Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America by Jack Barsky
DEEP UNDERCOVER is the tale of former KGB spy-turned-American patriot Jack Barsky. Of course that name is actually the name the KGB helped him get from a dead person. They arranged for a birth certificate, making it possible for Barsky to live and work in the U.S.
The author describes in detail his childhood in East Germany, academic achievement, and eventually his recruitment away from his assumed career in chemistry. It all sounded so exciting—and of course Jack was a true communist faithful.
Jack describes how he was trained in spy craft such as, Shortwave Radio/Morse code, Cryptography, and Secret Writing. He also learned about “dead-drop” operations, where he could send/receive messages to “The Center,” short for Moscow. Although Jack did well at learning English, his trainer explained that language was only part of it:
“You must also learn how to think and feel like an American. Imagine living in their big houses and driving one of those huge cars. In order to be successful in the United States, you must think big. You must undergo a complete metamorphosis.”
He was given a complete “legend” to memorize, so that he could fake his new identity.
In America, Jack quickly got a job as a bike messenger. He was quick at the job, and began earning money to support him. He comically started his hunt for proper identification by getting an ID card at a local museum. From there, it was a library card, and so on.
Moscow wanted their young spy to get a college degree. He did so well at college that he had to give the valedictorian address. The dean would not allow him to refuse: “The irony of a KGB agent delivering the valedictory at an American business school did not escape me.”
Jack’s true identity slowly leaked out, and Moscow sent him urgent messages to prepare to leave America. The coded message read,
“PREPARE FOR URGENT DEPARTURE. WE HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE THAT YOUR COVER HAS BEEN BLOWN. YOU ARE IN SEVERE DANGER.”
Jack had a new life in American—and especially a young daughter whom he adored. He tried to ignore the summons, but Moscow would have none of it. When Jack ignored the warning, another agent warned him,
“You must come home, or else you are dead.”
The author thought of a good excuse—he couldn’t leave the U.S. because he had contracted AIDS! And they fell for it:
“I had succeeded in deceiving the mighty KGB.”
It was years later that the FBI finally closed in on Jack. They had spoken to the mother of the REAL Jack Barsky, and learned that the real Jack had passed away decades earlier. It was now clear to Agent Reilly that “they had their fish on the hook; but they had no idea how big that fish might be.” When finally detained by the FBI, Jack was cooperative, and the FBI was merciful. In exchange for Jack’s cooperation and intelligence, they allowed him and his family to remain in the U.S.
Barsky’s Christian conversion is actually a small, but meaningful part of the book. Jack had no intention of becoming a Christian, and told a colleague, “You may believe whatever you like, but please don’t think for one minute that you’ll make a convert out of me.” Nevertheless, he investigated the claims of Christianity, and slowly began to see the light. He recalls that it was like a seed being planted: “For the first time in my life, I was open to the possibility that Jesus Christ was not only a special human being but also God’s son , who had been crucified and had risen from the dead. You might say the door to faith was ajar.”
The author sums up his life in America this way: “No matter what challenges we face in our nation, as long as the beacon of freedom still shines, that’s where my home will be.” Reflecting on his conversion experience, Jack puts it this way: “Christ has taken away much of my pain, and I can live out my life on earth knowing that my sins, committed knowingly or unknowingly, have been forgiven by the enormity of his sacrifice. That is where I have landed. I am finally home.”
All in all, I found DEEP UNDERCOVER to be an interesting, but sometime sad read. It was a little depressing to read about the sad state of Eastern Europe after World War II. Perhaps the most interesting part was the account of the young spy trying to make his way in America without rousing suspicion.
In a nice touch, the Afterword is by the FBI agent who confronted the author, and later became friends with the former spy. The agent suggests that
"Our country could use more people like Jack Barsky.”
Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.