Jack Barsky, the former Soviet spy who now lives in the state of Georgia, said at a Kiwanis Club of Atlanta luncheon May 28 honoring the city’s Consular Corps that he could have saved the U.S. government the $30 million spent on the Mueller report to determine whether or not the Russian government colluded with the Trump presidential campaign.
Instead, he said, the money should have gone into supporting the country’s cybersecurity capabilities to counter where the real threats are coming from. As a former spy, who was able to qualify for top tier information technology jobs at blue chip U.S. companies where he managed to steal software code and sent it to Moscow, he should know.
That the U.S. may collect an equivalent amount of money from prosecuting tax evasion uncovered in the probe is beside the point. Mr. Barsky made clear that the intentions of Vladimir Putin’s government is to foment chaos and destabilize Western democracies as best it can.
While the KGB sought to establish world communism under a Soviet system, the current Russian government aims at reestablishing its role as a world power and enhancing its status as a nation state. “The emotional successor of the Soviet Union in the Russia of today is nationalism not ideology,” he said.
He has laid out his story in his autobiography, “Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Alliances as a KGB Spy in America,” in which he reveals the step-by-step process by which he accepted the challenge of being a spy with an unquestioning belief that he was countering the major source of evil in the world, namely the U.S.
His personal life alone reveals the extent to which he mastered the multiple personalities that went with the job by maintaining two families simultaneously, one in the U.S. and another in Communist East Germany.
During the limited time of a luncheon address, he managed to show the emotional background including his alienation from his mother and his attraction to a life of adventure. More importantly, he cited the historic context of the time — the attraction of Communist ideology proclaimed by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin that by putting Marxist theory into practice a workers’ paradise would be established on earth.
After recalling Lenin’s “Red Terror” and then Stalin’s murderous reign, he said that the proposed “workers’ paradise didn’t work out that way because of the murderous bastard that Stalin was.”
Even the heads of the KGB weren’t protected. As a long line of KGB chiefs appeared on an overhead screen, the sound of a gunshots bellowed in the Loudermilk Center where the luncheon was taking place downtown showing which ones had been shot to death. Most were with the exception of one who officially committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.
He said that he fit the criteria the KGB was looking for when he was first approached. Among the qualities they wanted were intelligence, the facility to learn foreign languages, the ability to focus on a task, hardiness under stress, adaptability to completely new conditions of life, an inclination to adventure and emotional stability.
At age 30, he felt he fit those requirements. As an East German, who could have chosen a career as a professor of chemistry, he also was motivated by a conviction that he was going to continue the fight against the vestiges of Nazism that he detected in the West German government because of the former Nazis who had been allowed to serve despite their pasts.
Now at 70, he says that he underwent a “slow decontamination” process that took years. When the Soviets wanted him to return he said that he told the authorities that he couldn’t because he had contracted HIV-AIDS and could only receive treatment in the U.S.
Given the Soviets nervousness about HIV-AIDS, he was able to stay on, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen. At the end of his presentation, however, he was asked what really changed his mind.
He answered that it was his love for his infant daughter and his research over the internet of the underlying truth of the Soviet experience.
“I moved away from the far left,” he added, “because I had time to digest what happened. But my school friends they got hit by two-by-fours on their heads and realized that they had wasted their lives.”
The Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia is the presenting sponsor of Global Atlanta's Diplomacy Channel. Subscribe here for monthly Diplomacy newsletters.