The CIA and Air Force did their best to steel Belenko
against one danger that was foreseeable.
No matter how knowledgeable, perspicacious, intelligent,
and helpful an escapee from the Soviet Union may
be, there inevitably arrives a time when his special knowledge
is exhausted. The initial, intense drama that binds
interrogated and interrogators together personally and intellectually
in a common cause sooner or later must end.
The Americans who have been daily or frequent companions,
who have formed for the Russian a kind of
spiritual lifeline in a bewilderingly strange society must
disperse and depart for other duties. And the Russian
must begin a new life which only he can finally forge.
The KGB habitually warns military officers, Soviet civilians
allowed abroad, and its own personnel that should
they defect, "The Americans will squeeze you like a lemon,
and once they have squeezed you dry, they will throw you
into the garbage like a peel." Unless the transition from
dependence to independence is accomplished adroitly, the
Russian may feel that he is being thrown away. The consequent
sense of abandonment, betrayal, aimlessness, and
 loneliness can cause disabling depression or destructive
Throughout the months of interrogation, Gregg, Anna,
Peter, and others strove to gird Belenko for the transition
by frankly explaining what it eventually would entail, exposing
him to differing facets of American society, and
giving him practical knowledge. Anna stimulated him to
think about making the kind of choices, large and small,
which are mostly unnecessary in the Soviet Union. To illustrate,
she asked: Do most Soviet citizens have to decide
which apartment or house they will rent or buy, where
they will shop, which type of clothes to wear, which television
station to watch, which newspapers to read, which
brands of products they prefer, where they will vacation,
which route to take when traveling, in which motel or
hotel they will stay, which theater to attend, which make
of car they will drive and where they will buy it, which
physician will treat them?
No, of course not. In that country you take whatever
they will give you, whatever you can find. You don't
choose. They choose. Or luck chooses.
The CIA deliberately waited until the end of the interrogations
to prepare Belenko financially. He never asked
for or about money; he worked and gave sedulously of his
own free will. By waiting until all had been given, the CIA
tried to connote to him its appreciation that neither he nor
all he brought was for sale. Nevertheless, both fairness and
U.S. national interests required handsome recompense. The
value of Belenko's contributions, as everyone who knew of
them agreed, was inestimable, and however indifferent he
was to money, he deserved reward. Successfully and
healthily integrated as an American, he would remain an
asset to the military and intelligence establishment for
many years. His success in the United States would tend to
invite future defections; his failure, to deter them.
Hence, the CIA told Belenko that the United States felt
it owed him a debt. Considering the sacrifices of status and
career he had made to give so much to the United States,
it would be unfair to ask him to start in a foreign country
with nothing. Accordingly the CIA had established an
 irrevocable trust, to be managed by competent financial
experts, that would yield him a generous income for the
rest of his life.
With this guaranteed income, Belenko could live anywhere
he wished, do virtually anything he wanted without
having to earn a living. He could enroll in a university and
take a degree in any of the subjects that had engrossed him
as an adolescent — medicine, biology, psychology, physics.
He could open some kind of shop to exercise his mechanical
aptitudes and interests. He could make his way into
commercial aviation. Or he could do nothing except fish,
hunt, read, and fly his own private plane.
Belenko was grateful for the offer and the way it was
made, but it did not overjoy him or resolve any of the issues
that most concerned him. Although he came from a
society where scarcity obsesses most people with materialism,
he was one of the least materialistic of men. He did
not have a pair of shoes until he was six, wore the same
shirt and trousers for five years as a teenager, and, aside
from his uniforms, never owned a suit until the Japanese
gave him one. After marriage, he purchased a television,
refrigerator and furniture, not for himself but in hope of
pleasing and making a home for his bride. He felt no impulse
now to compensate or overcompensate for past deprivations;
he still aspired to live by the code of Spartacus.
He did cherish the Air Force flight suit and the Navy
flight jacket; he did want a car because in America it was a
necessity and an instrument of freedom. Otherwise, he did
not covet material possessions.
The superabundance he saw in the United States intrigued
and excited him because of what it signified — a
system that had already produced what the Soviet system
all his life had promised but was light-years away from delivering.
Before attempting to create a place, a purpose,
and freedom for himself within the American system, he
needed to discover and understand how and why the system
They are not throwing me away like a lemon. They
mean to be fair, to be kind to me. But I must find my own
way. I must prove I can make my own way. I will accept
 their offer, and it can be my parachute if I fail. But until I
see whether I can survive myself, I will take only enough
money to start.
Partly consciously, partly unconsciously, Belenko determined
to explore the United States through Soviet eyes, to
assess it according to all he had been taught in the Soviet
Union. Though already persuaded that much of what he
had been told was false, he thought that the Dark Forces
had exposed him only to the best and that he should first
examine the worst. The worst in the Soviet Union, outside
a concentration camp, was a farm, so he announced that
he wished to work for a while on a farm.
Fine, said the CIA. It would try to help him obtain a
job as a farmhand. First, though, he must undergo a complete
physical examination; then he should spend a month
or so in a quiet university environment improving his English
and learning more about how to navigate socially on
For the physical, Belenko flew with Gregg to Brooks
Air Force Base in San Antonio. Having been looked at by
a physician almost every day of his life as a Soviet pilot
and thoroughly examined every six months, he considered
the venture pointless and boring.
He was shocked when an Air Force dentist informed
him that five teeth recessed in his gums would have to be
extracted and seven others filled or capped. Remembering
the agony of having had a tooth pulled in Rubtsovsk, he
argued vehemently that no such necessity could exist; else
the many dentists who had inspected his mouth over the
years would have recognized it. The dentist displayed
X rays, pointed out the troublesome teeth, and projected
the decay and infection that would ensue unless they were
removed. An anesthetic induced euphoria, then unconsciousness,
and Belenko was bothered for only a couple of
days of tolerable soreness.
The painlessness of the procedure, the detection of his
atrocious dental condition, the thoroughness with which he
was examined, and the immaculate hospital impressed him.
Here is a big chance. It's obvious they're good doctors.
 They should know. Probably they're good men and will
tell the truth. Go ahead. Ask them.
No Party defamation of the United States had affected
Belenko more than the Soviet descriptions of American
medical care. He still believed that medical treatment in the
United States was so expensive that unless one was rich or
privileged, serious illness or accident meant financial ruin,
irreversible impoverishment. The specter of untold numbers
of American workers and their families suffering,
maybe even dying, because they feared the catastrophic
costs of visiting a physician or hospital proved in his mind
that at least in one important respect capitalism was inferior
to communism, which provided free medical care.
He knew, of course, that Soviet medical care often was
inadequate and distributed unequally. How else to account
for the flourishing medical black market? If one wanted to
ensure oneself or a loved one a first-class appendectomy
performed under sanitary conditions by a skilled surgeon
at night in his office, one made a deal with the doctor. (In
1976 the going rate for a black market appendectomy was
100 rubles.) Still, if one waited and took his chances, medical
care was free, just as his dental care had been.
So Belenko put the military doctors through a polite inquisition.
Is this a typical American hospital? How much
does it cost to stay in a hospital? To pay a doctor? How
can a worker afford it? How can someone very old or poor
afford it? How much does a doctor earn? A nurse? How
long do you have to wait to see a doctor? To get into a
The physicians enhanced their credibility to Belenko by
prefacing their answers with some qualifications. Medical
care in the United States way expensive and becoming more
so. The rising costs, the causes of which were many, concerned
everybody. A disadvantaged minority of Americans
probably did not receive care that was adequate by American
standards, but the reasons often were sociological and
cultural rather than medical or economic. And there were
exceptions to the best generalizations they could offer.
Then they answered his questions, and their answers
 What! You mean they pay a doctor twice as much as a
fighter pilot? You mean you pick your own doctor, and if
he makes you wait too long or you don't like the way he
treats you, you go to another doctor? That means he has to
try to treat all his patients well, or they'll go somewhere
else. And you can sue a doctor or the hospital if they do
Wait a minute. Nobody ever told me the government
pays for the old and the poor. And nobody ever told me
about this insurance. Nobody ever said anything about insurance
paying most of the bills. They lied. All these years,
they lied, and they knew they were lying!
By some artifice, the CIA arranged for Belenko to audit
courses temporarily at a medium-sized southern university,
and he, together with a young CIA officer, rented an apartment
near the campus. Representing himself as a visiting
Norwegian eager to learn about the United States, he
mingled among students, inquiring about their backgrounds,
how they qualified for the university and supported
themselves. He reconnoitered the medical school
and noted all he would have to do to become a physician.
One weekend he went from service station to service station
asking for a job as a mechanic, and two stations offered
him part-time jobs. He reckoned that he could earn at
least $120 a week while attending school, and it would
be much easier to work while attending an American university
because no time was wasted on political indoctrination.
In this country, unless you are very stupid, you can go
to a university of some kind no matter whether you are
rich or poor, male or female, black or white, young or old.
If I passed the entrance examination, I could do it. I could
be a doctor. Even if I did not receive a scholarship, I could
borrow money from the government. Even if I could not
borrow money, I could earn enough as a mechanic. I would
have to work hard at night and on the weekend and in the
summer. So what? I could do it without anybody's help.
Someone in the CIA, through a friend, steered him to a
family farm more than half a continent away from Washington.
Yes, they needed a farmhand, and they would be
 pleased to take a young Russian and tell nobody he was
Russian, provided he was able and willing to work just
like anybody else at standard wages. Belenko was drilled
in methods of secretly communicating with the CIA, given
emergency numbers, and assured that a call day or night
would bring him instant help. Gregg and Peter also gave
him their home numbers and urged him to call whenever
he felt like talking. And the CIA emphasized that all the
money and support he might need were cached in Washington.
Before he left, Anna gave a party for him, serving
deviled eggs with caviar, herring, smoked salmon, borscht,
onion and tomato salad, piroshki, Georgian wine, and
Russian vodka. She played the guitar and sang Russian
folk songs, and some of the Americans, all of whom spoke
Russian, joined her. They told Russian jokes and stories
and danced as in Russia.
Their efforts, however, affected Belenko differently from
the way they had intended. What is the matter with you?
I'm homesick. I miss my rotten country. Idiot! Don't think
like that. That is dangerous.
Belenko arrived by bus at the farm in the late afternoon,
and the owner, Fred, his wife, Melissa, and partner, Jake,
greeted him on the front porch of the large frame farmhouse
painted white with green shutters. Supper, as they
called it, was waiting, and after washing, he joined them
and their three children around a long oak dining table
laden with country food — pickled ham, relish, veal cutlets,
corn on the cob, fresh green beans with onions and new
potatoes, hot biscuits, iced tea, and peach cobbler with
whipped cream. Always, in a new social situation, Belenko
watched what the Americans did and tried to emulate
them, so when they bowed their heads, he did the same.
Fred said a brief prayer, and Belenko did not understand
it all; but one sentence touched him: "Bless this home,
our family, and he who joins us." He thought far back
through the years to the cold, barren day when his father
had left him on another farm, the kolkhoz in Siberia. The
squalid Siberian hut where he had been given milk and
bread and the spacious farmhouse with all its largesse were
 as different as the moon and earth. But the spirit in which
he was welcomed at each farm was the same.
Heretofore Belenko had thought that corn on the cob
was fed only to livestock, and he tasted it with reservation.
This is good! I wish I could send some to hell for Khrushchev.
All the food was good. His conspicuous enjoyment of
it pleased Melissa, and the knowledge he exhibited during
talk about farming pleased the men.
He had heard about it; he had read about it; he had
glimpsed signs of it from roads and the sky. But Belenko
had to experience the efficiency of an American farm to
comprehend. His understanding began in the morning as
Fred showed him the equipment — a tractor, combine,
harvester, machinery for seeding, irrigating, fertilizing, an
electronically controlled lighting system that caused hens
to lay eggs on schedule, automatic milking devices, two
cars, a large pickup truck — and then Belenko saw, of all
things, an airplane.
"Why do you have an airplane?"
"Oh, I was in the Air Force; gunner, not a pilot. But I
still got the bug, and it's stayed with me. The plane comes
in handy. We can get anything we need in a hurry and
look over the whole place in fifteen to twenty minutes.
Mostly, though, I keep it because for some reason I just
like to fly."
"I understand your feelings."
"You ever fly?"
"Good! Would you like to go up with me on Sunday?"
In a few days Belenko deduced that beyond mechanization,
there were two other reasons that enabled Fred, his
wife, their children, Jake, and one laborer — himself — to
work the farm embracing several hundred acres of cultivated
land plus pasture and woodland. Fred and Jake knew
about every scientific aspect of farming — veterinary medicine,
fertilization, use of pesticides, crop rotation, irrigation.
For almost twenty years they had kept meteorological
records so they could make their own weather forecasts.
They could service and repair all the machinery 
themselves. Along with Melissa, they were accountants and
salesmen. And they worked, hard, carefully, enthusiastically,
from sunrise to sunset, taking off only Sunday and
sometimes Saturday afternoon. They treat this whole farm
as if it were their private plot. Well, of course. That's right.
On Sunday afternoon they took off in a Beechcraft
from a grassy landing strip, climbed about 1,000 feet into
cloudless sky, and flew in a rectangle, roughly tracing the
farm boundaries. Fred ascended to 8,000 feet, described
neighboring farms and their history, and then flew over
the two nearest small towns. "Would you like to try the
Belenko nodded. Having flown a Beechcraft in Virginia,
he knew its capabilities and limitations, and he banked
easily 180 degrees to the left, then 180 degrees to the right,
looking to ensure no other planes were in the vicinity.
"You really are a flier."
"Do you like aerobatics?"
"Okay. Go ahead. But remember, we don't have chutes."
The urge was childish but overpowering. Quickly he
looped the plane, started another loop, and at the top
flipped over, executing an Immelmann with which he had
impressed Nadezhda. He rolled, stalled, spun, did every
maneuver the plane could safely withstand. At first, Fred
laughed and shouted, like a boy on a roller coaster. Suddenly
he fell silent, and seeing him paling, Belenko leveled
off. "I am sorry. I am acting like a fool."
"No, that's all right. Take her down."
Fred said nothing during descent, landing, or while they
lashed the wings and tail to mooring rings, and Belenko
was sure he had angered him.
"I'm afraid you have told me something you didn't mean
to. You're the MiG-25 pilot, aren't you?"
You are a fool, Belenko! A snotty-nosed fool!
"Don't worry. I won't tell anyone. We thought we'd
found ourselves a real good farmhand. I realize now that
you'll be moving on. So I'll say only this. As long as I live,
you'll have a home on this farm, and you can come and go
as you please."
 Fred kept the secret, and Belenko continued to labor as
an ordinary farmhand, driving the tractor, plowing, seeding,
digging irrigation ditches, feeding cows and pigs, helping
build a new barn and maintain the machinery. In
return, he received $400 a month, free medical insurance,
a cottage with a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath,
free meals with the family or all the food he wanted to
cook himself, and use of one of the family cars in the
evening and on weekends. These all were perquisites promised
at the time he was hired.
Having recognized his identity, Fred additionally allowed
Belenko to fly with him on weekends and, if he
could be spared from work, on cross-country trips. Studying
private and commercial aviation in the United States,
Belenko concluded that even were he to start as a penniless
farmhand, he eventually could become a ranking airline
pilot. In Russian he drafted a program entitled "How
to Be 747 Pilot — My Plan."
He calculated that in three years he could easily save
from his wages $12,000 which would more than pay for
the 40 hours of flight time necessary for a private license
and the additional 160 hours requisite to a commercial
license. Once licensed, he would take any job as a commercial
pilot, gain the reputation of a skilled, reliable flier,
and prepare himself for airline examinations. Then he
would work his way upward from copilot on small jets to
It will take maybe twenty years. But it can be done. Also,
private pilots here are very friendly. They will let you fly
with them for nothing. So I could get a lot of free flight
At harvesttime they employed temporary workers, combines
came from nearby farms, and in three days 400 acres
of tall green corn were transformed into what looked like
a pretty meadow. That was a miracle. No, it was not. Anybody
could do it — if he had the machines, and the machines
worked, and he knew how and was free to do it.
The night harvesting ended, they sat on the front porch
and drank cold hard cider. It reminded Belenko of the
homemade wine the farmers had given the air cadets and
 students summoned into the orchards outside Armavir.
The mechanism of the mind which often and mercifully
deadens memories of the bad blocked out the sight of tens
of thousands of apples rotting, of the system that made
every harvest a national crisis.
That was a good time. The girls were pretty, the fruit
sweet, the farmers friendly. We had fun. I wish I could see
Armavir just for one day, hear nothing but Russian just
for a day.
In his sleep a terrible vision visited him. Vorontsov was
smiling, beckoning, calling, and pulling him from the State
Department conference room with an invisible chain
wrapped around his waist. "It is time, Viktor Ivanovich.
You are coming home. Come with me, Viktor Ivanovich."
He awakened shouting, "Nyet, nyet!"
That was a ridiculous dream. You drank too much of
that cider. Take some aspirin, and go to sleep.
Reflecting on the nightmare in the morning and vaguely
sensing its portent, Belenko undertook to exorcise the
causes by assaying his experiences in rural America. You
came out here looking for the worst, and what did you
find? These farmers, they live better than almost anybody
in Moscow or Leningrad. I'm not even sure that Politburo
members can buy in Moscow everything you can buy out
here in Sticksville. Why, a common laborer on this farm
is better off than a Soviet fighter pilot. And you don't have
to put up with all that shit, from the first day of school
until the last day you breathe. These farmers, they don't
listen to anything they don't want to. They just show the
government or anybody else the big finger. They are not
afraid. They are free people. They say all their guns are
for hunting. But they would shoot anybody who tried to
deport them or take away their freedom.
And the way they do things works. Look at the harvest!
Did they bring in the Air Force and the Army and students
and workers from two hundred fifty kilometers away
and screw around for weeks and let a third of the crop rot
because the machinery broke down and nobody knew or
cared what he was doing?
 Lied! It's worse than lying. The Party turned the truth
upside down. It's the kolkhozniks who are the serfs. No
wonder a farmer here produces ten times as much as a
kolkhoznik! No wonder they have to buy from the Americans!
Don't forget that. Don't forget what you've seen
with your own eyes, here and there.
After this analysis and introspection Belenko concluded
there was no more to learn on the farm, and he had already
recognized an insuperable defect in his plan to obtain
pilot's licenses while working on the farm. To fly commercially
or even alone and to investigate the United States
as thoroughly as he wished, he would have to improve his
mastery of English markedly. So when the CIA summoned
him to Washington to confer about some sensitive new
matters, he decided to leave permanently and immerse himself
wholly in language study.
Fred flew Belenko to the airport of a city some 150 miles
distant. "Remember, you always have a home."
From a list compiled by Peter, Belenko chose a commercial
institute specializing in teaching foreigners seeking
high proficiency in English. Peter suggested that before
departing, he ought to buy a car, gave him some automotive
magazines, and took him to several dealers. You can
buy a car in this country as easily as a loaf of bread! Everybody
wants to sell me a car! They don't care whether I
can pay for it now or not. Just give them a few hundred
dollars, and they give you a car. How can they trust people
Driving alone in his new medium-sized sedan, Belenko
experienced both another form of freedom and bewilderment
as he headed into the South on multilane interstate
highways. It's just as Father Peter and Anna said. You
don't have to ask anybody permission to go anywhere. With
a car and a map, you can drive anywhere day or night,
and always you can find fuel and food. How can they
afford to let everybody just get up and go anywhere he
pleases whenever he wants? What keeps order in this
Sunday at the institute was intellectual fun. Most of the
students, drawn from all parts of the Middle East, Asia,
 and South America, were as serious as the demanding instructors
who proceeded on the thesis that the secret of
mastering a foreign language is sheer hard work. The students
had to listen, drill, recite, and converse eight hours
daily, take exams after regular classes, and do homework
at night. As his command of English grew under this regimen
so did his power to indulge his fondness of reading.
Periodically he brought home from the public library armloads
of books, particularly the works of George Orwell,
Arthur Koestler, and Milovan Djilas, which refined his
understanding and hardened his hatred of Soviet communism.
But the more he delved into daily American life, the
further the fundamental understanding he sought seemed
to recede from his reach. Looking for the cheapest apartment
available, he rented one in what he was told was a
working-class neighborhood. Although not as commodious
as that in Virginia, the apartment was by the standards he
knew luxurious, and everything functioned: the air conditioning,
stove, plumbing, garbage disposal. Talking and
sometimes drinking beer with the neighbors, he learned
that they indeed were what he would term workers, and not
only could they afford to rent apartments like his for $200
monthly, but some actually planned to buy their own
houses. From them he also began to learn about labor
unions, collective bargaining, and strikes, all of which
utterly mystified him.
The Party described American labor unions as subterfuges
by which the Dark Forces more handily controlled
and manipulated workers. The few strikes reported were
represented as impulses of revolution, which, of course,
the police lackeys of the Dark Forces would quickly crush,
rather than as a form of normal labor relations. When
Belenko saw his first picket line, he saw another great lie.
They turned the truth upside down again! What they
said American labor unions are is just what Soviet labor
unions are. Why, these workers and their unions can shut
down a whole factory by just walking out and demonstrating.
What would have happened if we had done that
at the tank factory? But how can you allow that? How can
 you allow workers to stop production if they don't think
they're paid enough? That doesn't make any sense. It's
Although he got along amicably with his fellow students,
Belenko had no close friends among them because he preferred
to associate outside the institute with Americans who
could educate him about the United States. There was one
student, however, whom he delighted in seeing. Maria was
an exquisite young woman, an arresting figure in yellow
or brightly printed dresses or white lace blouses, a classic
Latin beauty with flowing black hair, dark eyes, full lips,
and a soft olive complexion. Beyond the beauty he could
see, Belenko sensed in her presence the grace and confidence
of a lady whose inner security enabled her to laugh,
tease, and be at ease with anyone. She brightened his
thoughts as a fresh flower might, and sometimes he wondered
if the librarian who had benefited him when he was
a boy in Siberia might not many decades before have been
In one of the group discussions a young Iranian, who
sported a $20,000 Mercedes, orated about the "plastic
society" and materialism of the United States, citing Coca-Cola,
fast-food chains, neon signs, and trash along the
highways as examples. As if challenged to a fight, Belenko
instinctively stood up. "Which society led man into the
nuclear age? Which society led man into space and the
moon? If we were in your country, what would happen to
us if we openly said what we thought was bad about it? If
this society is so terrible, why have we all come from our
own countries to learn here? Why here instead of some
As he was walking toward his car after class, Maria
called to him to wait for her. "I agree with what you said,
and I am proud of you for saying it." They began discussing
their reactions to the United States, comments from
one excited comments from the other, and they stood, each
holding three or four books, talking for nearly an hour
before Belenko proposed dinner.
Maria ordered rum and Coca-Cola, which Belenko
thought a comical concoction. "No, it is not. If that Iranian
 knew you are supposed to put rum in Coca-Cola, he would
not denounce it."
Answering his questions, Maria told him of her background.
Her parents owned a plantation in South America,
but she had attended a university and resolved to do something
worthwhile. The only practical choices that seemed to
be available to her as a woman were teaching or nursing, so
she had chosen to be a teacher in rural areas, where teachers
were most needed. There she had become interested in
helping the mentally handicapped and retarded children
for whom no organized, scientific programs were offered.
Because so much of the research concerning birth defects
and retardation was conducted in the United States, she
desired to broaden her knowledge of English, and when
her parents, anxious to get her out of the countryside,
offered her a trip to the United States, she decided to study
at the institute.
According to the custom of her class and culture, her
parents virtually had arranged for her to marry the scion
of a neighboring plantation family. Although she scarcely
knew the man and had not yet consented, her sense of
duty and devotion to her aging parents made refusal
She found the United States largely a classless society; at
least she had been able to meet and relate to people irrespective
of their social origins or economic status. In her
opinion, the opportunities in America were limitless, and
personally she would have liked to stay. But she knew that
all her life she would feel guilty if she did not return to her
own land and do whatever she could to help her people.
He asked her to dance, and on the small floor she gently
pulled him close to her. "You dance as if you were a prize
fighter and I your opponent. Hold me lightly. Or tightly, if
He drove her home and bade her good-night with a
handshake. Lying awake, he visualized her dancing and
felt her again in his arms. She is as beautiful inside as she
is outside. She knows something about life, what is real,
what is useless. We think the same. I speak only a few
words, and she understands all I mean to say. She is all I
 ever wanted. But she is going back to her country in a
couple of months. I cannot follow her. I cannot ask her to
give up her country and stay with me. I do not know
what will happen to me. I cannot even tell her who I really
am. I care too much for her. I must not see her anymore.
To go further will only hurt us both.
Aside from exchanging greetings at the institute, he did
not talk with her again until the night of a party at the
home of an instructor. Having asked each student to prepare
a dish typifying the cuisine of his or her country, the
instructor put Maria and Belenko in charge of the kitchen,
perhaps because they, along with a young French businessman,
were the quickest pupils. The kitchen was hot and
crowded, and they were kept busy washing pots, pans, and
dishes, but they performed these pedestrian chores as a
natural team, each eager to help the other. She reached
up with a damp towel and wiped perspiration from his
forehead. Once their eyes met, and neither could deny nor
disguise the magic between them. Anything with her is joy.
The class collected money to buy the instructor a gift in
appreciation of the party and appointed Maria and Belenko
to pick out the present. After they went shopping on a
Saturday morning, his desire to be with her longer prevailed
over his judgment, and he invited her to lunch. It
was so easy to talk with her that he found himself expressing
thoughts he had never articulated to anyone. "I
believe there is a higher purpose in life than just surviving,
just having all the possessions and money you need. I don't
know what the purpose is. But I think each person has to
be free to the purpose."
"Do you believe in God?"
"I don't know. I think there must be something higher
than man. But I don't understand what it is. Do you?"
"I want to. All my life I have gone to church. Sometimes
the music and quiet are very beautiful to me, and I
feel as you, that there is something higher. Then I see
things that the church does, and I am not sure. It is said
in church that God is love. Maybe that is the purpose. To
love someone and be loved by someone."
 The drift seemed dangerous to Belenko, and he suggested
"Only if you will make me a promise."
"What is that?"
"The week from tomorrow I am invited to the home of
some friends of my parents. They live about forty miles
away. Promise that you will take me."
Belenko, blond, fair, blue-eyed, with the athletic bearing
of an officer, and Maria, her dark beauty adorned in
lace and long white skirt, formed a striking couple, and
the Spanish family welcomed them graciously to their
American replica of a small hacienda. The host and hostess
were especially interested in meeting a Russian. In accordance
with the story prepared by the CIA for his use at the
institute, he explained that he had fled while serving as a
junior official on a Soviet trade mission to Scandinavia.
His fresh perspectives of the Soviet Union, which conformed
to the antipathies of the host, made him all the
Belenko had thought they were to stay all day, but after
a lavish luncheon Maria eloquently thanked the family, in
English for his benefit, and announced that they must depart
to prepare for examinations the next day; that was
"Why did you do that?"
"I wanted to be with you."
"We won't be able to be with each other much more.
You leave next week, don't you?"
"That is why I want to be with you now. May I tell you
"You will not make fun of me?"
"I love you."
"It is the way I feel. I have never had such a feeling.
When I am with you or see you or think of you, I am
happy. I do not know where you have been or who you
were. But I know you, Viktor."
 "We will only hurt each other. After a few more days
we can never see each other again."
"Do you like me?"
"I love you."
On a Friday afternoon he drove her across the state to
the airport from which she would fly out of his life in the
morning. Throughout their discussions they spoke rationally,
They realized that genuine love does not spring up suddenly,
spontaneously, magically, that it evolves gradually
through shared experiences, interests, adversities. They
recognized that they had known each other far too briefly
to be sure that they were not just ephemerally and romantically
attracted. And their backgrounds, their cultures were
so different that these differences were bound to assert
themselves in the future, no matter how harmoniously they
got along now. Of course, Maria could not repudiate her
obligations to her parents, her customs, her people and
country. She never could be at ease with her conscience or
happy outside her own country. No (for reasons he could
not explain), he could not live in South America. Should
they keep in touch? No, that would only torment them
both. Why pursue what never can be? They should be
grateful for the lovely friendship they had shared.
After Belenko carried her luggage into the airport motel
room where she would sleep until the morning flight, the
front collapsed. She sobbed hopelessly, forlornly, as if all
her life were ending. "Oh, Viktor, spend the night with me."
By dawn he knew that in her and their love he had
found a fulfilling purpose of life. What can I do? I must
do what is best for her. She will have a good life without
me. I cannot take her away from her family, her people.
What can I give to her? I'd better go while I can.
He dressed quickly, quietly, as he had on the last morning
in Chuguyevka. "Darling Maria, it is best I just go
now. Wherever you are, I love you."
Through the closed door, he heard her crying hysterically.
"Solo tu! Siempre, solo tu!"
Shock anesthetized him for a while. Then, on the third
or fourth day, the pain struck: ceaseless, incapacitating
 pain. You found the greatest beauty and purpose life can
hold. And you threw it away. And you can never find it
again. You will never see her again.
At the institute he ceased to function; he could not concentrate
or learn. The instructors concluded that the intensity
of study had made him stale and that he had
reached a plateau which temporarily bogs down the best
of language students, and they recommended he take a
couple of months off. If he could afford it, they suggested,
he should tramp around the country, practicing English.
Wearing his Navy flight jacket, he drove recklessly toward
Washington, receiving three speeding tickets on the
way, and pulled up, unannounced, at Peter's house. That
house, he previously had noted, because of the necessities
enforced by eight children, always was run with the same
precision as life on an aircraft carrier.
"Father Peter, I have a plan. You send me back to Soviet
Union as agent. Drop me in the Far East; I will show
you just where to go through the radar. You think it is so
difficult to spy in that country. But I know that country,
and I can do it so easily. What you Americans never have
understood is that you can buy anything in that country,
very cheaply too.
"A judge, only two hundred rubles. Plant manager, five
hundred. Militiaman, fifty. What we really want we don't
have to buy. I can get you a MiG-23 and a Backfire [a
Soviet bomber] for nothing. My friends will fly them
wherever I say.
"I know that place; I feel it the way nobody who is not
Russian can. I can smell; I can move in it. You give me the
documents and a little radio the size of my hand — I know
from the Air Force you have them; the ones that squeeze
and squirt transmissions into seconds — and we can talk
every day. Let's go! Let's fight! Let's show them the big
"Are you all right?"
"What do you mean, all right?"
"The idea is preposterous. Even if it weren't you're
smart enough to know you're much more valuable here
than you could ever be there. It seems to me you are 
under some emotional duress. I'm your friend. What's the
The code of Spartacus, which bound a man to solve his
own problems, to rely on himself, to whimper to no one for
help, clashed with his honesty, and uncharacteristically he
compromised. He accurately reported the institute's advice
that he travel for a while, briefly mentioned his relationship
with Maria, and confessed to some sadness at her loss.
"Do you love this girl?'
"Yes, I do."
"Do you want us to find her for you?"
"No. It makes no sense. I do not belong in her life."
"Would you like one of us to go along on your trip?"
"I must go by myself."
"All right, but I want the doctors to see you." Physicians,
to whom he confided nothing of bis psychological
trauma, pronounced him totally fit, and he drove off to
explore, discover, forget, and mend by himself.
He first wanted to tour the small towns, backwashes, and
heartland cities because they were the milieu he knew best
in the Soviet Union. Conditioned to husband every kopeck,
he searched out the cheapest lodging and cafes, although
large, unspent sums and the interest on them were piling
up monthly for him in Washington. He learned that in
almost every small town there is a motel or hotel cheaper
than the Holiday or Ramada inns, which he deemed
luxurious hostelries. These lesser-known family establishments
invariably were clean, and you could get an inexpensive
meal providing all the protein you wanted.
In a little Appalachian town he took a room in such a
motel and asked the woman at the desk where he could
obtain ice. "If n you wahnt ais, go dowen the hall and torn
"I don't want ass. I want ice."
"Jes go lik'n I saed."
After a drink he returned to the desk and inquired if the
town had a hospital. "Ain't no cause to go to the hospital.
Doc will come righ heah."
"I'm not sick. I just want to see the hospital."
Probably persuaded she was dealing with an authentic
 nut, the woman gave directions, to be rid of him, and at
the hospital an intern, upon hearing that he was a visiting
Norwegian, volunteered to show him around. It was a
small hospital with only thirty rooms, but they were even
nicer than those at the Air Force hospital in San Antonio,
and the intern's answers were consistent with explanations
of American medicine he had received in Texas.
"What are you building out there?" The intern described
the functions of a mental health clinic, which in this case
would include treatment of mentally handicapped children.
Belenko saw a dirty, feebleminded boy of twelve or thirteen
wandering the muddy streets of Chuguyevka, a child destined
to live his blurred, uncomprehending life unhelped,
the butt of jokes and pranks, the village idiot whose purpose
was to amuse by his idiocy and make his superiors
glad of their superiority. He saw her, too.
Only you. Always, only you, Viktor. Oh, Maria, where
On the road again, he stopped and talked casually with
strangers in small Kentucky and Missouri towns; some
revelations congealed in his thoughts. Many Americans
would rather live in small towns or the country. Why?
Because in many ways life is easier and better for them.
They don't have to go to the city to buy food and clothes.
The government doesn't allocate supplies first to some
cities, second to others, third to the small towns, and fourth
to the sticks.
And where are all the criminals? Where are the fences?
Why, in Rubtsovsk or Omsk or Salsk, if you didn't have
high fences around houses like the ones everyone lives in
here, and dogs, too, the criminals would loot everything!
The Americans, they complain about crime. They don't
know what crime really is. Let someone strip the clothes
and underwear off their wives or daughters at knifepoint
in broad daylight on a street corner just so they can sell
those clothes and underwear, and they will begin to understand
In Kansas City, Belenko visited the farmers' market, the
greatest, most dazzling assemblage of food and produce he
had ever seen, and all so cheap. No residual doubts or
 reservations could withstand the sight. Before his eyes
stretched the final, conclusive proof.
No, this system works. They can produce enough food
for ten countries, for twenty countries if they want. If anybody
goes hungry in this country, he's just stupid.
From the market he wandered into a seedy section of
the inner city and there at last found it — something just
like in the Soviet Union: a stinking, dark bar crowded
with bleary-eyed, unshaved, unkempt drunks growing
drunker on beer and cheap rye whiskey. Ah, he knew
them well; he had seen them all his life. What he had seen
in America usually seemed initially like a mirage; this was
real, and he was quite at home.
Sipping a beer, he questioned the bartender. Where do
these men work? How do they get off from their jobs in
the day? How much do they earn? The bartender, after a
fashion, explained the unemployment compensation, welfare,
and food stamp programs.
What! You mean in this country you don't have to work
even if there is a job for you! You mean the government
pays you and gives you food so you can be a deadbeat and
sit around and drink all day! Why, the Americans have
done it! They have built True Communism! It's just like
Walking from the bar along a deserted street at dusk,
Belenko recognized trouble ahead. Two thugs were eyeing
him, wavering in their judgment as to whether they could
take him. He knew them well, too. Rather than wait for
them, he ran at them and belligerently demanded directions
to his motel, which in their surprise they gave.
"How about giving us a quarter?" one said.
"My pockets are full of quarters. But not one quarter I
have says deadbeat on it." They turned away, maybe
sensing they were confronted by someone who hungered to
The pristine mountains and cool, pure air of Colorado
made him think of parts of the Caucasus, and an indoor
skating rink recalled good times skating in Rubtsovsk and
Omsk, and he saw Nadezhda gliding toward him, waving.
 I would like to see her and my friends just for a day. Skate
in the park; go back to the forests; stop by the factory.
Las Vegas, in consequence of Party conjurations, always
had been the supreme symbol of the iniquities and depravities
of capitalism, surpassing even the famous decadence
of Hollywood. He fully expected to see couples
copulating and gangsters shooting it out on the streets,
while the bloated rich played cards amid sniffs of cocaine
in opulently upholstered and cushioned casinos. So what
he saw disappointed, then surprised, then beguiled, and
He marveled that a city so clean, neat, and spacious
could rise in the midst of desert. His motel in the center of
the city was inexpensive; but the rooms were elegant in
size and appointments, and the swimming pool was splendid.
The shows at the casinos were excellent, yet also inexpensive,
as were the drinks.
I will just drink this cheap whiskey and watch all the
people. Look at them. They are all kinds of people, and
they are enjoying themselves. It's like a carnival, not a
brothel. Of course, they are foolish to gamble. The chances
are they will lose their money. But it's their choice. If
that's the way they want to have a good time, it's their
business. They lied about this city. They lied about everything.
In the awesome grandeur of Wyoming, Montana, and
Washington and the national parks, he saw more lies, for
the Party said greedy capitalism had raped, robbed, and
emaciated all the land. He stayed a night in a logging town
set in a valley by a clear river surrounded by mountains.
The climate and the expanses were like Siberia, and he
longed for Siberia.
About forty miles outside San Francisco, he started noticing
signs advertising all sorts of lodging, restaurants, and
nightclubs in the city. That's right. There are no signs outside
Rubtsovsk or Omsk or Moscow because there are no
places to stay or eat. You stay in the railway station if
there's room. Sure, we have signs. They tell how great the
Party is, how much the Party is achieving. No signs tell
you where to buy sausage.
 He stayed in another downtown motel owned by immigrants
from India. His room was dean, cheap, and had a
big color television. At his request a taxi driver dropped
him off in the "worst area" of downtown San Francisco.
It was a cesspool of garish nightclubs, pornographic shops,
prostitutes, homosexuals, transvestites, junkies, pimps,
filthy, unhealthy-looking dropouts, and rebels against society.
He ate in a hole in the wall and felt as if he were
in a human zoo, yet the fried fish, fried potatoes, and
coleslaw, for which he paid $1.50, were good.
Two prostitutes, one black, one white, tried to lure him
into a brothel, "For thirty dollars, we'll give you a real
"What do you mean?"
"Don't be stupid. You know. For thirty dollars you can
have both of us."
Here the Party was right. The dregs accumulated here
were to him as disgusting as anything the Party ever
claimed, and such human waste, insofar as it was visible,
would be flushed out of Soviet society.
As it was early when he went back to his room, he
switched on the television and turned the knob from channel
to channel until he saw something very familiar. How
wonderful! In progress on the screen was a superb public
television performance of Anna Karenina.
There were so many choices. Before, the discovery and
contemplation of them had invigorated and stimulated, as
did the contemplation of a daring and original move in
chess. Now he didn't care. All visions of what could be
were clouded, dulled, marred by yearning for what might
have been with her.
At a roadside cafe near Odessa, Texas, a Latin girl
served him. She was not so pretty as Maria, but she smiled
and carried herself like Maria. He bolted his meal and
raced the breadth of Texas in fewer than twenty-four hours
and sped foolishly, suicidally toward the institute.
Everywhere they had been together he revisited. He
drove to the hacienda and en route back pulled off the road
and stopped about where she had spoken to him. And now
a delirium of irrationality afflicted him. It was illogical,
 senseless, but in its effects on him, it was as real as a typhoid
delirium. He wanted to flee from himself, from her,
from America, the extravagant successes of which made it
seem now like an alien planet where he never could be a
Primordial impulses seized and held and pushed him,
and he could not resist them. He wanted to feel the mud of
the streets, smell the stink in which he had grown up, be
among the desolate, cold huts, hear Russian, be in the land
of his birth, his people, his ancestors. He was hearing and
being drawn by not only the call of the Mother Country,
but the Call of the Wild.
Did they not say all I have to do is telephone and in
twenty-four hours I will be in Moscow? Did not Brezhnev
himself promise they would not punish me? Can I not
fight for my people better by being among them? Is not my
duty to be with my people as Maria is with hers? I will do
it. I will go home.
He left his flight jacket, his flight suit, and everything
else in the apartment and started north toward Washington
— and the Soviet Embassy.
Great stakes rode with him. His voluntary return would
prove to millions upon millions within and without the
Soviet Union that the Party was right, that Soviet society
was superior to American society, that it was the beacon
lighting the way to the future of man. A New Communist
Man who had seen and judged, who had been captured
and escaped would attest dramatically and convincingly to
these truths before all the world.
Crossing the North Carolina border into Virginia, he
still was pointed toward the Embassy. But as in all other
crises, he tried to be Spartacus, to summon forth the best
within himself, to think logically. Why did you leave? Has
anything that made you leave changed? Are there purposes
in life higher than yourself? Where could you hurt that
system most? What could you do back there even if they
didn't punish you? Do you really think they would just
say, "Welcome home, Comrade!" Who has lied to you?
The Americans or the Party? Would Spartacus surrender?
About 2:00 A.M. north of Richmond, the fever broke,
 and Belenko first knew it when his hands began to shake
on the steering wheel. He was so physically weak that he
had to rest, and he pulled in at a truck stop.
An elderly waitress with faded blond hair and a face
worn by many years gave him coffee and studied him.
"Honey, you been smoking?"
"If you're on pot, you ought to let it wear off before you
drive anymore. How about some breakfast?"
"Just leave me alone."
"No, honey, I'm going to get you some breakfast. You
need something to eat. It's on the house."
Around 4:00 A.M. he leaned on the doorbell at Peter's
house, ringing it continuously until Peter, in pajamas,
opened the door. Trained to be most poised in the presence
of danger, Peter was calm. "I see you're in trouble. Come
Slowly, with shame, Belenko told him, taking almost
"Viktor, I wish you had called me. But I can't criticize
you. This is not uncommon. I should have recognized the
signs when you were here last month. Now it's over; you
are immunized. It would have been a great tragedy, most
of all for you. Someday you will see that because you are
the way you are and because there is freedom here, the
United States is more your homeland than the Soviet Union
ever could be."
"I must go tell Gregg."
"Don't worry about that. Get some sleep. We'll let him
"No. I must do it myself."
Harassed by early calls from his Pentagon office, behind
schedule, and half-dressed, Gregg was irritated by the unexpected
appearance of Belenko.
"I have to talk to you."
"Make it quick; I'm late."
After Belenko had spoken for a couple of minutes or so,
Gregg picked up the phone and dialed his office. "I won't
be in this morning. Call me here if you need me." He
 listened without comment or interruption until Belenko
concluded his recitation of the crisis he had just survived.
"Viktor, I think you're finally free. Let's take the day
off and go fly."
As Belenko climbed up over the Potomac estuary and soared above the Chesapeake Bay, he felt, he knew Gregg was right.
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