Nicolai’s Truth

 

The World of Intelligence Intrigue

Lately there has been a lot off attention regarding Russia and its authoritarian regime. We have seen journalists and opposition leaders murdered. That process is not characteristic of just recent Russian history. I have a story from my past which is germane to current events and how we view our world.

Being in graduate school at Duke University working on my Ph.D. was fascinating in so many ways. The South was having a civil rights war, I found myself deep in Duke University Medical Center and I was meeting all manner of fascinating people. Not the least of whom was Nicolai.

One day a new student arrived. He was older than most of us and had a heavy Russian accent. How curious? In time I learned he had been the head of KGB operations for Eastern Europe. One night we fed him ample vodka and he told us about how his life had been as a high level intelligence operative. Like so many people, he considered himself to have been a patriot. But being a patriot of the kind he had been required to be turned out to be a proposition he could not, in the end, suffer. He decided to defect.

Betrayed!

Of course American intelligence was interested and he agreed on a condition. When he went on Radio Free America to announce his defection his wife and children would be picked up by our people and taken out of Russia. We didn’t do it and he lost his family.

Nonetheless he was true to his word partly because he could not accept the moral problems associated with the kind of murderous activities in which he had to be involved. Like other Russians recently working for reform he survived a poisoning with a radioactive substance and came to the United States to study clinical psychology. Interesting choice.

Honor and Truth

He was a touching individual and I never would have guessed his past. He was such a gentle and respectful person with a deep sense of honor. The stories he told us that night were immensely troubling. But his concluding statement about his past in intelligence was one I will never forget. “You think intelligence work is like James Bond. It is in fact like Get Smart.” In case you don’t remember Get Smart, it was a television comedy series about international intrigue. The players on that stage were often inept if not just plain incompetent. Nicolai was speaking a truth.

It was clear he meant the statement and the details of his life bore out his conclusion. What he conveyed was that we often have a view of things which we hold as truth. But truth is illusory and Nicolai’s story was yet another confirmation that we do, indeed, live on the cusp of reality.

What do you think of Nicolai’s conclusion?

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