Jack Barsky, 70, was born in East Germany and recruited to be a KGB agent at just 23 years old. Now, he resides in Covington with his wife and daughter and is living out what he considers the American Dream.
“Just because you were in the KGB doesn’t mean you were Superman,” Barsky said at a Feb. 10 Rotary Club of Sandy Springs meeting. “I’m one of the best-trained agents that they ever sent out into the world and I’m just quite normal.”
The KGB was a security and secret-police agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until the country’s collapse in 1991.
“Jack Barsky” is not his given name – it’s one he started using as a false identity but now has become his own.
Barsky was recruited by the KGB to gather political intelligence on the U.S. government at the age of 23 when he was teaching chemistry at a university in Germany. He says his childhood shaped the “lone wolf” mentality the agency looked for in recruiters.
“The KGB was really looking for people like me,” Barsky said. “They were looking for people in the ages of 20 to 30 who had certain character traits that would qualify somebody to do this kind of work.”
Some of the traits included focus, hardiness to stress, intelligence, adaptation, emotional stability and bravery, according to Barksy.
“I own that list. That’s me,” Barksy said. “These traits are some of the tools you can use for good or for bad.”
Among the parts of his background that were useful for KGB service, he said, were a tough-love childhood and a breakup that left him heartbroken in his teen years.
“I started to develop this idea that I’m going to be pretty much on my own,” Barsky said. “That is how I got put into the attention of the KGB.”
The decision to join the KGB was an obvious choice, Barsky said.
“I needed to have a bigger purpose. I needed to be attached to a bigger cause,” Barsky said. “When people grow up, at a certain age, they need to attach themselves to something bigger than them, and to me, it was the communist cause. There was no doubt.”
In 1978, Barsky began his new career of spying in New York. He left his hometown and birthname behind and picked up the name Jack Barsky, which was on his new birth certificate.
“Jack Barsky was a young man who passed away at the age of 11,” Barsky said. “This is how KGB stole identities — from people who passed away at a young age.”
Barsky never met with his bosses, known as handlers, on U.S. ground. All communication was done by handwritten letters and decoding Morse code through shortwave radio. He did not say who he spied on.
After a decade-long career with the agency, Barsky resigned from the KBG in 1988 because his first daughter was born. Gradually, he converted to the American way of life.
“I just didn’t want to do the spying anymore,” Barksy said. “I just wanted to stay here, so I did.”
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation tracked down Barsky in 1995 after he had been trying to integrate into American society for the last seven years.
“I was just going to live out my life undetected and start working on my version of the American Dream,” Barsky said. “But somehow the FBI eventually got wind of me and 9 years later, they introduced themselves.”
He said the FBI let him stay in the U.S.
“I cooperated with the FBI. I told them everything I knew, and at that time I had no loyalties and I had fundamentally pretty much become an American in many ways,” Barsky said.
In 2008, Barsky was baptized at a Baptist church and in 2015, he received his U.S. citizenship. After he resigned from the KGB, Barsky worked in several upper-management roles for large corporations such as United Healthcare, Prudential and NRG Energy. Barsky attributes his success in these roles to the skills he acquired during his time as an agent.
“The ability to make decisions in high-pressure situations without second-guessing yourself,” Barsky said. “I had to do this during my spy career and I operated in corporate America primarily to fix crisis situations.”
Now, Barsky and his wife have a second daughter, 9, and are settled into American life.
“I am legally, intellectually and emotionally an American more so than I am a German,” Barsky said. “I’ve lived here for 40 years…and I really like it here.”