ATLANTA — Georgia man is giving us insight into the war in Ukraine because he understands the Russian mentality.
That’s because he was once part of the KGB, the Russian equivalent of the CIA.
During the 1980s, Jack Barsky, 72, was a Soviet spy, helping to spot Americans who might be willing to work for the Soviets.
In an exclusive interview, Barsky told Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston that he never met Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he knows a lot about how they operate and why he thinks Putin miscalculated starting a war in Ukraine.
Born in Germany, Barsky’s original name was Albrecht Dittrich.
He was recruited by the KGB because he was smart. He learned English and could blend into American society.
“They were looking for very special people who had a number of character traits that would make good candidates for what I did which was being a lone wolf, changing identity and going to another country,” Barsky said.
He says despite movies and TV shows, there was no special school that taught Germans and Russians how to become Americans. He said he became a spy among us because he could quickly pick up languages, like English.
“Somebody thought, ‘My God, we got a guy who can go to the United States and become an illegal there,’” Barsky said.
That was in 1978. He landed in New York City and got a job as a bike messenger.
“No one asked where you came from, no one asked for references, or resume,” Barsky said.
He changed his name to Jack Barsky.
He told Huddleston that soon after, he got a Social Security card, a driver’s license, graduated from college and for years lived a double life as an American family man and a Soviet spy.
“I became a highly prized individual within the ranks of the KGB,” Barsky said. “The problem of having a dual personality, your homeland is over there and you’re here pretending to be someone else.”
Barsky said his mission was to spot Americans who might be willing to spy for the Soviets.
“The gold mine was college,” Barsky said, telling Huddleston he found dozens of possible traitors there.
“I would say about 20 to 30.”
He says he never knew what happened to them after he passed their names to a KGB recruiter.
In 1988 — as the Soviet iron curtain was falling — Barsky said he got a call to come back to Mother Russia.
But as America had become his home, he created a lie that the Soviets didn’t want to touch.
“They had reason to believe I was being investigated by the FBI, so they got spooked and called me back and I said I’m not coming because I have HIV/AIDS,” Barsky said.
When it comes to the crisis in Ukraine, he told Huddleston that he knows the Russian way and the resolve of the Ukrainian people.
“What is not a surprise to me is that the Ukrainians would fight like hell,” Barsky said. “I don’t think that anyone expected the Russian army to be as incompetent as they are.”
He said despite the atrocities we’ve seen in the war so far, he doesn’t think there will be a coup against Putin.
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“The espionage organizations, there are three of them, they are afraid of Vladimir,” Barsky said.
But he doesn’t think Putin will win the war either.
“Do you think this Ukrainian war could be the end of Putin?” Huddleston asked Barsky.
“Yes,” Barsky said. “You cannot win that one. And now the hatred, if it was strong to begin with, it’s even worse because he is killing women and children. It’s the end of his career if he survives.”
No longer a spy and now helping the FBI — for almost 30 years, Barsky has lived like an American.
He worked as a corporate executive until 2015 when a national news show outed him as a former member of the KGB. He was fired.
Well into his 60s at that point, he decided to move his family to Georgia.
“I really like it here,” Barsky said.
He has written a book about his life as a spy and there’s also a podcast. He told Huddleston that he continues to work with the FBI to atone for his past.
“I don’t feel guilt anymore,” Barsky said.
Barsky never worked in U.S. national security, so he didn’t have government secrets to give to the Soviets. He thinks that fact, plus working with the FBI, helped keep him out of prison.
He said the most he ever gave the Russians was computer software information from a private company he worked for.
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