Spies: Here, There, and Everywhere

By Andrea Bisbjerg

Throughout the Cold War, Douglas Stuart — like most Americans — imagined spies in the manner that they were painted in the media: covert, mysterious, sophisticated, and suave. He would eventually learn that these expectations were just that: mere expectations as opposed to realities. After several encounters with double agents, he would find them “so much less interesting than the kind of people that you see on TV or in the movies involved in spying. But, it was also just a function of how pervasive spying was during the Cold War.”[1] This substantiates the panic in the United States where, in H.W. Brands’ words, “concern regarding communists in government, in Hollywood, and in other allegedly sensitive positions in society intensified as the Cold War grew grimmer.”[2] While figures like the late President Joseph McCarthy exacerbated these fears with dramatic rhetoric and wild accusations, the anxiety of the general population was indeed founded on truth.

The American public first became wary of espionage after the detection of Soviet networks which had infiltrated the United States during World War II. These discoveries fueled newfound counterespionage efforts by the American government and the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947.[3] Over the next decades, despite increasing security measures, spies would continue to funnel information. Michael Sulick postulates that the government’s inability to locate spies rested on the fact that “investigative agencies limited their security programs to narrow investigations of an employee’s communist sympathies instead of his or her overall suitability for work in sensitive positions.”[4] After World War II, the primary reasons for betraying one’s country were no longer ideologically based; rather than truly supporting communism, many spies and double agents were enticed by financial gain.

Rainer Rupp was one such man whom Stuart met while living in Germany teaching American military intelligence officers. Stuart came into contact which Rupp through their work with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and even published chapters in two of Stuarts’ books. Rump “was the head of the NATO economics directory so the highest-level person in their economic department. Because of that, he had the highest level security clearance.”[5] Known at first only by his codename, Topaz — Stuart mistakenly mixed up Rupp’s and his wife’s codenames: Topaz and Turquoise — officials failed to locate the double agent for several years until 1993. Convicted in 1994, Rupp pleaded guilty to smuggling sensitive documents for twelve years between 1977 to 1989.[6] Despite claiming to be motivated solely by ideological beliefs, prosecutors estimated over $400,000 worth of compensation for his efforts.[7] This detail speaks to the growing prevalence of spies motivated specifically by financial gain; however, these claims have never been proven and some sources insist Rupp never received money for the thousands of pages he photographed Eastern Germany’s Stasi’s Central Reconnaissance Administration.[8] This is perhaps echoed in Stuart’s memory of Rupp’s conviction: “it got me to thinking…did I ever see any indications when I would meet with him that there was anything special about him or there was any reason to be suspicious? And the only thing that came to mind was that he was more inclined than most people to complain about his salary and his financial things. He just seemed to be very obsessed with not being adequately compensated.”[9] The double agent has never expressed remorse over his role in the war, but if he truly took so many risks for little to no monetary return, Rupp may have felt underpaid or underappreciated. He appears proud of his service and has stated that “the goal of my reconnaissance work, and that of many other comrades in the secret front, was not to win a war but rather to prevent a war.”[10] Thus, one may never know the rationale behind Rupp’s decisions and those of so many like him.

Although people may speculate as to what reasons drove citizens to betray their countries, the truth will forever remain uncertain and locked in those individuals’ minds. While Stuart was working for his department’s administrator as a graduate student at the University of Southern California, he noticed a completely empty student file labeled “Ben Stiller.” His supervisor assured him that the papers simply had not yet arrived as the student was coming directly from Germany. Stuart soon befriended Stiller and “it very quickly became apparent to me [Stuart] that he was not a German citizen getting a graduate degree…and, little by little, he began to provide me with information…he was indeed a KGB double agent who had escaped from the Middle East and was in hiding because the government believed that he was a high enough KGB agent that he indeed was in danger of being killed.”[11] Eventually, Stuart would learn Stiller’s true identity: Vladimir Sakharov, a former diplomat who served in Yemen, Egypt and Kuwait between 1967 and 1971. He became involved with the KGB while in Yemen and ended up spending over two years as a double agent reporting to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. He ultimately defected to the United States in order to avoid returning to Moscow and has since provided information and perspective on the Soviet Union.[12] He has discussed Soviet culture, their supposed inferiority complex, and has extensively described Yuri Andropov, the chairman of the KGB from 1967 to 1982 (particularly his fascination with American culture[13]).[14][15] Vladimir Sakharov, unbeknownst to Stuart at the time, was relatively well-known within his field and is featured as chapter two “Secrets of the Desert” in John Barron’s KGB: The Secret Work of the Soviet Secret Agents.[16] In Barron’s book, he describes Sakharov as “an intelligent and sensitive KGB officer stationed in the Middle East, who recognizing the oppression of liberty and the evil falsifications of communism.” Once, Stuart did ask “what made him [Sakharov] betray his country and I said, ‘You know, was it democracy and freedom and the ideologies that we stand for here in the West?’ and he thought for a second and he said, “I did it for Frank Sinatra records and a Johnson outboard motor.’”[17] While it is evident that Sakharov merely provided a lighthearted and humorous response, it goes to show that society will never truly know the reasons and factors which contribute to a person’s conscious decision to take such risk.

Douglas T. Stuart, 1992

Douglas T. Stuart teaching at Dickinson College, 1992

While double agents and defectors were discovered throughout the duration of the Cold War, most revelations occurred after its end. As governments began to gain access to various archives, documents, and general classified information, they could more easily narrow down areas where such activity was prevalent and, in some cases, individuals involved. For a portion of the Cold War, Stuart had worked overseas but returned by 1992 and was teaching at Dickinson College. He recalls giving a guest lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he received an urgent phone call from where he had taught in Italy, John Hopkins: “They wanted me to know I was the front page of The Repubblica, the main newspaper, one of the main newspapers in Italy. The title of the article was ‘The sixth man was an American professor.’”[18] As archives were opened, the Western governments quickly realized that Czech Slovakia was a hub for spies during the Cold War and had discovered five high-ranking Italian officials and scholars who had been involved. Stuart’s name appeared in these documents although they “speculated that maybe I wasn’t like the other five people, a spy, because the other five all had codenames and I did not. And so, consequently, I mean talk about how stupid the logic was: that the fact that I did or did not have a code name mattered at all.”[19] This correlates both with the assumed prevalence of spying, but also the irrationality of that assumption. While, as Brands describes it, “some of the anxieties were perfectly rational. Soviet communism was a threat. Spies did exist,”[20] Stuart’s experience truly exemplifies the absurd justifications which determined who was or was not an undercover agent. He has since concluded that his name was in these files because of his connection another one of the five revealed spies. Because Stuart had been involved with NATO, this scholar (whom Stuart occasionally worked with) “started treating me as if I were providing him with all this high-level top secret stuff which, of course, was absolutely untrue. He was elevating the significance of my stuff to justify his own existence and his own salary.”[21] The scholar and double agent needed to report to higher officials and, in order to do so regularly, exaggerated the importance of Stuart and his information. This man succeeded by merely manipulating the casual comments of a coworker, highlighting the ubiquity of spying and also the nonchalance of it.

But if there is a lesson to be learned from Stuart’s numerous encounters with double agents from both the American and Soviet side of the Cold War, “it’s first off how pervasive this spying was, particularly for folks that just found themselves doing research in certain kinds of areas and, second, how really kind of uninteresting these people were who were spies.”[22] Stuart’s experiences all occurred in normal settings, in places of work. However, he managed to come into contact with various people who all, ultimately, were working against their respective agencies or countries. This underlines the ordinariness of these double agents who were “in my [Stuart’s] experience anyway, people who were just trying to pick up a little extra pocket money or just fell into this position and thought it was a good idea for them to be doing this.”[23] His encounters demonstrate how the paranoia of the public was well-founded and legitimate, but only to a certain degree. These agents existed, perhaps as ubiquitous as feared, but their roles and they themselves were overstated to be far more extravagant than in actuality.

[1] Interview with Douglas T. Stuart, Carlisle, PA, April 13, 2016.

[2] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 51.

[3] Michael J. Sulick, Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012), 265.

[4] Ibid, 266.

[5] Interview with Douglas T. Stuart, Carlisle, PA, April 13, 2016.

[6] Rick Atkinson, “Spy against NATO given 12 years,” Wilmington Morning Star, Nov. 18, 1994, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1454&dat=19941118&id=L7ksAAAAIBAJ&sjid=DRUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6793,1244478&hl=en

[7] Mary Williams Walsh, “Spy Gets 12-Year Term in Germany: Espionage: Rainer Rupp admitted passing NATO documents to East’s security agency. Prosecutors called case the worst in alliance history.” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 18, 1994, http://articles.latimes.com/1994-11-18/news/mn-64323_1_rainer-rupp

[8] Wladek Flakin, “Cooling the Cold War,” Exberliner, Jan. 3, 2013, http://www.exberliner.com/features/people/the-spy-who-saved-the-world/

[9] Interview with Douglas T. Stuart, Carlisle, PA, April 13, 2016.

[10] Flakin.

[11] Interview with Douglas T. Stuart, Carlisle, PA, April 13, 2016.

[12] Special to The New York Times, “Russian Says U.S. Fascinates K.G.B.’s Chief,” New York Times, June 13, 1982 [Proquest]

[13] Ibid.

[14] David M. Giles, “Culture Called Best Weapon,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 1, 1987, http://articles.philly.com/1987-11-01/news/26173528_1_soviet-diplomat-soviet-domestic-policy-double-agent

[15] Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Yury Vladimirovich Andropov”, last modified Jan. 4, 2016, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Yury-Vladimirovich-Andropov.

[16] Miguel Faria, “KGB — The Secret Work of the Soviet Secret Agents,” Amazon, Dec. 25, 2012.

[17] Interview with Douglas T. Stuart, Carlisle, PA, April 13, 2016.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Brands, 53.

[21] Interview with Douglas T. Stuart, Carlisle, PA, April 13, 2016.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.