Albrecht Dittrich was born in 1949 and raised in East Germany by devout Communist educators. As an ardent believer in Communism, he joined the Communist party, then graduated with a Masters in Chemistry from the University of Jena. He was supposed to become a university professor – but life had different plans.
Thanks to his talent for English, Dittrich was recruited by the KGB and sent to live undercover in New York City under the name of Jack Barsky. Barsky served as a sleeper agent for the KGB for 10 years in the U.S. After getting an American college degree, building a successful IT career, and marrying and having a daughter, Barsky defied KGB orders to return to his life behind the Iron Curtain. He stayed and was eventually caught by the FBI after almost two decades of living in America.
After appearing on 60 Minutes and news outlets around the world, Barsky detailed his experiences in his recent book, Deep Undercover. He was kind enough to speak with ClearanceJobs to reflect on his upbringing in East Germany, his career in espionage, today’s threats against America, and how to live in the aftermath of a life lived in secret.
How Jack Barsky Became a Communist
After being indoctrinated by parents, school, and social institutions throughout his childhood in East Germany, Barsky went on a school trip to Buchenwald at age 17. Seeing the horrors of a concentration camp was a defining moment in the belief system that would lead him to spy for the KGB.
“This was the capstone that sealed it for me…Even now when you look at something like that [the horrors of the Holocaust], your heart just breaks and you want to scream, ‘How can people do something like that to any other individual, never mind masses and masses of people?’”
East German leaders wanted to provoke this anger and revulsion at Nazi crimes. “So this was a very well-orchestrated visit. The rulers of East Germany – Communists – used these visits to instill in us that we were the heirs of the forces that fought the Nazis…The link to all of this was the fact that the leader of the Communist party who was imprisoned in Buchenwald [Ernst Thälmann] was executed in that place two months prior to the end of WWII.”
What Does a Real-Life Ex-KGB Spy Think of “The Americans” and James Bond?
Aside from Barsky, the most famous spies in the KGB Illegals program are the fictional characters Elizabeth and Philip Jennings of the FX show “The Americans.” Barsky actually enjoyed the show and served as an extra in one episode – but that doesn’t mean he was impressed with the Jennings’ tradecraft. He says his life as a KGB spy looked nothing like what you see on screen.
“When it comes to the espionage activities, it’s day and night. It’s black and white. Whatever is being depicted on the show – and even more so in the James Bond movies and the Jason Bourne movies – it’s so far away from the truth, it defies description. My life was 95% waiting and 5% action. You can’t show that on TV and keep an audience.” He said their tactics would have gotten them caught in about 6 weeks.
He was also quick to point out something more obvious to an untrained audience: that spy handlers were never stationed in country.
“I never met person-to-person with a Soviet agent in the United States. Instructions were strictly given through Morse code. Period.”