How a KGB Sleeper Agent became an Asset for the United States

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Jack Barsky was born in 1949 in Eastern Germany as “Albrecht Dittrich.” At the time, Eastern Germany was occupied by the Soviets. Jack spent 26 years of his life in a Communist regime. He even obtained a Master’s Degree in Chemistry. But before he could start a career as a college professor, he was recruited by the KGB. 

In 1978—after five years of training in Moscow and Berlin—he was launched as an undercover lone-wolf agent in the United States where he assumed the identity of Jack Barsky. He spent 20 years as a KGB sleeper agent. Then he quit. How? He told the KGB he had contracted HIV/AIDS. But why did Jack quit? Was the life of an undercover agent wearing on him?

The harrowing experience when Jack thought he had been discovered

The plan for Jack’s life was to go to the US and get an American passport. Then, he was supposed to travel to Austria or Switzerland and start a business for the KGB to funnel money into. The goal was to return to the US with 10 million dollars. At that point, he could have joined a country club to mingle with the upper echelon of society. 

Jack believes he would have succeeded in this role. He reminisces about being invited to a diplomatic soiree by a young lady in Washington D.C. He did well mingling with foreign diplomats. But there was a wrench thrown in his plan. 

Jack was denied a passport. Why? There were some optional fields on the passport: 

  • When are you planning to leave?
  • Where are you planning to go? 
  • What’s your profession? 

He wrote “messenger” for his profession and left “where” and “when” blank. That was his fatal mistake. He was called back to the clerk who said, “We have some doubts about your identity. Please fill out this auxiliary form.” Why did they have doubts? Because he was someone who made no money and didn’t know when he was going where. Why would he need a passport? 

The first question on the next questionnaire was “Where did you go to high school?” Jack didn’t panic. He went back to the counter, said “I don’t need this shit,” grabbed his documents, and left. This clerk busted plan A. Jack is thankful because he believes he would have been a dangerous spy. 

How did he navigate that situation and stay cool-headed? Jack points out that he thinks quickly on his feet. He also has no problems making decisions without thorough analysis. His actions were based on instinct. When he knew things were about to get hairy, he went into execution mode. He made himself mentally and intellectually numb. His sole focus was concentrating on the next step. 

How Jack ended up cooperating with the FBI

The FBI had invested a three-year investigation into Jack. They even purchased the house next to him to monitor him. They knew only one thing about him: that he was an extremely well-trained ex-KGB sleeper agent. They didn’t know if he was still actively undercover. At the time, the CIA and FBI knew they had a traitor amongst them, so they investigated him cautiously, by simple observation. After years of reconnaissance, they believed he would cooperate with them. They were right. 

When the FBI introduced themselves, they loaded him into a car. The first thing he said was, “What took you so long?” But he wasn’t under arrest. Knowing that took the edge off. He saw hope. Then they took him to a hotel where they had boxes of labeled files. Jack immediately knew the only information they had was from early in his career. But he told them everything he could possibly remember. They interviewed him for two hours and let him go home. He met with them another 15–20 times. The FBI required him to pass a lie detector test, then it was over. A former KGB sleeper agent became a counter-intelligence asset for the FBI. 

Switching loyalty from the Soviets to the United States

Jack notes that he lost his anti-American viewpoint rather quickly once he assimilated into the United States. He knew that America was “the enemy” but it wasn’t as evil as he expected. The people weren’t being mistreated. But that couldn’t have turned Jack. He still thought communists would rule the world. What finally changed his mind? The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. No one saw it coming. Jack saw what happened on the news. 

At the time, he hopped on the internet and started doing some research. He came across some of the things Vladimir Ilʹich Lenin had written. This man who he thought was a good leader wrote about killing people. He realized he was serving an evil organization and an evil ideology. Emotionally, he became an American on 9/11. Intellectually, he became an American when he took a course about the US Constitution. Jack is now as American as it gets—emotionally, intellectually, and legally. Jack Barsky became a US citizen in 2014. 

To hear his full story—including how he got recruited—listen to episode #285 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast!