Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Spy Network!

Russian Spies in the Family! (Names changed to protect our relatives and friends)
    We recently had more overnight Israeli house guests. This time it was a first cousin, once removed to my husband, Amos, on his father's side of the family. Emma, the cousin, and her husband Dimitri grew up in Communist Bessarabia, which is now the independent country of Moldova. They lived in the capitol city, Kishinev, and immigrated to Israel in the 1980s. Dimitri was more or less a favorite "nephew" of my father-in-law Moshe. Moshe helped Dimitri and Emma get settled in Israel and helped Dimitri get a good managing job with the electric company in Israel. Emma is a pediatrician who practices in Israel. They now have two grown sons and grandchildren. We had become friendly with Dmitri and Emma and had hosted them before in our home in Milwaukee. They seemed a very nice couple and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We had even traveled with them from Virginia where we were all at a family bat mitzvah to our home in Milwaukee, through Gettysburg and Niagara Falls and other stops along the way. On that trip we stopped in downtown Chicago on the way home, and we took them up on the Sears Tower to see the view. Then Emma asked us if we could leave them in downtown Chicago and they would catch a bus up to Milwaukee at the end of the day. They wanted to do some shopping, she said. We offered to wait for them and go entertain ourselves for a while and pick them up at a set time. "No," she said that wouldn't do. They insisted on staying by themselves in the big city ostensibly "to shop."

     Well, it was a few years after this trip together, that we learned the unimaginable. Dimitri was indicted for spying for Russia, and agreed to cooperate and tell all about his years of gathering information from Israel, perhaps some through his electric company job and relaying it to Russian authorities. Dimitri and
Emma claimed that they never passed any information that was not already known by the Russians. We never knew whether their release to be able to leave Russia and emigrate to Israel was contingent on this spying. They still had family in Russia, her brother and his offspring, and maybe the Russians would put pressure on them or punish them if the spying were to end. We never knew. There has been the recent Russian spy story of the large spy group embedded in American society. This was probably a similar situation. Like the US spy ring, it did not seem that Dimitri and Emma made a lot of money for their efforts. They did like to go out evenings and drink or party with friends, yes, but they didn't live like wealthy people. And Emma particularly worked very long hours as a doctor. At the time, we did not think that money was a motivation for this behavior.

     This conviction nearly did Moshe in; in fact my mother-in-law blamed his final heart attack on the stress it induced. Dimitri was sentenced to 8 years in prison.  Emma was not indicted and she continued to take care of the two sons and work very hard as a pediatrician. When we spoke with her on the phone, she usually seemed overwhelmed. Was it worth it? Toward the end of those 8 years Dimitri was allowed out of jail to work during the day and then returned to jail at night. He was released completely a couple years ago. For the first couple years Dimitri was not allowed to leave Israel.

     Now finally, they were allowed out of Israel and they decided to come to the States on a leisure tour. They came to our home on Saturday and we got the Sendik's prime rib supper to have at home that night. On Sunday we went out for brunch at Roots in Milwaukee with its wonderful overview of the city of Milwaukee. Then we drove the couple around downtown showing them views, over Lake Michigan, of the Calatrava Art Museum, and of the River Walk. This time again, as happened years ago, Emma asked for us to leave them alone downtown to walk the River Walk, and shop. This reminded us of the occurrence years ago in Chicago. Emma had asked us a couple times while driving them around the city, "Are we in downtown now?" Were they meeting someone in "downtown Milwaukee" to pass information? I doubt it. I just think that Emma is kind of a nervous lady and she just needs to be on her own. She doesn't seem to have a lot of patience to be shown things by someone else. Well, at least, I hope that is the excuse.

     The recent US Russian spy ring that was arrested, and deported back to Russia very quickly has similar descriptions to our relatives. "Nice young couple."  "Raising children"  "Living in Suburbia of the US" "Stylish people"  No one suspected these people in the US of being spies. Likewise I don't think anyone suspected our relatives of such activities. Certainly we didn't. However, Israeli authorities knew there were a lot of these Russian immigrants that came in the 1970s and 1980s who were doing this. They even allowed such people to come forward and confess at one time during those decades, to be pardoned without any penalty. They knew Russia was coercing many of these people with pressure on family members who remained in Russia. Dimitri did not come forward at that time. We don't know why. Had they gotten used to the small amounts of money coming in?  Therefore when he was caught, he was prosecuted to the full law in Israel. My husband and I talk about this at times. Dimitri and Ella's oldest son was career military for a while in Israel. I often wonder if his parents' activities held back his career at all. Some of the Russian spies in the US had children as well. It was unknown if they were actually their children or not, or other actors for the role. One couple may have been faking their marriage but they had two small children that were probably theirs. Needless to say our experience raises the question of many more living incognito among us who are not who they seem. Hmm! Since our visitors, I wonder if our phone is tapped by the FBI.

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