SPYCHOLOGY: What goes on in a KGB sleeper spy’s mind? 


When former KGB officer Jack Barsky took the SPYSCAPE SPYCHOLOGY assessment, we requested a debriefing.

Undercover KGB sleeper agent Jack Barsky slipped into America with about $10,000 in cash and orders to infiltrate New York society during the Cold War. He illegally spied on the US for a decade, sizing up potential Soviet recruits and reporting back to Moscow via shortwave radio.

When the KGB urgently recalled Barsky in 1988, however, he refused to obey orders. Instead, Barsky went rogue, claiming he had HIV-AIDS and needed to remain in the US for medical treatment. It was a huge risk, Barsky admits in his typically understated manner: “I knew to some degree that the KGB wasn’t very nice to defectors.”

At that point, however, the East German-born Albrecht Dittrich had transformed into a different person: Jack Barsky, an American IT specialist with a wife, a young daughter he adored, and no intention of returning to his former life. Luckily for Barsky, the Berlin Wall came crashing down in 1999 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 bringing the KGB down with it.

Barsky thought he was home free, living the American dream with a new house and a growing family. That’s when the FBI moved in next door. When Barsky relocated to Pennsylvania, the Bureau moved with him, bugging his home and watching his every move with agents dressed as birdwatchers. When Barsky had a frank conversation with his wife about his former career as a Russian spy, the Bureau’s tape recorders were rolling.

Jack Barsky, former KGB sleeper spy
Jack Barsky, formerly Albrecht Dittrich, was a KGB sleeper agent for 10 years

The psychology of a spy

Barsky had been living in the US for 16 years when the FBI arrested him. He cooperated with the Bureau to avoid prison, became a counterintelligence asset, and eventually shifted from being a KGB enemy agent to a bona fide American citizen in 2014 with a US passport. 

Along the way, Jack learned a lot about himself and the psychology of spying so when Barsky volunteered to share the results of his SPYSCAPE SPYCHOLOGY test we were interested in knowing what makes a KGB spy tick. The assessment, developed by a former MI6 head of training, evaluated aspects of Barsky’s personality from risk-tolerance to empathy and conscientiousness, sociability, inquisitiveness, and composure.

“In the end, it came up with a determination that I’m a spymaster,” Barsky said, which is on the mark as Barsky believes he’d make an excellent agency director or chief of station overseeing clandestine operations. In real-life, the KGB determined Barsky also had the ideal qualities to become an illegal sleeper agent like the fictional spies on The Americans - boldness, a lack of fear, a sharp mind, the ability to make decisions quickly and adapt rapidly to situations.

Barsky is already thinking about taking the SPYCHOLOGY test again however, as he’s not satisfied with his risk-tolerance results. "You sign up to be an illegal and pose as a citizen of another country, the risk can’t be a whole lot higher - other than going to war on the front line with a machine gun.” 

SPYCHOLOGY: What goes on in a KGB sleeper spy’s mind? 

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When former KGB officer Jack Barsky took the SPYSCAPE SPYCHOLOGY assessment, we requested a debriefing.

Undercover KGB sleeper agent Jack Barsky slipped into America with about $10,000 in cash and orders to infiltrate New York society during the Cold War. He illegally spied on the US for a decade, sizing up potential Soviet recruits and reporting back to Moscow via shortwave radio.

When the KGB urgently recalled Barsky in 1988, however, he refused to obey orders. Instead, Barsky went rogue, claiming he had HIV-AIDS and needed to remain in the US for medical treatment. It was a huge risk, Barsky admits in his typically understated manner: “I knew to some degree that the KGB wasn’t very nice to defectors.”

At that point, however, the East German-born Albrecht Dittrich had transformed into a different person: Jack Barsky, an American IT specialist with a wife, a young daughter he adored, and no intention of returning to his former life. Luckily for Barsky, the Berlin Wall came crashing down in 1999 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 bringing the KGB down with it.

Barsky thought he was home free, living the American dream with a new house and a growing family. That’s when the FBI moved in next door. When Barsky relocated to Pennsylvania, the Bureau moved with him, bugging his home and watching his every move with agents dressed as birdwatchers. When Barsky had a frank conversation with his wife about his former career as a Russian spy, the Bureau’s tape recorders were rolling.

Jack Barsky, former KGB sleeper spy
Jack Barsky, formerly Albrecht Dittrich, was a KGB sleeper agent for 10 years

The psychology of a spy

Barsky had been living in the US for 16 years when the FBI arrested him. He cooperated with the Bureau to avoid prison, became a counterintelligence asset, and eventually shifted from being a KGB enemy agent to a bona fide American citizen in 2014 with a US passport. 

Along the way, Jack learned a lot about himself and the psychology of spying so when Barsky volunteered to share the results of his SPYSCAPE SPYCHOLOGY test we were interested in knowing what makes a KGB spy tick. The assessment, developed by a former MI6 head of training, evaluated aspects of Barsky’s personality from risk-tolerance to empathy and conscientiousness, sociability, inquisitiveness, and composure.

“In the end, it came up with a determination that I’m a spymaster,” Barsky said, which is on the mark as Barsky believes he’d make an excellent agency director or chief of station overseeing clandestine operations. In real-life, the KGB determined Barsky also had the ideal qualities to become an illegal sleeper agent like the fictional spies on The Americans - boldness, a lack of fear, a sharp mind, the ability to make decisions quickly and adapt rapidly to situations.

Barsky is already thinking about taking the SPYCHOLOGY test again however, as he’s not satisfied with his risk-tolerance results. "You sign up to be an illegal and pose as a citizen of another country, the risk can’t be a whole lot higher - other than going to war on the front line with a machine gun.” 

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Jack Barsky, former KGB sleeper agent
Jack Barsky, from KGB spy to SPYEX consultant


From university to KGB sleeper agent

Barsky, a straight-A student, grew up in a small East German town near the Polish border where there weren’t many children his age. He played board games to pass the time, challenging himself by competing on both sides of the board and even inventing his own league. 

While studying for a chemistry degree at the University of Jena, Barsky was approached by a stranger who wanted to discuss his career plans. The man eventually admitted he was from the Stasi, the East German intelligence agency, and invited Jack to supper with another officer who spoke German with a Russian accent. They suggested he might be a good fit for undercover work. 

Initially, Barsky envisioned his future as a West German operative but his English-language skills proved to be excellent. So much so, Moscow invited him to test for its ‘illegals’ program, one of the KGB’s crown jewels: “They thought they had a very special case here because my ability to minimize the German accident is very rare, particularly when you start learning a language seriously in your mid-20s.”

True Spies podcast with Jack Barsky
Listen to Jack Barsky’s podcast: The Illegal

Inside the mind of a KGB spy

Barsky wasn’t given a formal psychology test to see if he’d be suitable for the Soviet illegals program. Instead, he met a KGB officer every week while finishing his university degree. They had wide-ranging discussions - even about Barsky’s shyness around women. “In hindsight, I think every time we met he went back and wrote a report and I guarantee you my file was pretty thick.” 

Jack Barsky, author of Deep Undercover

Over the next several years of intense training - two of them based in Moscow - Barsky learned Morse code and perfected dead drops, surveillance techniques, and cryptography to decipher coded shortwave radio messages. One of his first tests in the field was to find an apartment in Berlin and mingle with Western society. The KGB also used Canada as a preliminary base for several months so Barsky could get comfortable speaking English full-time and absorb North American culture.

Finally, he was sent to New York with a fake birth certificate and orders to get a Social Security Card, a job, and mingle with US power brokers in politics and the military. Former President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser was one of his targets.

“I worked at recruiting Russian spies and Illegals my entire career and marveled at how well-trained Jack was,” former FBI special agent Robin Dreeke told SPYSCAPE.

Jack Barsky, ex-KGB spy

Life after the KGB

Barsky, the author of Deep Undercover, has described his KGB job as having a little man in his head constantly observing everything he said or did. When the little man was finally killed off, it was like an “explosion,” he said. The explosion that hit him in the 1990s was the realization that he loved his then 18-month-old daughter Chelsea too much to leave the US and return to his former life as a KGB spy.

“What hit me was that strongest emotion that a normal human being can be subject to, and that was love - love for an 18-month old girl.” Although Moscow promised him a house and was holding onto his $60,000 savings, Barsky knew he had to stay in America: “The girl won over all other rational arguments.”

“That was the moment I rejoined humanity because up until that point I was a selfish, arrogant, proud individual who thought he was serving a cause but there was a lot of ego in that service…You don’t take that kind of a risk unless you are flattered by the offer.”

Barsky has left the spying game behind him now, focusing on his career as a SPYEX consultant, current affairs pundit, and Russia expert as well as being the father of five children. As for the FBI, one of the officers who lived next door in Pennsylvania is now a close friend and godfather to Barsky’s youngest daughter. 

***

Jack Barsky has given more than 70 keynote addresses to a variety of audiences.  He can be booked at SPYEX.com to appear at events or consult on film and television projects.

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