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How a Former Russian Spy Fell in Love With America

Jack Barsky, former Russian spy who ran from both the FBI and KGB in the 1980s, joined Glenn in studio Thursday to discuss his new book Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America. Barsky included details about his incredible life as a spy inside the United States, including what happened when he received the secret signal to return to Russia --- and why he ignored it.

Listen to these segments from The Glenn Beck Program:

GLENN: Jack, it is a thrill to meet you. Just a thrill.

JACK: The thrill is mine.

GLENN: So you have been living in the United States, since when?

JACK: Since 1978.

GLENN: Okay. And you were an undercover -- you were sent here to the United States to pose as an American.

JACK: Correct.

GLENN: And you worked in what industry? Because you're a chemist.

JACK: Yeah, I studied chemistry. But I never used any of that. You know, I taught chemistry and math for about a year as an assistant professor in Germany. And then I signed with the KGB. And my chemistry knowledge was gone. I never used it.

GLENN: Yeah. And you came here to do, what?

JACK: Well, to pretty much help destroy the United States. It didn't quite work that way.

GLENN: Right. Yeah. And I want to come back to this. I'm so glad we have two hours. But let me jump ahead a bit to 1988. You're walking down into the subway. And you see on the handle a splash of red paint.

JACK: Yeah, there was a pre-defined signal spot that was on my way to work, which I found and described to my -- the center, where they could put a signal. And that day was a great time, December morning. You know, I'm going off to work half asleep. And there's that red dot, the size of a fist. That was a clear signal. It was a danger signal. This was the most urgent signal that I could have ever read. And that meant, get out.

GLENN: It meant they're on to you.

JACK: That meant, get out. It's an emergency. Don't ask any questions. Just go -- don't go any place else. Get your reserve documents and make a beeline to Canada. And from there, we'll take you home. That was the plan.

STU: And you have to worry that they would -- they hopefully don't unrelated paint the wall red.

GLENN: Right.

JACK: It wasn't a wall. It was one of those -- you know, an elevated subway.

STU: Oh, okay.

JACK: Supporting beams. Steel beams.

STU: Okay.

GLENN: So when you saw that, your heart --

JACK: You're good. You're actually -- you're good material for working in the field.

GLENN: Your heart -- your heart must have leapt into your throat.

JACK: You know, I -- that's a question that I get a lot. For certain situations that I was in. And actually, it never happened like that. You know, what overcame me in situations like that, similarly to when I first entered the country, certain psychological numbness. All right? I became sort of a robot. And at that point, the robot made a decision. I'm not doing it. And I went on to work.

And funny thing is nobody noticed. Nobody noticed that something was wrong with me. Neither my wife at home nor the colleagues. And it was for three months afterwards when I was like -- I had some concern that somebody might be after me. Nobody ever noticed. So it's what I call numbness. I can't explain it.

GLENN: Did the KGB then contact you and then like, dude?

JACK: Yes.

STU: I doubt they said that.

JACK: The dude thing happened. And this is one of the moments that I can relive in my memory. So I'm standing on the subway platform, very close to where the first car would come in. And there were about a couple of dozen people on the platform. It was still -- it was another morning -- early morning. And this -- this figure comes from the right in a dark coat. And pretty short guy. And he whispered so it would be audible to only me that you got to come home, or else you're dead.

That was another moment where numbness overcame me.

GLENN: What did you say?

JACK: Nothing. He walked away. That was it.

JEFFY: Oh, you didn't push him in front of the subway or --

PAT: And was the threat that they were going to kill you, the KGB? Or was --

JACK: Well, think about -- you know, this was spoken with a pretty heavy accent. So this could have easily also been sort of, you know, dead meaning that your cover is blown. Right? You know, you're dead.

So you can interpret it either way.

JEFFY: Either way.

JACK: You have to take -- I had to take seriously the real threat because even then I knew the KGB was coming after folks, after defectors.

However, I've been told by somebody who should know -- I met him about six weeks ago, Mr. Oleg Kalugin, who was the head of counterintelligence for the KGB -- he now lives in the United States. And he stated that they never did -- they never -- they never killed anybody on the United States territory.

So take it for what it is. You know, we will never know.

GLENN: I don't believe that. But do you have ever watch the TV show -- I don't want to get into this, but do you ever watch the TV show The Americans?

JACK: I do. Because, you know, I'm friends with the producers now.

JEFFY: I bet.

GLENN: Right. I was wondering, have you consulted or if you thought that was pretty --

JACK: No. You know, they should have me as a consultant because I was on the set and I found a bunch of things that were -- they're very much focused on being authentic.

GLENN: Oh, yeah.

JACK: I mean, and they're going through great lengths to find the right cars, the right buses.

GLENN: Yeah, yeah. It's quite amazing.

JACK: And the decorations on the set. But I found a few things that were wrong just by...

(chuckling)

GLENN: Yeah.

JACK: But, yeah, it's -- it's a very entertaining show. But with regard to intelligence work -- they know it -- it's -- it's all nonsense.

(laughter)

STU: This is not a way to get hired, you realize that.

JACK: No, they know it. They know it. It's entertainment.

JEFFY: Yeah, it's got to be a show.

STU: Okay.

JACK: But let me tell you one thing, what they are doing really well is how they cover the psychology of being undercover.

There's a -- there was a possibility at one point that I would actually -- that they would have sent me to the US with a wife.

GLENN: Because they arranged a wife for you in Germany, right?

JACK: No, they didn't arrange it. You know, they allowed me to get married to the one that I fell in love with. They -- they screened her. And she was, quote, unquote, clean. And there was some sort of actually sending her over here with me.

GLENN: Knowingly. Her knowingly being involved?

JACK: Knowingly. Except she psychologically, she was not capable of handling that kind of pressure. So they kept us separate.

But, anyway, getting back to The Americans, this is the best part of their show is how --

GLENN: The situation.

JACK: -- how those folks deal with being in another country, becoming another person. And God forbid, now you have children.

GLENN: Right.

JACK: One of my favorite episodes is when the kid is bringing the pastor to dinner.

GLENN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Because you grew up that way. As I read your book and as I know your story, you know, you grew up -- and in The Americans, they keep going back to what their life was like back in Russia.

And a couple thoughts come up on like, why wouldn't you come here and just see the plenty and go, man, I'm on the wrong side? You grew up in a time in Germany when it was being rebuilt. And the underwear that you wore for a long time was actually parachute silk, right?

JACK: Yeah, because there wasn't much of anything that could be bought. And so you had to really -- you know, you had to scramble. But, you know, when you're talking about The Americans and going back to where you came from, ideology, as it's fed to you, from childhood on, is a very, very strong foundation.

GLENN: Because that's what happened to you. Just like in The Americans.

JACK: That's exactly right.

GLENN: Your family said, Christianity is fairytale.

JACK: That's right. I mean, not the family -- the entire society, the school systems, the teachers, friends. Everybody. Christianity wasn't even mentioned. I mean, we had Christmas, and there was no Christ in Christmas.

We didn't -- you know, I opened a Bible once because I found one, and I read it from, you know, Genesis chapter one -- you know, that's not how you should read the Bible as a child.

GLENN: Right.

JACK: But the bottom line is -- so people ask me that question all the time. So when you came over here and you saw all this wealth, didn't that make you waver? Uh-uh. Not at all.

As I said, and that applies to any kind of ideology. If you're being fed a certain belief system from childhood on, it sticks with you. It's very difficult to overcome. And, as a matter of fact, I have some good friends back in Germany, with whom I reconnected. They got screwed over by East Germany, one way or another, and they're still communist. It's very difficult to shed what you're being fed.

PAT: Living here though, did you eventually gain some like sympathy to America? Did you fall in love with America?

GLENN: Yeah, when did that pivot happen with you? Why did you decided -- when you saw that red dot -- I'm not leaving?

JACK: Well, that was not because of the country. That was because of Chelsea my daughter, who is now 29 years old. She was 18 at the time.

And that was for the first time -- you know, I don't want to go back. My book is actually, if I want -- if I have to describe it in very few words, it's a love story.

GLENN: Uh-huh.

JACK: It's about love denied. It's about not being able to love the right way.

GLENN: Yeah. Having two families and being torn apart. You had one in Germany and one here.

JACK: Right. But in this situation, this was the first time that I felt the pull of unconditional love. And as you -- I bet you guys know that, that is stronger than anything else.

GLENN: Oh, yeah.

JACK: And so, you know, it sounds like -- trite: Love conquers all. But this one did.

GLENN: In The Americans, you see that -- what's it called? Control. Not control. What's the --

JACK: Oh, the center?

GLENN: The center.

JACK: Control.

GLENN: Yeah, yeah, no. That's Get Smart.

(laughter)

PAT: Which is really accurate.

GLENN: Right.

PAT: Unlike The Americans. Get Smart was totally accurate.

GLENN: Right. Right. The center starts to get concerned because of the kids.

JACK: Yeah.

GLENN: They know that now that the kids -- the kids are becoming American. And it's not easy to rip them back to Russia. And they're starting to think and know that that could change the agents.

JACK: But there's also this other train of thought, which was actually real, not as far as I'm concerned, but I've heard folks talk about it, to, you know, create this second generation of undercover agents that are even more deeply buried, that could one day become the Manchurian candidate. Right?

GLENN: Yeah. Right.

JACK: Those dreams were dreamed by certain KGB folks.

GLENN: You think it happened?

PAT: And we had that in Barack Obama.

(laughter)

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