Jack Barsky (@DeepCoverBarsky) joins us to discuss his book Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America. This is part two of a two-part episode; listen to part one here!
The Cheat Sheet:
- We continue Jack Barsky’s story that began in episode 633. Make sure you start there!
- How Jack handled a double life — complete with two families.
- Why the once-powerful allure of Soviet-style communism began to wane over time for Jack.
- Why Jack decided to stay in the United States and become a “real” American.
- How Jack shook his KGB handlers.
- And so much more…
One might be compelled to view the premise of FX’s television series The Americans — about a pair of KGB spies posing as an all-American couple in the suburbs of Reagan’s ’80s — as a fanciful piece of Cold War espionage fiction. But the truth is, as they say, far stranger.
Today’s guest is Jack Barsky, author of Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America. As a consultant for The Americans who once lived a double life in the United States while spying for the KGB from 1978-1988, he’ll help us understand how the realities of the Cold War could often be more absurd than the most imaginative inventions of Hollywood. This is part two of a two-part episode; make sure to catch part one here!
More About This Show
When last we left off with Jack Barsky, author of Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America, he was just arriving to begin his life as an American. After a not-so-smooth start, he eventually made it to Chicago (en route through Canada).
The airport cab driver gave him a funny look upon providing the hotel address where he’d be staying his first night; Jack was sure his cover had been blown. As it turned out, he was just reserved in a horrible part of town where the cashier was protected by bulletproof glass.
Jack survived, but wisely chose a hotel in another part of town for his next night. From there, he made his way to New York City, where he became a bicycle messenger. Considering he’d been a chemistry professor in East Germany, it might seem like he’d taken a step backward.
“I’ll tell you what,” says Jack, “to be honest, I didn’t miss anything…it would be more of a who. Who I missed was friends…my friends and my German wife. But as far as way of life, there was nothing to miss. I didn’t even miss being a chemistry professor. It’s one word: supermarket! The variety of food that you could get there was astounding!”
Visiting East Germany just once every two years to spend time with his wife and child, Jack was genuinely acclimating to the American lifestyle just six years into his mission for the KGB. By then he had moved up from humble bike messenger to well-compensated computer programmer. He’d find himself relieved to hear American English at the airport upon returning to the States from his visits to Germany.
“Because I already had the start of a good life,” says Jack. “I started a career as a programmer and I worked for MetLife. I loved my team. I loved what I was doing. I had become so accustomed to the American way of life.”
It may seem a contradiction that Jack so enjoyed working for a large insurance company which — along with banks — was a prime example of capitalist evil his communist ideology so firmly rejected. But as we discover, this was only the tip of a dual identity that was forming in Jack as time went on.
Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about how “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” applies whether you have capitalists or communists in charge of the economy, if Dustin Hoffman tips bicycle messengers well, how Jack reconciled his love for the good American life with the communist ideology so firmly embedded in him since birth, how living under capitalism helped shift Jack from communism to a more socialist outlook, the tipping point when Jack was more concerned with doing a good job for his American bosses than the KGB, how Jack communicated with his KGB contacts by encrypted shortwave radio messages (and why these methods are still used today), what it’s like to keep two families secret from one another, how Jack’s KGB career came to an end and why he decided to defy the order to return in spite of the potential dangers involved, what happened when he thought he was in the clear, why he’s able to talk about his life as a spy openly and isn’t in jail now, what he thinks of modern Russia, and lots more.
THANKS, JACK BARSKY!
If you enjoyed this session with Jack Barsky, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Resources from This Episode:
- Transcript for Jack Barsky | Deep Undercover Pt. 2 (Episode 635)
- Jack Barsky | Deep Undercover Pt. 1 (Episode 633)
- Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America by Jack Barsky
- Jack Barsky’s website
- Jack Barsky at Twitter
- Jack Barsky on 60 Minutes: The Spy Among Us with Steve Kroft
- The Russian Tea Room, NYC
- The Lives Of Others
- Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him by Donald Rayfield
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