Finally, the FBI caught up with Jack Barsky – and so did God.
For 19 years, Barsky spied on America for the Soviet Union during the Cold War and for Russia after. His job was to infiltrate U.S. society and get close to security officials and pry information from them. And the “sleeper agent” went undetected until May 1997 when the FBI at long last pulled him over.
His marriage to an American was unraveling. Years later, when he married Shawna, a devout Christian from Jamaica, God caught up with him too.
“I came to terms with (the fact that) I did a lot of bad things – never mind breaking laws,” Barsky told Glenn Beck. “I hurt people. I did bad things. I served a bad cause. And I realized goodness doesn’t come from inside. I always thought of myself as a good person. (But I learned) there is no morality with God.”
Barsky was born Albrecht Dittrich in East Germany in 1949. In college studying chemistry, he proved he had a brilliant mind and a matching hauteur. When the KGB approached him to work as a spy in America, it conjured an inner ubermensche. “I could see the world and I didn’t have to go by the usual rules — I would be above the law,” he told Der Spiegel.
In East Germany, Dittrich learned secret handwriting, Morse code and how to lose a tail. In Moscow, he devoured English mastering 100s of words daily.
He was shipped off to America in 1978 with $6,000 in his bags and instructions to assume the position of a businessman and get cozy with politicians and other influential people in Washington. Specifically, he was told to make contact with then-National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
An employee at the Soviet Embassy scored him the birth certificate that would give him the basis to get a passport. He had spotted a tombstone of 10-year-old Jack Barsky who had died in 1955 and procured the birth document.
Under his new name, Barsky first worked as a bicycle messenger in New York, a job that provided him with plenty of opportunity to get to know the city, observe people and learn the intricacies of the city’s commerce.
“The messenger job was actually really good for me to become Americanized because I was interacting with people who didn’t care much where I came from, what my history was, where I was going,” he told the BBC. “I was able to observe and listen and become more familiar with American customs. So for the first two, three years I had very few questions that I had to answer.”
Later, he studied computer science and worked as a programmer for Met Life insurance. If anyone ever asked about his slight accent, he responded that his mother was German.
During the day, he was good neighbor and upstanding citizen. At night, he prepared profiles for the Soviets of potential agents and wrote assessments of developing political and military situations, which he stuffed in small steal containers to be left at dead drops outside the city or in parks. He received instructions from Moscow via a shortwave radio.
He never managed to sidle up to national security advisors, but he stole computer code that helped the Soviet Union economically.
With his America persona in full swing, he vacationed yearly to East Germany for debriefings. He married his college sweetheart, Gerlinde, and started a family. It was an awkward situation because his wife was never full aware of what he was doing in America.
In America, he was taking his double life to another level. He married a girl named Penelope, a native of Guyana, in 1985 and with her had two children, Chelsea and Jessie.
“I did a good job of separating the two” lives, he said. “Barsky had nothing to do with Dittrich and Dittrich wasn’t responsible for Barsky.”
But the facade had to crumble.
The collapse started in 1988 when Moscow ordered his immediate return. The KGB had information that Barsky was about to be arrested and wanted him to escape.
After 10 years of American lifestyle, he balked at the idea. He had discovered that Americans weren’t evil, as he had been told, and he had fallen for the American Dream. He stalled for a week.
When he got the ultimatum, Barsky concocted an elaborate excuse. He knew the Soviets feared AIDS and chalked the epidemic in America up to its moral inferiority. So he told his handlers that he had contracted the HIV virus. He assured the Russians he wouldn’t defect or surrender any secrets.
Of the Soviet fears, nothing materialized. The FBI was still clueless. He eased in middle-class life in America in a comfy home in upstate New York.
Then in 1992, his cover was blown. A KGB archivist, Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin defected and named a slew of agents to British authorities.
The FBI finally started watching Barsky to see if was an active agent.
The FBI bugged his home. They purchased the house next door, and an FBI agent, Joe Reilly, posing as an ornithologist, kept him under surveillance with binoculars.
In the end, Barsky blurted the evidence that the FBI needed. In the middle of a heated argument with his wife, Barsky tried to show her how much he’d given up for her.
“I was trying to repair a marriage that was slowly falling apart,” he said. “I was trying to tell my wife the ‘sacrifice’ I had made to stay with Chelsea and her. So in the kitchen I told her, ‘By the way, this is what I did. I am a German. I used to work for the KGB and they told me to come home and I stayed here with you and it was quite dangerous for me. This is what I sacrificed.’”
Instead, she grew angrier. He had a secret life? He was in danger of being arrested?
Just days later, Barsky was driving home from work. When he drove out of toll station, and a Pennsylvania state trooper pulled him over. Dressed in plain clothes, Reilly asked to talk to him.
“I knew the gig was up,” he said.
Still, Barsky met the arrest with bluster: “What took you so long?”
He had gone undetected for almost 20 years – a massive embarrassment for the FBI.
For a weekend, Reilly interrogated Barsky in a motel. Bargaining for clemency, Barsky came clean with everything. Ultimately, the FBI validated his entire story and decided to let him go free.
It would take more years for God to “catch” him. Find out how God “caught” Jack Barsky Christian KGB agent.