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Confession: I Was a Friend of a Russian Spy

Given what's going on in Washington right now, I had better come clean before I'm subpoenaed: I was friends with a Russian, indeed an actual high-ranking Soviet, spy. Pretty close friends, in fact.

His name was Yulian Semyonov and he was putatively a colonel in the KGB. He was also their best-selling author of espionage fiction, not the first novelist to have based at least some of his work on real-life spying (Fleming, Greene, LeCarré, etc).  Write what you know, they say.

Yulian and I knew each other for about seven years, meeting initially in Mexico in the eighties to form the International Association of Crime Writers -- the first writers' group with officers on both sides of the Iron Curtain, probably under KGB auspices -- then the Soviet Union, Spain, the U.S., and then again in the USSR.  He once stayed in my Los Angeles home in the company of the minister of culture of Nicaragua in the days of the Sandinistas, a dashing fellow who bore more than a passing resemblance to Ché Guevara. Yulian himself resembled Hemingway. They were en route to Managua and wanted me to come with them. (There goes any potential job I have in the Trump administration!)

I have written about this before but now -- with congressional committees grilling people about the likes of Michael Flynn and Carter Page with the specter of Russian blackmailing looming in the background -- I have to come forward with the following observation:

If you knew somebody anywhere close to the upper echelons of Soviet society then (and now -- Russia today is virtually the same thing with more SUVs), chances were above ninety percent he/she was a spy on some level or in close contact with one.  The only exceptions were the dissidents -- and some of them were spies.  If Sly Stone had been Russian, he would have titled his famous hit "Everybody Is a Spy!"

If I know this, the CIA and the NSA must know this and everybody on those congressional committees (well, maybe with a few exceptions) knows this. Also, (presumably) Michael Flynn and Carter Page knew this. The whole thing we're watching now is essentially a partisan charade, on the off-chance you hadn't noticed -- in which case either you've had a lobotomy or work at MSNBC.

So why did I join that international writers' group when I suspected even then the KGB was paying?  Well, curiosity. I'm a writer. It was a great chance to see a distant and somewhat forbidden part of the world and get to know people I would almost never have a chance to meet. Am I glad I did it?  Of course.  Did it have an effect on me? The opposite of what might have been intended -- it turned me away from socialism or anything like it, never to return.  From the moment I first arrived in the Soviet Union, I hated what I found -- other than those gorgeous churches and some pelmeni and other treats you can get in the Russian Tea Room on 57th Street.  I felt I was in a giant jail and wanted to get out almost immediately.