Jack Barsky – The Spy who came in from the Cold
– First published … April 16, 2017 –
His name was Albrecht Dittrich, a national science scholar in East Germany, on the fast track toward a university professorship teaching chemistry and physics, and a good life, as good as could be had in East Germany at the time. But the Soviet KGB had also spotted him and made contact to offer him a career change that would take him down the Yellow Brick Road.
He was to be trained a deep-cover espionage agent, one of only a handful sent into the US during the last third wave of agent infiltration by the KGB. His training took many years, which included becoming fluent in English. His new Jack Barsky name was chosen from a deceased child, a common practice during that time for creating new identities via a birth certificate.
He entered US via Canada in 1978 with general instructions to use his birth certificate to get a driver’s license, get a job, and start intermingling into American Society to pick up whatever raw intelligence that he could, mainly political stuff.
The main specific task he was given, the most important, was to get a US passport. He would then be brought to Austria where he would be set up in a successful business, and then return to the US as a multi-millionaire to be able to then operate socially at that level in the US business and political community.
His spy career started modestly, as a bicycle messenger in New York City; but it was a job where he was able to become fully Americanized. That was later followed by his going to college for computer training, as it was called in those days, where he graduated magna cum laude. This became his ticket to a well-paying job with Met Life, an American marriage and children, and living a comfortable white-collar lifestyle.
But his job demands, working late and sometimes on weekends, did not leave much time for spying. He was also making no progress in getting a passport. It was then that Jack began wandering off the KGB reservation. He as an American now, and no longer was sold on the idea of the US being the enemy of all working men. When the KGB wanted to bring him back, he made up a story that he had HIV, and incredibly he fell off the radar with them.
But in 1992, KGB-defector Vasili Mitrokhin bought his ticket to the US with the files he had been copying from the records office and sneaking them out in his socks for many years. Jack Barsky’s name was on the list. The FBI hunted his location down and put him under surveillance, but that he was not doing any of the things expected of a spy. This saved Jack from a prison stretch.
When the FBI finally picked him up in 1997, he began a long debriefing, which ended in the FBI helping him to establish a legal US identity – something that took many many years to accomplish and included a visit to the parents of the real Jack Barsky.
This story is not a dramatic spy story, but a highly personal glimpse of what it was like to be one of only a handful of deep-cover Soviet spies in the US. Frankly, I was surprised at the small number. But Jack’s story got jump-started when, as his children reached eighteen years, he confided in them that he had been a KGB spy. Their reaction was that he should write a book.
That process lingered for some time until, via a good break, he ended up on 60-Minutes with 15 million viewers, and it was off to the races. His Wikipedia says he got fired from his job after the interview, but that was really a negotiation settlement. His book came out this March, which is when I heard about the story.
We have an Association for Former Intelligence Officers here in Atlanta, that has co-meetings with the Harvard Alumni Club. VT interviewed Jack the night before the AFIO event on the Mike Harris Show; and I had planned to follow up with this article with an embed of our show. Our apologies for the no phone call-ins we had planned for the second hour, but Internet Skype radio is what it is, and we have to live with its quirks.
For your convenience, VT radio shows are downloadable, so you can listen to them when you have time. To listen to a two-hour show means multiple sittings for me, with my schedule. Jack lives in Atlanta now, with a young daughter and a wife getting a masters in divinity. This is a one-of-a-kind story, which is why we have brought it to you.
His book has gotten extensive coverage in world press, with a German edition due soon. You can find it easily on Amazon.
Jack’s story is a rare peek behind the curtain into what it was like not only being a KGB spy here, but his personal conversion into an American. He juggled having two families, here and back in Germany, where it was told he had died to tie off his story. And many years later there was family reunification, with half-brothers and sisters all getting to meet for the first time. Jack shares it all – a made-in-America story – in his own way.
To listen to the podcast, go to the Mike Harris show link. You can also download all of it there.