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Jack Barsky: A KGB Sleeper Agent’s Undercover Life, Ep #285

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Jack Barsky—born Albrecht Dittrich—was a sleeper agent for the KGB, operating in the United States from 1978 to 1988. He was exposed after the Cold War, after which he became a resource for US counterintelligence agencies who allowed him to remain in the United States. What was life like as a sleeper agent? How did Jack employ persuasion and influence to gather intel for the KGB? What ultimately led him to part ways with the Soviet Union? Jack shares his fascinating life story with me in this episode of Negotiations Ninja. Do NOT miss it.


Outline of This Episode

  • [1:47] The life of sleeper agent Jack Barsky
  • [4:46] How Jack was persuaded to become a sleeper agent
  • [6:55] The training Jack received from the KGB
  • [10:33] The process of assimilation
  • [14:53] Jack’s first mission in the US
  • [16:55] The one time Jack thought he had been discovered
  • [23:19] How Jack ended up cooperating with the FBI
  • [27:43] Switching loyalty from the Soviets to the United States
  • [31:21] Jack Barsky’s take on Vladimir Putin
  • [36:34] How to learn more about Jack Barsky

How Jack was persuaded to become a sleeper agent

Jack notes that you don’t sign up to become a sleeper agent without a good reason. Jack had already been heavily influenced by the ideology he grew up in. When he was recruited, Jack was established in Germany. He had been granted a scholarship to a university that only 100 people were given. He was a “somebody” who had a great career ahead of him.

Jack admits he had an adventurous nature. The idea of traveling the world and doing something special intrigued him. But the real tipping point was the implicit flattery. He was being courted by the most powerful intelligence agency in the history of mankind. He felt special. He points out that flattery works on most people with the caveat that it has to be genuine. The atmosphere immediately becomes more friendly and open when you employ flattery. So Jack was sucked into the KGB.

The training Jack received from the KGB

Jack didn’t receive any psychological or cultural training. He was primarily trained in “spycraft”—things like shortwave radio, morse code, secret writing, photography, and making microdots. He was also trained in counter-surveillance, detection, and other counter-espionage measures (such as how to recognize if someone had been in or searched your home).

Jack spent the majority of the time learning English. He read literature, listened to radio shows, and even watched American television. Jack broadened his knowledge of the world, including the arts, music, and literature. The plan was to launch him into the upper echelon of American society to interact with smart and educated people.

Jack was never given weapons training or trained on how to defeat a lie detector test. He was only taught self-defense. All of the training was one-on-one. Except for his English tutor, everyone training him was a man. If the trainer was Russian, he had a translator. Jack transformed into a highly-protected state secret gathering intel for the KGB.

Assimilating in the United States

Jack was sent to the US and his first “mission” was to get his hands on US documents—primarily a social security card and driver’s license. It took Jack over a year to get his hands on what he needed. Then he got a job as a bike messenger in Manhattan. His role was to blend in as best he could and wait for instructions.

It was challenging. He spent the first year and a half barely engaged in conversation with anyone. But he observed and got to know the city well. He lived in a hotel where he paid monthly. He’d leave the hotel at 8 am and return after 5 pm every day to give the illusion that he was doing something. He got to know the city better than most people who were born and lived there. Blending in was a slow process.

The other bike messengers were transients who weren’t highly educated. He listened to what people were talking about—sports, women, and regular “American” talk. No one ever asked about him because they didn’t care. He only had short-term girlfriends and broke off relationships before they got too close. When anyone asked about his accent, he simply said his mother was German and he grew up bilingual. After a couple of years attending a local college, he was certain he’d never have a problem blending into NY.

Jack’s mission as a sleeper agent

Jack was given three ongoing tasks. When he was able to, he operated as a talent spotter. He got to know people and if he thought they might be good spies, he sent the information to Moscow. They particularly sought out college students who might end up in government jobs.

Secondly, he was to collect information on foreign policy. The goal was to get to know decision-makers and influencers in government positions. Jack was never able to accomplish this. However, he periodically reported on American reactions to events that were happening around the world, which the KGB found valuable.

Lastly, everyone who worked in a foreign country was assigned a military object to observe and watch for signs to see if they were preparing for war. The soviets were deathly afraid that Ronald Reagan would start a war. Jack’s assigned facility was the Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey.

What happened when Jack was almost outed as a KGB spy? How did he “quit” the KGB? What was the catalyst that caused him to switch his allegiance to the United States? Listen to this episode to hear more about how Jack used persuasion and influence to gather intel for the KGB.

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