study in the United

States, Chinese, an army of Chinese studying in the United States, they have a lot more

knowledge of how we function than the KGB did and it’s vice versa.

Not as many Americans in Russia, but we have some, but the Chinese and the Russians have

an advantage here.

Can I ask you a question based on your experience?

So I have been talking to a lot of powerful people and some of which have very close connections

to in this particular conflict, Ukraine and Russia, but in other places as well.

I don’t believe I’ve ever been contacted by or interacted with an intelligence agency.

CIA, FSB, MI6, Mossad, I don’t think I had, well, let me say explicitly, I haven’t had

an official conversation, which is what I assume I would have because I have nothing

to hide.


So I think there’s no reason for people to be secretive.

But would I, why is that, would I know, am I interesting at all, how are people determined

if they’re a person of interest or not?

And I guess the question, I mean, some of it I ask in a bit of a humorous way, but also

perhaps there’s truth in some of the humors.

Would I know if I have ever interacted with a intelligence agency spy?

Well, you don’t know that you haven’t been contacted, but certainly not, I think you

never had a conversation that related to intelligence in any way, shape, or form, right?


Like where a person, another person introduced themselves.


Introduced themselves or becomes, sort of wants to be your friend and then talks about

these types of topics, right?


I, there’s people because of who I’m interacting with, they’re, I mean, even with just, even

with Elon Musk, like if you think about Elon Musk, there’s a lot of people that are, that

are part of the conversations that happen.

How do I know they’re all trustworthy?

They all present themselves as trustworthy.

Now, again, I have nothing, so this is, this is for the intelligence agencies.

I have nothing to hide.

I am the same person privately as publicly, well intentioned, real, no, no controlled,

no weird sexual stuff where you can manipulate me.

What else?

No drug use.

No drug use, no, no skeletons in the closet, none of that kind of stuff.

But you know, I don’t, I don’t know, I mean, just even having these conversations, you

know, I tend to trust people as a default.

Yeah, me too.

And you start when you think, well, especially with some of the people I’ve been talking

with and some of the traveling I’m doing, I’m realizing there’s a, you know, there’s

hard men in this world, there’s military, there’s serious suffering and there’s war

and there’s serious people that are doing serious harm and so you have to be careful

of thinking who to trust.

The person approaches you with a smile and asks you a question.

My natural inclination is that person is a cool person, I’ll answer the question, become

a friend.

But it becomes difficult when you realize that there’s things like intelligence agencies

with thousands of employees.

There’s people that are doing major military actions that involve tens of thousands, hundreds

of thousands of soldiers.

This is serious stuff and so how do I, how do you know how to operate in this world?

The folks that you’re interacting with have a responsibility not to tell you what they

shouldn’t tell you, right?

So and most of them probably won’t and I’m guessing occasionally they will say, well,

I can’t go there, right?

So what you are aware of is sort of public and what you’re doing is you’re collecting

it and you’re editing it to some extent, you’re not changing the verbage, you just repeat

what they say, so from that angle you’re not privy to any real secrets.

What you have possibly that could be of use is you learn to get to know the person.

So I’m thinking there’s a good possibility if you get the interviews in the East that

somebody may actually approach you and ask you what’s your opinion.

I just hope they approach me and introduce themselves properly.

I just, there’s a kind of, I mean, would you know, like how many Russian spies are there

in the United States?

How many American spies are there in Russia?

Do you have a sense?

Is it just like with the GRU?

No idea.

Is it possible there’s like tens of thousands and we’re not, or like thousands?

Not thousands like I used to operate.

We are too hard to train and we weren’t that successful to begin with, but particularly

Russians and Chinese, both governments know who is going abroad and I guarantee you there’s

a lot of amateur spies, they’re being asked to help us out, do something for the motherland.

And crowdsource spying.

Yeah, sort of.

Not serious training, but yeah.

For instance, this lady, I forgot her first name, Butina, she was a rank amateur.

She used social media to communicate with Moscow.

She had no training, but she was reasonably successful.

I mean, and the difference between, let’s say, the current Russian intelligence and

the KGB, Vladimir Putin and his henchmen are okay with people being caught because, and

every time I go and talk and give a talk someplace, I’m always asked this question, how many Russian

spies do you think we have here?

Because that scares the people, right?

And Putin likes to scare people.

The KGB was very solicitous of their agents.

They didn’t want any one of them caught, all right?

So that’s a big difference.

So for the FSB, getting caught sends a strong signal to the world that there’s agents everywhere.

Yeah, there could be many more.

And there probably are, but because also the world, again, there’s a whole lot more travel

going on, a whole lot more interaction, studying abroad, doing business.

And there will be attempted espionage probably every minute in this country.

That doesn’t mean they will be successful, no.

But there is a cottage industry now that is doing quite well that teaches companies how

to fortify themselves against industrial espionage or also foreign actors spying.

It’s all over the place.


As it becomes easier and easier with digital, with cyber, that becomes a serious, very serious


We might wind up in a world where nobody knows anymore what’s up and what’s down.

If I was to have a conversation with Vladimir Putin and or Vladimir Zelensky, is there something

you would ask about the time in the KGB and the time in his past?

All of us, men and women, are creations of the experiences we have in our life, early

on in life and through the formative experiences, successes and failures.


Yeah, you just said the key words.

I would ask, without giving away anything, just being high level, your biggest success

and your biggest failure.

As a politician or as a KGB agent?

No, we’re talking in the realm of KGB.

When the wall came down, and he was in an office, a KGB office in the city of Dresden,

and East Germans were besieging Stasi offices, and they also dropped by the KGB office, and

they were…

It was pretty threatening.

It looked like they would actually storm the office and get, you know, the documents and

stuff like that.

And initially, the first demonstration was told that if they come any closer, weapons

would be used.

So, they disappeared, and then they came back, and I don’t know, somebody in that office

called Berlin and said, what are we gonna do?

Are we allowed to use force?

And the answer came back that Gorbachev said, absolutely not.

And so, this is where Putin, all of a sudden, you know, he was at one point a member of

the greatest, the most powerful intelligence organization in the world, and all of a sudden,

he was powerless, and he had to watch how, you know, this was a defeat, big one.

It’s supposedly a powerful intelligence agency cowering, sort of crawling back into a position

of weakness.

And he probably promised himself, never again, Russia needs to be great again.

The KGB, FSB, Russia, the Russian Empire needs to rise again, and that there’s a feeling

for him that that’s, as he talks about the collapse of the Soviet Union being a great

tragedy, there’s a feeling like that was, like, never again.

Yeah, and I believe that he has a strong conviction that, I don’t know if he’s religious, he

carries the cross now, but I don’t know what that means, but somehow, but that it’s the

destiny of the Russian nation to be great, and that is sort of, whether it’s determined

by God or some higher power, that is very important for him.

Of course, that nationalist idea is one that Americans share as well, and it could help

a nation flourish, so by itself, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s how it manifests

itself is the question.

One other thing, if I were to get a chat with the Ukrainian president, I would ask him,

how many lives, what is the equation between giving up some land and how many lives are

worth this land?

And that’s a good way to phrase the question, of course, that question gets you killed in

Ukraine, but because there’s another part of that equation, which is it’s not just land

versus lives, it’s the sovereignty, the knowledge that you’re free and you’re self determined,

and it’s not about fighting for the particular land, it’s saying we are messed up, corrupt,

we have problems, it’s a messy world, but it’s our world.

I think Stephen Crane has a poem about a man eating his own heart, and he was asked how

does it taste, and he said it’s bitter, but I like it because it is bitter and because

it is my heart, and that there’s a sense of I want, this is not just about land, this

is our nation.

The same love of nation that Putin has for Russia, the greater Russia, this vision of

this great empire, I believe Ukraine does as well.

Not every nation, there’s levels to this game, and Ukrainian people are some of the proudest

people throughout the history of the 20th century, throughout the history of Earth.

The Polish people are proud people.

You can just see in World War II, the people who said fuck you, you’re not having this,

we will die to the last man.

There’s different cultures that kind of really hold their ground, and Ukrainian people are


You know, I have to admit, in that respect, I’m a bit of a coward.

I could not do what Zelensky has been doing.

I would sort of try to find a way to carve out something that I can live with, however,

if that force, that evil force gets to my family.


There’s lines.


That’s right.

You become the world’s bravest man if somebody crosses that line.

You mentioned something about you’ve not been to Moscow back, and that it might not be safe

for you to travel there.


Can you speak to the nature of that?

As somebody that successfully got out of the KGB, how are you still alive?

A number of reasons.

First of all, when my story became public, it was six years ago, I was pretty old, right?

And so the folks that may have a personal interest or may have had a personal interest

in doing me harm, most of them don’t live anymore, all right?

That’s number one.

Number two, I did not, I wasn’t, I hired hand, a German.

I did not betray the motherland.

That’s a crime that is punished by death.

You betray the motherland.

And the other thing is, you know that these kinds of operations to assassination in another

country are very difficult to plan and implement, and if there’s a list of people that they

don’t like, I may not be at the very top.

Having said that, you know, if I wind up, say, in Moscow or even in countries like Turkey

where there’s a lot of lawlessness, you know, accidents can easily be arranged, and that’s

just sending another message, you know, just like, you know, we can do a lot of things.



Do you think it’s safe for me to travel in Russia and Ukraine?

I think you know very well how to communicate in both countries.

You know, you’ve shown this in this interaction that you have a lot of empathy for the people

you’ll be talking with, and empathy means good understanding where they’re coming from,

and that there are lines that you can’t cross.

Like the question that I was going to ask Zelensky, you’re not going to ask.

Good for you.

Yeah, isn’t that the funny thing about this world?

There’s lines.

There’s lines everywhere.

Even in love, even in personal relationships, there’s lines you should not cross.


How did you finally get caught?

I resigned in 1988, so…

Let’s actually talk about that.

There was a…

Okay, yeah.


There’s warning signs.

Yeah, yeah, okay.

There’s yet another choice.

Yet another crossroads.

Yes, okay.

What was the calculation?

What was the choice to be made?

To give a little background, it was 1988, and I thought they would…

My time in the US would soon end because I thought 10 to 12 years, it was already past

10 years.

There was no indication that they indicated, that they said, you’re done.

But in December of 1988, I got this one thing that I never wanted to see.

So we had a system of signals that either one of those diplomat agents could set at

a spot that I pass by every day, or I could set where they would pass by, like on their

way from where they live to the United Nations, for instance, who would just drive.

So the signal spot for me was on a support beam for the elevated atrium in Queens.

And it was morning in December that I walked by there and routinely look at it, and I never

expected anything.

And there was this red dot, it was about the size of my fist with a red paint.

And since you have done it already, I think I can curse in this moment, because it’s the

only way I can really indicate how I felt, I said, oh shit, because that was the danger


It was like, you are in severe danger, and you need to get out of the country as soon

as possible.

There was a protocol that I was supposed to follow, I wasn’t even supposed to go home,

I just needed to, was supposed to get my reserve documents that I had hidden in a park in the

Bronx and make a beeline to the Canadian border.

I wasn’t ready.

So I just ignored this thing, I mean, I couldn’t ignore it, but I went on to work, got on the

A train, went to work, and then went to my cubicle and stared at the computer screen

all day because I couldn’t think.

I could think only about what to do, what to do, what to do.

The reason for this indecisiveness was that I was a father at the time.

My little girl by the name of Chelsea was 18 months old, and I was there when she was

born, I took her to her home, I watched her grow up, I watched her take the first steps,

and always look at me with these big eyes, lovingly look at me, and that is when I started

my reentry into the human race, because I just fell in love with this girl.

That’s when love came back, and it was completely unexpected, and there’s a lot of fathers who

understand, particularly fathers of girls who understand what happened there.

I still thought I need to go back because there was probably some danger, but I hadn’t

figured out how to take care of the girl, leave her, but maybe she needs to have a good

life and grow up and have a chance, and her mother, she was from South America, she had

a fourth grade education.

That would have not worked very well.

So I played for time.

Obviously I could be sick, I could be in a hospital, there was a precedent where I was

sick where I couldn’t communicate for about three weeks, so I just did nothing.

That was on a Monday, on a Thursday was my regular shortwave transmission, I listened,

and they explained a little in a few sentences.

We have reason to believe that the FBI is on your case.

You need to execute the emergency procedure, come home right away.

I still had some time because the radio could be broken or the transmission was bad, or

I still could be in a hospital, right?

So I gave myself some more time, and then something happened where they forced my hand.

And this is the only time that a Soviet agent was anywhere near me on the territory of the

United States.

So I’m waiting for the A train on a dark morning still in Queens, and there’s this man, the

short man in a black trench coat comes up to me from my right, and he whispers into

my ears, you got to come back or else you’re dead.

I can’t imitate the Russian accent, it was a Russian accent.

And it was a pretty strong accent.

The you’re dead phrase can have two meanings, and an American would have said, or else you’re

busted or else you get arrested or else you’re dead is very strong.

So now you have to take it seriously to some degree because I knew that they had a history

of assassinating or at least trying to assassinate defectors.

So that obviously raised the stakes a little bit.

But I just talked myself into believing this was just a bad phrasing.

But at this point, I knew and they knew that we both knew, right?

So there was no more guessing.

He found me, he talked to me, I know.

So now I had to act.

So in the next radiogram, I was asked to execute a dead drop operation where they would give

me money and a passport.

And that was in a park on Staten Island, it was a location that I found and I described.

And I was always praised for my ability to describe spots that are easy to find.

So that was a given.

And the only thing that was different for this operation, they scheduled it for the


All right.

But it was still no problem because it was in a park and a couple of, about a hundred

yards in by next to a fallen tree would be hard to miss.

So I go to Staten Island and I read the signal that said, I put the container in the drop.

That was the protocol.

There’s a signal that the person who hands over something puts at a spot not too far

from the spot itself.

That means I would go in and just pick it up.

The reason I actually went to pick up this container, because there was money in it.

So I didn’t have to make a decision yet.


I could throw away the passport.

It was like I was still trying to figure out what to do, what to do, what to do.

So I get to the spot, I get to the tree and I had a flashlight with me that the park,

there was no way in the park.

Even during the day though, this park was not, it was more, almost like a little forest.

And I don’t see the container.

It wasn’t supposed to be a crushed oil can, pretty sizable, hard to miss.

And I do a double take and I look again and I look around and look around a little more,

see if they misplaced it, can’t find it.

That’s the only one that one of those operations failed.

And that just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So when, as I’m walking away from this, like sort of numb emotionally, I said to myself,

I’m staying.


That decision.

That kind of signal, some kind of a muse just spoke to you.

That decision was made for me.

Now, you know that I’m a Christian now and I think that was like, God told me this, you


But it was certain there.

It was right there.

That was it.

And so what I did to, well, first of all, divine intervention helped me to find a good


I sent them my last letter with secret writing, I communicated to them, I said, I wish I could

come but I can’t because I have contracted HIV AIDS.

That was the best lie ever because nobody wanted to have AIDS in their country.

Those days it was a death sentence, right?

And I knew, we had conversations when I was back in Moscow, how they were snickering about

what’s going on in the United States, that depraved culture and you see, they’re killing

each other.

And the depraved culture took over your being and how you’re sitting.

And I was convincing enough, I even traced it back to a girlfriend I had once that I

actually reported on that she, I interacted with this lady who had a boyfriend at one

point who was a drug addict and she was infected and she infected me.

So they believed it, they sent and I asked them to give my dollar savings to my German


They gave them some but they told my family that I already passed away, that I’m dead.

They believed it, 100%.

And I guess the agent who took the money took half of it for himself.

So that was it.

And the next three months I made sure that I wasn’t reliably at the same spot and the

same timeframe.

So I went to work in different paths at different times just to, you know, just as a safety

measure so to speak and not huge but, you know, it kept me, allowed me to keep my sanity.

And obviously after I sent the letter I threw the shortwave radio in the Hudson River, destroyed

the one time paths that I still had.

So I was now ready to for a new life and live out my life as an American undiscovered but,

you know, starting to work on my version of the American dream.

And the first action was, I was telling my wife, the mother of this child, you know,

she always wanted to have a house and said, you know what, we should buy a house.

And a year later we moved into the suburbs and then I said, we should have another child

and we had another child.

So and I had a career where I did pretty well.

I moved a couple of times, wound up in a McMansion.

But before that my second house was actually in Pennsylvania, in rural Pennsylvania.

And this is where I was discovered by the FBI.

And how did they know about me?

If it hadn’t been for this defector, Vasily Mitrokhin, who was an archivist in the KGB

archives, he was actually pretty high level.

He was in charge of the relocation of the archive from Lubyanka to Yasenov.

And he really hated, he had reason to believe he hated the Soviet system.

I think I remember that his son was quite ill and he could have gotten treatment in

England and he was not allowed to travel to England with his son.

So his hatred, he tried to figure out what to do and how to do damage to that system.

So he started copying notes, little slips of paper, handwritten that he smuggled out

in his underwear and his socks over the years.

And then he transcribed them with a typewriter and then put the pieces of paper into some

kind of a container and buried this in his stash.

It was, I believe in 1992 when he showed up, that was already the Soviet Union was gone.

So he showed up at the US embassy in Moscow and told him what he had and it was on a weekend

and apparently there was a junior person in charge and he said, you know what, what you

got, we are not interested and it’s really old.

It’s a career limiting move, right, because Vasily Mitrokhin then made his way to one

of the Baltic republics and contacted MI6 and they said, come on in, old fellow, have

a cup of tea.

And so they managed to get this stuff out of the Dacha and get it to England and eventually

MI6 shared it with the FBI and there wasn’t a whole lot of information about me, it was

very, very little.

It was like, there’s a person by the name of Jack Barsky who is an illegal operating

in the northeast of the United States.

Now if it was Jim Miller, they wouldn’t have found me, Jack Barsky was easy to find.

So they checked social security and Jack Barsky had gotten his social security card at the

age of 33, bingo, okay.

All they knew though was that I wasn’t illegal, that I was still living there, they didn’t

know whether I was active, inactive and the other thing that they knew that I was a really,

really well trained agent because I was still there, right.

So they took, I think, almost three years to investigate me, watch me from a distance

because if I was still active, I would have found out that somebody is investigating me.

So you started being less and less active in terms of…

Oh, I stopped completely.

What I mean is…

Oh, surveillance detection.

Yes, surveillance detection.

After three months, I stopped altogether.


Yeah, good point.

And FBI is still very careful.

They were very careful.

They pretty much watched me and at one point, I had a house in the country with one neighbor,

at one point that house was for sale, so the FBI bought it and they put a couple of agents

there and just didn’t keep a closer eye on me.

There was no indication that I was still active, but they were still cautious but at one point,

they were able to plant a bug in my kitchen, a listening device and my wife and I didn’t

get along very well.

There was a lot of friction and she was constantly complaining about things and I got sick and

tired of it and one day we had an argument in the kitchen and I chose to deploy the nuclear

option and that is telling her what I sacrificed to be with her so she would understand that

I am there on her side.

I’m supporting her.

If something doesn’t quite fit, it is not because I don’t love the both of them, Chelsea

and Penelope.

So when I said that, the listening device was active, so the FBI was hearing my confession.

I was once a KGB agent, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and I quit and then stayed here

because of you and Chelsea and that also made it clear to the FBI that I wasn’t active


They had both of that.

So now they knew an attempt to turn me would have been useless because you turned somebody

who was active, but they figured there was enough reason to treat me nicely because they

figured I had a lot of information that was as aged as it was, but it was still important

for the FBI to get to know.

And so one day, it was a Friday evening, I’m driving back home from the office and I’m

being stopped by a state police.

As I’m going through the toll, it’s a bridge over the Hudson and they had to pay a toll

and he waved me, he got me right where I stopped and he said, could you please move over here?

It’s a routine traffic stop and I thought nothing of it.

I had forgotten at that point that I once was a spy, it was gone.

And then he said, could you please step out of the car?

That should have aroused my suspicion.

That’s unusual, right?

Routine traffic stop.

Yeah, I did it, no problem.

And then again, somebody came from the right, came into my view and he flipped his ID and

he said, FBI, we would like to have a talk with you.

This is my now friend, Joe Riley, who actually is the, he’s the godfather of Trinity and

my last child.

Anyway, he told me later that when I heard that phrase, all the blood left my face, I

became totally white.

But I recovered very quickly and he said it himself, so they took me to a vehicle and

there was another agent in the vehicle and he had a gun strapped to his ankle, so it

was pretty real.

First question I had, so am I under arrest?

And the answer was no.

And then my instinct kicked in and my ability to operate very well under high pressure situations.

And I asked him, so what took you so long?

You know, the intent of that was to defuse any kind of tension.

And I saw a smile.

Instant friends.

Yeah, I knew that I had to make them like me and I’m, I think by now I know I’m a pretty

likable person.

And I, when they took me to a motel, which they had rented, there was two wings at a

right angle, they bought all the rooms in one wing and they had a guard at each end

of that wing and they took me in the middle and there were some props there, some binders

with labels and I immediately thought, this is pretty silly because what I noticed that

the labels all referred back to my early years.

I knew that they didn’t know much else.

So I told Joe that afterwards and that was not a great idea, but anyway.

But I volunteered.

I made the following statement before we even started the interview.

I said, I know there’s only one way for me to, and my family, to have a chance to get

through here without much damages if I’m completely 100% cooperative and it’s my intent to do

exactly that.

All right.

So we spent about two hours in the interview.

They allowed me to call my wife, tell her that I’m going to be late.

That indicated to me already that they would let me go.

And after two hours they let me go.

But they had the area covered with a whole bunch of people.

And the head of that team talked to me and he said, if you think of running, we got every

intersection in this area covered.

You can’t.

I didn’t say anything, but you know, I had no thought of running.

So and that was the beginning of another phase of my life where I was cooperating with the

FBI for quite a while and living still undercover for several years until I had real good documentation

and became an American citizen seven years ago.

From today, seven years ago.

So recently.



Quite recent.

The hypocrisy took a long time to figure out how to make me real and also not put me in

these witness protection program, you know, to keep my name and then just, you know, make

everything like official.

So for instance, I had to change my birth year simply because if I, Jack Barsky was

born in 1944, if I kept 1944, the FBI would have helped me commit a crime because I would

have collected social security four years sooner.

So anyway, yes, it took quite a while.

And when I finally got the call from the office of Homeland Security, the lady says, this

is agent so and so from Homeland Security, can you come into the office tomorrow?

And I said, let me look at my calendar.

And then I said, wait a minute, what am I talking about?

What time do you want me to be there?

Because I had waited for that moment for a long time.

And I was sworn in right then and there.

It was a good feeling to walk out of there because I had a country again, you know, and

I love this country just as much as you said you love it with all its warts and its problems

that we’re going through right now.

And then the last thing that changed my life again, and I don’t want to get into details

because it’s a little complicated story, I never wanted to be a public person.

And then I was discovered through a number of dots that were unlikely to be connected.

It had to do with a relative, with a half brother of my wife who lives in Germany, was

taken to Germany by his mother who came to visit somebody, not us, but that somebody

that he came to visit lived 50 miles from our house and that my wife and this half brother

never met in person before.

They knew about each other through social media.

And when he found out my background, he was a conductor of the German railroad at the

time, he said, oh, this is a big story and that’s going to be big, big, big, okay.

Well he happened to know this one person who happened to know one of the star reporters

of Der Spiegel and after she did some research and determined that I was real, she was on

my case.

And she happened to know Steve Croft, the guy from 60 Minutes, you see all these connections?

I had nothing to do with it.

That’s how life works, dots get connected somehow, sometimes, for most of us it doesn’t.

Stuff happens.

You get lucky.

You don’t know what’s happening.

You’ve gotten lucky a few times in your life.

Yeah, I think I must be part Irish too.

Yeah, so it’s been an interesting ride.

I’m just still shaking my head about all the stuff that happened.

It’s been a fun one.

But you wrote, because I’m allowed to leave behind a documented legacy of my unusual life,

I’m praying that the legacy will be described by a single word, love.

So let us return to the thing we started the conversation with, which is love.

What role does love play in this human condition, in your life and in our life here together?

I give you an answer by telling you what happened one day.

I gave a presentation at Microsoft headquarters.

That’s a strange beginning of a love story, but yes.

No, that’s not a love story.

And so there’s this beautiful young lady sitting in the back, and she’s paying a lot of attention.

Turned out later that her job at Microsoft, her job title was storyteller.

It’s soft marketing, right?

Yeah, you could say that.

But if you can’t afford somebody like that, that’s good.

Anyway, question and answer, she raised her hand and she asked me, so all the things that

you have done and you have experienced, what’s the number one lesson you’ve taken away from

your life?

That was a new question for me.

I’ve never been asked that question.

And I thought about it for 20 seconds, and then I came up with this phrase that we all

know, love conquers all, because in my life it did, in the end.

And it’s the strongest human emotion, and that is what makes us human, really.

And you spoke about the, I mean, offline as I’ve spoken with you, it’s clear to me how

transformative, how powerful the life of your children are, your daughters in your life,

and who you are, and why you think life is beautiful, and why you think this country

is beautiful.

Now that I’m pretty mature, to put it mildly, I’m also more loving towards many more people.

These things like random acts of kindness for strangers, I do them, I’m looking for

them now.

And you know what?

It’s good for me.

Well, welcome to Texas, because this random acts of kindness to strangers seems to be

a way of life, which is one of the reasons I love it here.

It just reminds me why I love human beings, is that there’s just this warmth, this connection.

Yeah, and Georgia is the same thing.



Do you have any regrets?

Looking back at life, do you wish you’d done something different?

I could have, but then I would have a different regret.

I betrayed the wife, the German wife that I loved.

I really did love her, and I betrayed her.

But if I don’t betray her, then I betray the child.

That is a source of so much love for you now.

So maybe life is a kind of, you get to choose your regrets.

You don’t get to avoid them.

Yeah, it’s a little bit of a strange way of putting it, but there’s no other choice.

I tell you what I don’t regret, and that may be, you probably understand it now because

you have enough background about me, I don’t regret having lied to my mother.

Because I had no really strong emotional relationship with her.

She took care of me, she was proud of me, but we didn’t hug, we didn’t interact emotionally


So you don’t feel like you betrayed that love that—

Well I did, I know that she was looking for me until the day she died.

She wrote a letter to President Gorbachev asking him for help to locate me.

She checked with Astazi, she just was hell bent on finding me and couldn’t find me,

so she passed away without knowing what happened to me.

Now there was this rumor that was flying around, and she possibly may have bought into that

rumor because my cover for when I went to the United States was that I changed careers

again and I joined an institution in Kazakhstan that did space research, intercosmos something

something, and I had a piece of paper that invited me to start there, and it was a forgery.

It never existed, but people knew that in Kazakhstan there were super secret facilities.

One of my classmates, old classmates from high school started the rumor that I died

in a rocket accident, and everybody knew that.

So when I came back to Germany, I found the telephone number of this girl that had dumped


I called her, and I said, so guess who this is?

Maybe you hold on to your chair, she says yes, I said, this is Albrecht.

It’s a good payback.

No, we actually met.

So there’s two elderly people in their 60s who meet each other after so many years, and

the one that ended the relationship started the conversation by saying, you know what,

I made a really bad mistake, and the tears came down her cheeks.

I wasn’t asking for that.

I wasn’t happy about it, but it did feel good.

Now a while later, I knew why she said she made a mistake.

I met her husband.

Yeah, I mean, there’s a, Tom Waits has a song called Martha, where an older gentleman calls

somebody he used to love, and they have a conversation.

They’re both married now, and sometimes you can meet people from your past, and it gives

you a glimpse of a possible different life you could have had.

Oh yeah, and you know, I was actually, when she said I made a mistake, and I was thinking

to myself, no, you didn’t.

There was none.

There was nothing left.

Also the person that she became, personality wise, wasn’t as attractive as I remembered


You know, it’s puppy love.

But it’s still love, and it still happened.

Yeah, it was.

It was passionate love for sure, and I would have thrown myself under the bus if I could

save her.

It was that strong, and it’s just as strong as the love for my two girls.

Life is full of moments and periods like that of love, and that’s what makes life so freaking


But it does come to an end.

And so does this conversation, I guess.

This goes on for many more hours, but yes, do you think about your own death?


Do you think about death?

Do you think about your own death?


Are you afraid of it?


Even though I’m a Christian.

As a Christian, do you have a sense what’s coming after, or is it full of uncertainty?

I have a hope.

You know, there’s a lot of Christianity which is quite logical, a lot of Christianity which

is also the life of Christ, there’s a lot of proof.

But I became a Christian starting with a head, and I was already quite old.

When you don’t get this faith very early, it’s tougher to buy into everything.

You know, there are some things that are difficult for me to understand and believe, but there’s

many, many other things that I can’t explain only with the existence of a God, but whether

He lets us go again for an eternity, I just hope.

I won’t convince somebody else at this point, which doesn’t make me a really, really good

Christian because I’m supposed to evangelize.

But there’s still a fear.


There’s a fear and a hope.

On the other hand, I know that, you see, this is how I approach the last years of my life.

I will not mentally or physically get decrepit.

I will do everything I can do to be alert and fit.

I still run.

I run four or five times a week, and I’m going to start lifting weights again.


You stay physically and mentally sharp.


Go out with guns blazing.

I once read a book written by a medical doctor, he said, most people, when they’re becoming

mature, the rest of their life is a slow downward move.

Not for you.


The last years are pretty bad.

He said, you got to do this, boom.

That’s pretty good advice from a doctor.

If nothing else from Christianity, whichever parts you take on, one of the big ones is


That’s something you’ve lived from the very beginning before God was part of your life,

before anything was part of your life.

It seemed that love was part of your life and has been a consistent thread throughout.

Yes, sir.

There’s a short sentence in the Bible that says, God is love.

The other thing I want to say, the Christian morality is, I can sign that with my blood.

God is love.


Jack, you’re an incredible person, lived an incredible life.

Thank you for talking today.

Thank you for telling your story.

Thank you for being who you are, and thank you for being all about love.

This is a beautiful conversation, it was an honor.

Thank you for talking today.

Yeah, and I appreciate the tough questions that you asked.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Jack Barsky.

To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description.

And now, let me leave you with some words from Edward Snowden.

You can’t come up against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and not accept

the risk.

If they want to get you, over time, they will.

Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.

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