The Real-Life KGB Spy Who Inspired FX’s ‘The Americans’

March 7, 2017 10:00 pm
Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings, Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. (Matthias Clamer/FX)


The Season 5 premiere of FX original series The Americans  arrived Tuesday night, but the man who inspired the show has been around a lot longer.

According to BBC magazine, Jack Barsky (real name: Albert Dittrich), who was courted by the KGB in the mid-’70s to become an American (i.e. an “illegal”) in a fantastical case that’s all too real.

Arriving in the U.S. in 1978, Dittrich first posed as a Canadian, William Dyson, and then disappeared, reinventing himself Barsky. “I was sent to the United States to establish myself as a citizen and then make contact, to the extent possible, at the highest levels possible of decision makers—particularly political decision makers,” he told the magazine.

Meet the Former KGB Agent Trained to Be an American
Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan stride across the stage towards each other at their first summit meeting November 1985 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)


But instead of gaining access to high-level operatives and working a cover job at a travel agency, as the couple in The Americans do, Barsky had to settle for the meager income of a bicycle messenger in Manhattan.

Running closer to the TV show’s plot, though, he did send back weekly radio transmissions to Mother Russia.

Now, Barsky’s written about his experiences as a KGB agent in a new memoir, entitled Deep Cover. Buy it here. Watch a short preview of a 60 Minutes episode that ran in 2015 on Barsky’s double life.


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