“Jack Barsky” is not his real name. The real Jack Barsky died when he was 10 years old. Jack Barsky was a “cover legend,” which the KGB created to send East German national Albrecht Dittrich to the United States in the late 1970s as a deep undercover spy.
Mr. Barsky, who had been a brilliant chemistry student and leader in the East German Communist youth organization, accepted when the KGB made him the proverbial offer he could not refuse.
Mr. Barsky became part of the KGB “Illegals” network, the crown jewels of Soviet intelligence. Stalin used Illegals such as the infamous Rudolf Abel to conduct his most important spy work — including stealing U.S. nuclear secrets from the Manhattan Project.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer who supported the Soviet Illegals program while serving in East Germany, revived the network only to have key members arrested and exposed in the FBI’s 2010 magnificent “Ghost Stories” operation.
Following a rigorous KGB training program in Moscow, where he learned secret writing, surveillance detection and how to conduct clandestine meetings, the re-christened Mr. Barsky deployed to the U.S.
With no support from the KGB, he built a professional career from scratch. And it was during that process of living the American Dream that the KGB plant realized how hollow and intellectually bankrupt the Soviet evil empire truly was.
After arriving in New York City, Mr. Barsky began working as a bike messenger courier and later graduated from business school, where his record of academic excellence earned him the honor of class valedictorian. He moved up the corporate ladder as a computer programmer, married, had children and bought his own home — all in the course of a decade in the U.S.
Mr. Barsky’s doubts about communism dated back to his earliest days serving in the KGB. When his spymasters dispatched Mr. Barsky to West Berlin to conduct a training exercise, he concluded that communist-controlled East Berlin “was a movie shot in black and white. In the West, they had color.”
Mr. Barsky’s personal and professional fulfillment in the U.S. removed the scales from his eyes about the gap between “Communist lies and the reality of capitalism.” Mr. Barsky realized that the Soviets “loved and desired the products of a system we were working hard to destroy.”
In 1988, the KGB sent a clandestine message to its prize agent warning that he was in severe danger and must return home because his cover had been blown. After Mr. Barsky repeatedly ignored the message, a KGB spy was dispatched to deliver the message personally, telling him in a “chance meeting” on the street one day: “You must come home or else you are dead.”
Mr. Barsky chose instead to fabricate a story about being diagnosed with HIV, the only way he could imagine cutting his ties to the KGB, avoiding a return to East Germany, and remaining in the country he had come to cherish.
Pursuing a lead from KGB defector archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, the FBI began tracking Mr. Barsky in 1993. Mr. Barsky cooperated fully with the FBI investigation and eventually became a U.S. citizen in 2009.
Like so many fellow Americans, Mr. Barsky will be spending this Independence Day enjoying fireworks, picnics and a family gathering. But for him, July Fourth will always carry a special meaning few can understand.
The Declaration of Independence might as well have been Mr. Barsky’s personal credo: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Living in the U.S. taught Mr. Barsky that, as the Declaration held, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” — the antithesis of Soviet dictatorship as well as the systems of government in modern-day Russia and China.
Along his arduous but rewarding journey, Mr. Barsky not only found true love but also religious faith, which the Soviet Union ruthlessly denied its citizens. Just like the Founding Fathers, Mr. Barsky is a man of deep religious conviction, who finds comfort and spiritual guidance from his devotion to Christianity.
Mr. Barsky, who through no fault of his own was born on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, lived the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that the people have the right to choose their own government. He demonstrated the courage of his convictions under the most trying of circumstances. Let the compelling story of his life serve as a powerful reminder to us all of our nation’s history and strength as a bastion of freedom, liberty and democracy.
• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.