They described her to me. They told me what she would look like, how she would act, and little idiosyncrasies about her that were different from the other women. And yet, I wanted to make excuses for her so that I didn’t have to believe she was who they told me she was. Is she really that good at deception? Even as I was asking myself the question, I already knew the answer; yes, she is.
In 1986 during the Cold War, I needed to deliver a package to someone in Russia. It couldn’t be sent by the normal means; I was asked to be the delivery boy. Being part of a tour group was the easiest option for entering the country. Background checks were run on all the people in the tour group, and it was discovered that two people who had signed up for the tour did not exist. There are several reasons why someone might fail this check. One of those possibilities was that the two people worked for the KGB, the Russian Security Service. Since one of the people who didn’t pass the background check was a woman, it was suggested that I be trained on the techniques of certain types of female agents. She most likely would be a counterintelligence agent. Still, they couldn’t rule out the possibility that she was one of their foreign agents living in America undercover.
I met Mary, the woman who didn’t exist, on my first full day in Moscow. The trainer had told me that if Mary was a counterintelligence agent, she would wear out-of-date clothing on her first day. She needed to be attractive to the men in the group but could not afford to alienate the females. They overcome this by dressing in out-of-date clothing, and then she would ask some of the ladies her age to give suggestions on how to dress. Once they helped her, she was no longer their competition but their creation.
They had told me that she would not be drop-dead gorgeous. Most men are intimidated by beautiful women. They would not trust that a gorgeous woman would approach them without ulterior motives. The ideal female agent looks like an ordinary girl. They recruited ordinary-looking, intelligent women with a knack for languages. They would then make sure that her face was symmetrical. If there were a blemish or a mole on her face, it would be surgically removed. I’m not sure why, but they said she would not wear eyeshadow and would not put eyeliner on the lower eyelid. Jewelry was kept at a minimum and always small and delicate. Ultimately, they would try to make her the best of the ordinary. Mary turned out to be just that when the young ladies in the group loaned her clothing and helped with her makeup.
The instructor told me they got information from female agents caught in the United States and Great Britain. Everything about these agents was based on years of psychological research by the KGB. Most young ladies, when recruited, considered themselves small, insignificant, and easily dismissed. Since this would not be helpful for an agent, training overcame it. Routinely, these women were put in charge of training operations, which included men. Communicating with very subtle sign language, the men followed her every command. The men were severely disciplined if they did not obey her orders without question. The female agent was reminded to remain feminine and let the instructors punish the men. With each assignment, they became more self-assured and blossomed as a person. Once they gained self-confidence, they were trained to pretend they were more demure. She never criticized anyone or pointed out when anyone said something wrong. She seemed like their best friend to the women; to the men, she was their non-competitive, non-threatening equal who would be pleasant to talk to.
Mary remembered everyone’s names. Since it would cost me ten years in prison if they discovered why I was in Russia, I tried not to converse with her. But when she did talk to me, I felt I had her complete attention.
Mary turned out to be a counterintelligence agent. She became the most popular person in the tour group. Claiming to be from Chicago, she spoke perfect English with a Midwestern accent. She said she’d come to Russia to visit her brother, who she claimed worked at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. However, there was no objective evidence that he actually did. A charming man showed up, claiming to be the brother. I was amazed at how open people in the group were to share intimate details of why they came to Russia. Ordinarily, they would have never shared those details with someone representing the State.
It was fascinating to watch Mary work. One evening at dinner, she spotted a sweater on the floor behind a woman’s chair as she returned from the restroom. She picked it up and put it on the chair back as she walked towards her table. The people at the table where the sweater fell did not seem to notice, but everyone at our table did. The conversation immediately switched to what a wonderful person she was. She was always “on,” even if no one was watching. There were a thousand little things she did, and each one was designed to confirm the role she was playing. She seemed like the model of the kind of loving, caring person Christians are trying to be.
There is no way for me to know if what I saw was the real Mary. Possibly she is just like the wonderful woman she portrayed. On the other hand, she might be quite different. At any rate, she was a dedicated civil servant doing her job, trying to protect her country using the available tools and techniques.
I had no idea how effective the agent’s techniques were until I stood alone with her at a memorial in Leningrad, now called Saint Petersburg. She came and stood next to me as close as she could without touching me and began to talk. It hit home when I realized she was now analyzing me as part of her job. It was fascinating to watch her work until she decided to work on me; then, it was frightening. She was so much better at this than I was. I excused myself, making some vague remark that sounded like I was having an attack of diarrhea and needed to return to the hotel bathroom. Fortunately, that last-minute training before I left home kept me from saying something that could have jeopardized my freedom.
The Russians took ordinary simple girls that the people around them dismissed as less important and turned them into someone like Mary. They did it by primarily getting rid of the influences in their life holding them back. It strikes me that I want to be the best person I can be, and maybe I need to learn a lesson from the Russians. I began asking myself, what are the things in my life that hold me back? Here’s a quick rundown of my list that immediately came to mind:
Most of us are more than familiar with the areas where we are tempted. Not giving in to those temptations is a high priority.
There was a time years ago when I was working two jobs. Both jobs were highly stressful and required all my mental abilities to do them well. One day I realized that I had been having more difficulty on the job over the past few weeks and thought possibly the work had become more challenging to do. In thinking about it, I realized it was a coincidence of my beginning to listen to a radio political commentary each day and the difficulty I was having at work. As a test, I stopped listening to the political commentary and almost immediately realized the difficulties at work had gone away. The stock and trade of political commentary are to make the listener angry or fearful. Anger fogs the brain. No matter how smart you are, the brain has a limited capacity for what it can think about at a given time. When we become angry, it rolls over and over in our minds while trying to think about other things, such as our work. Anger can have the same practical result as lowering our IQ.
We all have those situations that pop up in our life where if we are not afraid, we are stupid. Fear Is not a bad thing but has to be dealt with because it clouds our thinking by reducing our possible choices. Leaving for Russia, I became very afraid. I remember driving down an Interstate in Atlanta, thinking I didn’t want to go because I feared ending up in a gulag (prison) for years. I pulled off the road and parked in the parking lot of a closed restaurant. I sat there and told the Lord I didn’t want to go because I was afraid. Suddenly a thought went through my brain that sounded like my voice, but it wasn’t as if it was my thought. It said, “If my plan for the rest of your life is in a Russian gulag, would you want to miss it?” I’m not sure how long I sat there, but it seemed a long time before I answered. I said, “No, Lord, I wouldn’t want to miss it. I’ll go.”
My list of those I’m judgmental towards keeps getting shorter over the years. But, the Lord keeps pointing out people I haven’t even realized I was critical toward and adding to my list.
What others think
This is the one thing that holds me back more than all the rest, and most of the time, I don’t even realize it’s going on. You would think someone my age would have gotten past this. For example, I want to inform you by writing this blog, but I don’t want to offend you. Unfortunately, most people do not get subtle. God help me.
I know we will be changed in heaven. Even things that divide us in this life, such as wealth, education, race, or nationality, will no longer be a problem. We will be able to be useful to the Lord beyond our most ambitious dreams. We will all be our very best selves in the service of the Lord forever, but I would like to be changed now and make the best of the time I have left in this life.
Leave a Reply