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tv   60 Minutes  CBS  August 30, 2015 7:00pm-8:02pm EDT

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captioning funded by cbs and ford >> kroft: you had to tell a lot of lies. >> absolutely. i was living a lie. >> kroft: were you a good liar? >> the best. >> kroft: tonight, we're going to tell you a spy story unlike any other about a kgb agent who operated in the united states during the last decade of the cold war. what's remarkable is that he's never spent a night in jail, the russians declared him dead a long time ago, and he's living a quiet life in upstate new york free to tell his story as honestly as a former spy ever can. did you think you were going to get away with it? >> yes. otherwise, i wouldn't have done it. >> max, agent, make me rich. thanks a lot. >> stahl: li na is one of the wealthiest female sports figures in the world. she is probably china's most
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famous athlete and an idol to young chinese-- not only because of her ability, but because of the way she stood up to the chinese system. >> i didn't care about the obstacles, i was just heading toward my goals. >> kroft: i'm steve kroft. >> stahl: i'm lesley stahl. >> safer: i'm morley safer. >> whitaker: i'm bill whitaker. >> pelley: i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60 minutes."
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>> kroft: tonight, we're going to bring you a spy story unlike any other. and if you think your life is complicated, wait till you hear about jack barsky's, who led three of them simultaneously: one, as a husband and father; two, as a computer programmer and administrator at some top american corporations; and three, as a kgb agent spying on america during the last decade of the cold war. the fbi did finally apprehend him in pennsylvania, but it was long after the soviet union had crumbled. as we first reported in may, what makes jack barsky's story even more remarkable is he's never spent a night in jail. the russians declared him dead a long time ago. he's living a quiet life in upstate new york, and has worked in important and sensitive jobs. he's now free to tell his story,
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as honestly as a former spy ever can. so, who are you? >> jack barsky: who am i? ( laughs ) that depends when the question is asked. right now, i'm jack barsky. i work in the united states, i'm a u.s. citizen, but it wasn't always the case. >> kroft: how many different identities do you have? >> barsky: i have two main identities-- a german one and an american one. >> kroft: what's your real name? >> barsky: my real name is jack barsky. >> kroft: and what name were you born with? >> barsky: albrecht dittrich. say that three times real fast. >> kroft: just say it once slowly. >> barsky: albrecht dittrich. >> kroft: how albrecht dittrich became jack barsky is one of the untold stories of the cold war, an era when the real battles were often fought between the cia and the kgb. barsky was a rarity, a soviet spy who posed as an american and became enmeshed in american society. for the ten years he was operational for the kgb, no one
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in this country knew his real story, not even his family. did you think you were going to get away with this? >> barsky: yeah. otherwise, i wouldn't have done it. ( laughs ) >> kroft: what barsky did can be traced back to east germany, back to the days when he was albrecht dittrich. a national scholar at a renowned university in jena, dittrich was on the fast track to becoming a chemistry professor, his dream job. >> barsky: didn't work out that way, because i was recruited by the kgb to do something a little more adventurous. >> kroft: spy? >> barsky: we called it something different. we used a euphemism. i was going to be a "scout for peace." >> kroft: a kgb "scout for peace"? >> barsky: that is correct. the communist spies were the good guys, and the capitalist spies were the evil ones, so we didn't use the word "spy". >> kroft: he says his spying career began with a knock on his dorm room door one saturday afternoon in 1970. a man introduced himself, claiming to be from a prominent optics company. >> barsky: he wanted to talk
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with me about my career, which was highly unusual. i immediately... there was a flash in my head that said, "that's stasi." >> kroft: east german secret police? >> barsky: east... east german secret police, yeah. >> kroft: it was a stasi agent. he invited dittrich to this restaurant in jena, where a russian kgb agent showed up and took over the conversation. the kgb liked dittrich's potential because he was smart, his father was a member of the communist party, and he didn't have any relatives in the west. dittrich liked the attention and the notion he might get to help the soviets. and what did you think of america? >> barsky: it was the enemy. and... and the reason that the americans did so well was because they exploited all the third-world countries. that's what we were taught and that's what we believed. we didn't know any better. i grew up in an area where you could not receive west german television. it was called the "valley of the clueless." >> kroft: for the next couple of years, the kgb put dittrich through elaborate tests, and
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then in 1973, he was summoned to east berlin, to this former soviet military compound. the kgb, he says, wanted him to go undercover. >> barsky: at that point, i had passed all the tests, so they wanted... they made me an offer. >> kroft: but you had been thinking about it all along, hadn't you? >> barsky: that's true-- with one counterweight, in that you didn't really know what was going to come. how do you test-drive becoming another person? >> kroft: it was a difficult decision, but he agreed to join the kgb and eventually found himself in moscow, undergoing intensive training. >> barsky: a very large part of the training was operational work-- determination as to whether you're being under surveillance; morse code, short wave radio reception. i also learned how to do microdots. a microdot is... you know, you take a picture and make it so small with the use of microscope that you can put it under a postage stamp. >> kroft: the soviets were looking to send someone to the u.s. who could pose as an american.
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dittrich showed a command of english and no trace of an east german accent that might give him away. he learned a hundred new english words every day. >> barsky: it took me forever. i... i did probably a full year of phonetics training. the difference between "hot" and "hut," right? that's very difficult and... and most germans don't get that one. >> kroft: did you want to go to the united states? >> barsky: oh, yeah. sure. there was new york, there was san francisco, you know. we heard about these places. >> kroft: your horizons were expanding. >> barsky: oh, absolutely. now, i'm really in the big league, right? ( laughter ) >> kroft: dittrich needed an american identity, and one day, a diplomat out of the soviet embassy in washington came across this tombstone just outside of d.c. with the name of a ten-year-old boy who had died in 1955. the name was jack philip barsky. >> barsky: and they said, "guess what. we have a birth certificate. we're going to the u.s." >> kroft: and that was the jack
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barsky birth certificate. >> barsky: the jack barsky birth certificate that somebody had obtained and i was given. i didn't have to get this myself. >> kroft: did you feel strange walking around with this identity of a child? >> barsky: no. no. when you do this kind of work, some things, you don't think about. because if you explore, you may find something you don't like. >> kroft: the newly minted jack barsky landed in new york city in the fall of 1978, with a phony back story called a "legend" and a fake canadian passport that he quickly discarded. the kgb's plan for him was fairly straightforward. they wanted the 29-year-old east german to get a real u.s. passport with his new name, then become a businessman, then insert himself into the upper echelons of american society, and then to get close to national security adviser zbigniew brzezinski so that he could spy on him. >> barsky: that was the plan. it failed. >> kroft: why?
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>> barsky: because i was not given very good instructions with regard to how to apply for a passport. >> kroft: when he went to apply for a passport at rockefeller center, barsky was thrown off by the list of questions. >> barsky: specific details about my past, for which i had no proof. so i walked out of it. >> kroft: did the kgb have a pretty good grasp on the united states and how things worked there? >> barsky: no. >> kroft: no? >> barsky: absolutely not. they made a number of mistakes in terms of giving me advice, what to do, what not to do. they just didn't know. >> kroft: left to fend for himself in a country the kgb didn't understand, he got himself a cheap apartment and tried to make do with a birth certificate and $6,000 in cash the soviets had given him. his spying career at that point more resembled the bumbling boris badenov than james bond. so you were working as a bike messenger. >> barsky: right. >> kroft: that doesn't sound like a promising position for a spy. >> barsky: no. but there were a lot of things that i didn't know.
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>> kroft: so how close did you ever get to brzezinski? >> barsky: ( laughs ) not very. >> kroft: to get a social security card, which he would need if he wanted a real job, barsky knew he would have to do some acting. >> barsky: it was unusual for a 30-plus-year-old person to... to say, you know, "i don't have a social security card. give me one." so in order to make my story stick, i made my face dirty so i looked like somebody who just came off a farm. it worked! the lady asked me, she said, "so how come you don't... you don't have a card?" and when the answer was, "i didn't need one." "why?" "well, i worked on a farm." and that was the end of the interview. >> kroft: the social security card enabled him to enroll at baruch college in manhattan, where he majored in computer systems. he was class valedictorian, but you won't find a picture of him in the school yearbook. in 1984, he was hired as a programmer by metropolitan life insurance, where he had access
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to the personal information of millions of americans. you were writing computer code? >> barsky: right, yes. lots of it. and i was really good at it. >> kroft: what he didn't write, he stole, on behalf of the kgb. what was the most valuable piece of information you gave them? >> barsky: i would say that was the computer code, because it was a very prominent piece of industrial software still in use today. >> kroft: this was ibm code? >> barsky: no comment. >> kroft: you don't want to say? >> barsky: no. it was good stuff. let's put it this way, yeah. >> kroft: it was helpful to the soviet union. >> barsky: it... it would've been helpful to the soviet union and their running organizations and... and factories and so forth. >> kroft: how often did you communicate with the russians? >> barsky: i would get a radiogram once a week. >> kroft: a radiogram, meaning? >> barsky: a radiogram means a transmission that was on a certain frequency at a certain time. >> kroft: every thursday night at 9:15, barsky would tune into his short wave radio at his apartment in queens and listen
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for a transmission he believed came from cuba. >> barsky: all the messages were encrypted that they became digits. and the digits would be sent over as... in groups of five. and sometimes, that took a good hour to just write it all down, and then another three hours to decipher. >> kroft: during the ten years he worked for the kgb, barsky had a ready-made cover story. when somebody would ask you, you know, "where you from, jack?" what'd you say? >> barsky: i'm originally from new jersey. i was born in orange. that's it. american-- nobody ever questioned that. people would question my..." you have an accent." but my comeback was, "yeah, my mother was german and we spoke a lot of german at home." >> kroft: you had to tell a lot of lies. >> barsky: absolutely. i was living a lie. >> kroft: were you a good liar? >> barsky: the best. >> kroft: you had to be a good liar to juggle the multiple lives he was leading. every two years while he was
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undercover for the kgb, barsky would return to east germany and moscow for debriefings. during one of his visits to east berlin, he married his old girlfriend gerlinde and they had a son. did that complicate matters? >> barsky: initially, it wasn't complicated at all. it got complicated later. >> kroft: because? >> barsky: because i got married in the united states to somebody else. ( laughter ) >> kroft: did she know about your other wife in germany? >> barsky: no. >> kroft: did your wife in germany know about the... >> barsky: not at all. >> kroft: so you had two wives. >> barsky: i did. i'm... i was officially a bigamist. that's... that's the one thing i am so totally not proud of... >> kroft: being a spy was all right... ( laughter ) being a bigamist... >> barsky: in hindsight, you know, i was a spy for the wrong people. but... but i... this one hurt, because i had promised my german wife that, you know, we would be together forever.
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and i broke that promise. and the one way i can explain it to myself is i had separated the german, the dittrich, from the barsky to the point where the two just didn't know about each other. >> kroft: not only did he have two different identities and two wives, he had a son named matthias in germany and a daughter named chelsea in america. and by november 1988, a radiogram from the kgb would force him to make an excruciating choice. >> barsky: i received a radiogram that essentially said, "you need to come home. your cover may soon be broken and you're in danger of being arrested by the american authorities." >> kroft: barsky was given urgent instructions from the kgb to locate an oil can that had been dropped next to a fallen tree just off this path on new york's staten island. a fake passport and cash that he needed to escape the united states and return to east germany would be concealed inside the can.
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>> barsky: i was supposed to pick up the container and go on, leave. not even go back home to the apartment, just disappear. the container wasn't there. i don't know what i would have done if i had found it, but i know what i did when i didn't find it. i did not tell them, "repeat the operation." i made the decision to stay. >> kroft: why? >> barsky: because of chelsea. >> kroft: your daughter. >> barsky: yes. if chelsea's not in the mix, that's a no brainer. i'm out of here. >> kroft: barsky had chosen chelsea over matthias. >> barsky: i had bonded with her. it was a tough one because, on the one hand, i had a wife and a child in germany, but if i don't take care of chelsea, she grows up in poverty. >> kroft: this may be a little harsh, but it sounds like the first time in your life that you thought about somebody besides yourself. >> barsky: you're absolutely right.
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i was quite an egomaniac. i was. >> kroft: jack barsky was still left with the not insignificant matter of telling the kgb that he was staying in america. in a moment, we'll tell you how he duped the kgb, and how the fbi changed his life. >> cbsmoneywatch up a date sponsored by lincoln financial, calling all chief life officers. good evening, the italian energy company says it discovered a super giant natural gas off the coast of egypt, puerto rico is delaying the debt reform plan because of storm damage and disney produces more star war toys later this week. i am jeff glor, cbs news. >>
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>> kroft: at the end of 1988, jack barsky's ten-year run as a clandestine kgb agent in the united states was about to come to an end. he had ignored soviet warnings that his cover had been blown, and decided to remain in america and not return to his native east germany. he was taking a chance that no one in america would ever find out who he really was. and he was taking a bigger chance that the kgb wouldn't retaliate for disobeying an order. the urgency with which the soviets seemed to view the situation became clear one morning in queens. jack barsky says he was on his way to work in december 1988, standing and waiting for an "a" train on this subway platform when a stranger paid him a visit. >> barsky: there's this character in... in a black coat, and he sidles up to me and he
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whispers in my ear, he says, "you got to come home or else you're dead." and then he walked out. >> kroft: russian accent? >> barsky: yes. >> kroft: that's an incentive. >> barsky: it's an incentive to go. >> kroft: i mean, spies get killed all the time. >> barsky: they do. but not me. the entire time, i always had this childlike belief that everything would be all right. >> kroft: so what are you going to tell the russians. >> barsky: well, i... i sent them this "dear john" letter, the good-bye letter in which i stated that i had contracted aids, and that the only way for me to get a treatment would be in the united states. >> kroft: you just wrote them a letter and said, "i can't come back, i've got aids"? >> barsky: there's three things i... i tell people that the russians were afraid of-- aids, jewish people, and ronald reagan. and they were deathly... >> kroft: in that order? >> barsky: i think ronald reagan took the top spot.
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they thought he would push the button. >> kroft: the aids letter apparently worked because, in east berlin, the soviets told his german wife gerlinde he wasn't coming back. >> barsky: they went to gerlinde and told her that i had died of aids. so i think they just wrote me off completely. >> kroft: you were officially dead in east germany? >> barsky: right. after five years, she was able to declare me dead. >> kroft: once the berlin wall fell and the soviet union fell apart, barsky was a man without a country. no one would want him back. he felt his secret was safe in america. he became a family guy, with a wife, two kids, chelsea and jessie, and a job. he burrowed himself into suburbia, keeping a low profile. >> barsky: i was settling down, i was living in the... in rural pennsylvania at the time in a nice house with two children. i was, like, typical middle- class existence. >> kroft: and his life would have stayed quiet if a kgb
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archivist named vassal mitrokhin hadn't defected to the west in 1992 with a trove of notes on the soviets' spying operations around the world. buried deep in his papers was the last name of a secret agent the kgb had deployed somewhere in america, barsky. >> joe reilly: we were concerned that he might be running an agent operating in the federal government somewhere. who knows? in the fbi, the cia, the state department. we had no idea. >> kroft: joe reilly was an fbi agent when the bureau got the mitrokhin tip, and the barsky case quickly became serious enough that fbi director louis freeh got personally involved. the fbi didn't know who or where he was, but the best lead seemed to be a jack barsky who was working as an i.t. specialist in new jersey, with a suburban home across the border in mt. bethel, pennsylvania. >> kroft: aside from his name, was there anything else that made you suspicious and make you think that this was the guy you were looking for? >> reilly: yes.
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one thing was the fact that he had applied for a social security number late in life, especially someone like him who was educated and intelligent. >> kroft: the fbi began following barsky, and when this surveillance photo caught him talking to a native of cuba, the bureau grew increasingly concerned. >> barsky: there were some indications that i could possibly be the head of a international spy ring, because i had a friend who was originally from cuba. and it so happened that this friend owned an apartment that was rented to a soviet diplomat. so that one raised all kinds of flags and they investigated me very, very, very carefully. >> kroft: fbi agent joe reilly went so far as to set up an observation post on a hillside behind barsky's house. this is a picture he took of his view. >> reilly: i got a telescope and binoculars, as if i was a birdwatcher, but i was looking at his backyard and at him. over time, i learned a great deal about him. >> kroft: like what? >> reilly: just watching him.
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well, i became convinced that he loved his children. and that was important because i wanted to know if he would flee. there was less chance of that if... if he was devoted to his children. and he was. >> kroft: but that wasn't enough for the fbi. the bureau bought the house next door to get a closer look at the barskys. did you get a good deal? >> reilly: i think we paid what he was asking. ( laughter ) and we had agents living there so that we could be sure who was coming and going from his house without being too obvious in our surveillance. >> kroft: you had no idea the fbi was living next door to you? >> barsky: ( laughs ) no. >> kroft: never saw joe reilly up on the hill with the binoculars? >> barsky: no. absolutely not. >> kroft: when the fbi finally got authorization from the justice department to bug barsky's home, the case broke wide open. >> reilly: within, i'd say, the first two weeks that we had microphones in his house, he had an argument with his wife in the kitchen.
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and during the course of that dispute, he readily admitted that he was an agent operating from the soviet union. >> kroft: it was all the fbi needed to move in on barsky. they set a trap for him at a toll bridge across the delaware river as he drove home from work late one friday afternoon in may of 1997. >> barsky: i'm being waved to the side by a state trooper. and he said, "we're doing a routine traffic check. would you please get out of the car?" i get out of the car and somebody steps up from... from behind and shows me a badge. and he said, "fbi. we would like to talk to you." >> reilly: his face just dropped. and we told him that he had to go with us. >> barsky: the first words out of my mouth were, "am i under arrest?" and the answer was no. now, that took a big weight off of me, so i figured there was a chance to get out of this in one piece.
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and the next question i asked, "so what took you so long?" >> kroft: the fbi had rented an entire wing of a motel off interstate 80 in pennsylvania for barsky's interrogation. >> reilly: but on the way to the motel, i remember turning to him and i told him that this didn't have to be the worst day of his life. and he immediately realized that he had an out. >> barsky: i said to them, "listen, i know i have only one shot out of this, and that means i need to come clean and be 100% honest and tell you everything i know." >> kroft: the fbi questioned barsky throughout the weekend and gave him a polygraph test that he passed. convinced that his spying days were over, and that his friendship with the cuban was just that, the fbi decided to keep the whole thing quiet and allowed barsky to go back to work on monday morning. was he charged with something? >> reilly: no. >> kroft: even though he confessed to being a soviet spy? >> reilly: yes.
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>> kroft: that seems odd. >> reilly: well, we wanted him to cooperate with us. we didn't want to put him in jail. he was no use to us there. >> kroft: barsky continued to meet not only with the fbi, but with the national security agency to offer his first-hand insights into the kgb and the russians. >> barsky: i was able to provide them with a lot of valuable information how the kgb operated. >> kroft: the only people who were aware of his secret were the fbi, and penelope, his wife in america, who eventually divorced him. his daughter chelsea, then a teenager, knew only that he wanted to tell her something when she turned 18. that day finally arrived on a four-hour drive to st. francis university. >> chelsea barsky: he started chuckling to himself and he said, "well, i'm a... i was a spy. i was a kgb spy." i was like "what? really?" >> kroft: jack also revealed to chelsea why he had decided to stay in america. >> chelsea barsky: he said that, you know, he fell in love with me and my... my curls when i was
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a little baby, and then i cried. >> kroft: did he tell you everything? >> chelsea barsky: no, he didn't. he didn't tell me 100% the whole truth. he left some things out, at that point. >> barsky: i told her everything that you can tell in four hours that is age appropriate. she was still a teenager. i may not have told her that i was married in germany. >> kroft: he waited another two years before he matter of factly dropped another bombshell about his past. >> chelsea barsky: he just looked straight ahead at the tv and he said, "did i tell you you have a brother?" ( laughs ) and i turned my head. i'm like, "what? are you serious?" >> kroft: the half-brother was matthias, the boy jack had left behind in germany. chelsea was determined to find him. jack didn't like the idea. >> barsky: i did not feel comfortable getting in touch with him. i did not feel comfortable with my... acknowledging my german past. >> kroft: after a year of trying to track him down online, chelsea finally got a reply from matthias.
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>> chelsea barsky: the subject line said, "dear little sister," and when i saw, "dear little sister," i just started weeping, because that meant everything to me. that meant that he accepted me. >> matthias: and this is me... >> kroft: a month later, matthias was in pennsylvania visiting chelsea and her brother jessie. they hit it off. matthias wasn't interested in seeing his father, then changed his mind. was it awkward? >> barsky: i just remember he stared at me for a couple of minutes. he just stared at me. >> kroft: i mean, he had reason to be angry with you. >> barsky: when i told him the dilemma that i was faced with, he actually said, "i understand." >> kroft: and what's your relationship like with matthias now? >> barsky: he feels like he's my son. >> kroft: gerlinde, the wife in germany who thought he was dead, wants nothing to do with jack today, or with "60 minutes." he has remarried and has a four- year-old daughter. they live in upstate new york,
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where jack has worked as director of software development for a company that manages new york's high-voltage power grid, a critical piece of u.s. infrastructure. when he told his employer recently that he had once been a kgb spy, he was placed on a paid leave of absence, and then fired. before becoming an american citizen last year, he had been given a clean bill of health by the fbi and u.s. intelligence agencies. but in the world of espionage, it's often difficult to tell what's true and what's legend. are you telling the truth right now? >> barsky: i am, absolutely-- the truth, as far as i know it. yes. >> kroft: as far as you know it? >> barsky: well, you know, sometimes memory fails you. but i am... i am absolutely not holding back anything. >> kroft: why tell the story now? >> barsky: i want to meet my maker clean. i need to get clean with the past. i need to digest this fully. >> kroft: the fbi agent who
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apprehended him, joe reilly, still believes in barsky. and in yet another twist to this story, the two are good friends and golfing buddies. >> reilly: he's a very honest person. and if you want to find out how honest someone is, play golf with them. >> kroft: but you're a former fbi guy and he's a former spy. what's the bond? >> reilly: it's personal. he credits me for keeping him out of prison. ( laughs ) >> kroft: after nearly 30 years, jack barsky went back to visit a unified germany-- first in october, then again in april. >> barsky: so, that was essentially the very beginning of my career. >> kroft: he showed his kids where this improbable tale began, and some other key settings in his odyssey. and he caught up with old classmates who knew him as albrecht dittrich. when you're here in germany, are you albrecht or are you jack? >> barsky: no, i'm jack. i... i am 100% jack. you know, the... i let the albrecht out and sometimes he interferes, but they... they get along very well now.
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( laughs ) >> kroft: the berlin wall, which once divided east and west, is now gone except for a section that has been turned into an art display. checkpoint charlie, once the epicenter of the cold war, is now a tourist attraction, full of kitsch. statues of karl marx and friedrich engels still stand in the eastern part of berlin, relics of another era, as is the man who straddled two worlds and got away with it. when you do business everywhere, the challenges of keeping everyone working together can quickly become the only thing you think about. that's where at&t can help. at&t has the tools and the network you need, to make working as one easier than ever. virtually anywhere. leaving you free to focus on what matters most.
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>> stahl: it's not unusual for tennis stars to have been groomed from an early age by hard-driving parents. andre agassi had his father, mike.
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martina hingis-- her mother, melanie. chinese champion li na, who became one of the highest-paid and most-watched female athletes in the world, had a "tennis parent," too. hers was her country's state-run sports system. as we first reported earlier this year, li na is remarkable not just because she won two grand slams, but because she stood up to the chinese authorities to win some freedom. when li na reached the finals of the french open in 2011, 116 million people were watching her back home in china. they were hoping she would make history and become the first chinese citizen ever to win a grand-slam tennis tournament. and with this point, she did. ( cheers and applause ) >> li na: i was lying on the ground and the hand was in the face. and then i saw, wow, blue sky. ( cheers and applause )
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and i try to cry, but i cannot because so exciting. ( applause ) >> madams et messieurs... >> stahl: it was the crowning achievement of her career, up to that point. but she had barely lowered the trophy when she was accused of being ungrateful by failing to properly thank her country for making the victory possible. one headline called it, "china's victory." >> li na: ( laughs ) >> stahl: they felt that the country had put so much money and effort into training you that it was their victory. and you just didn't see it that way. >> li na ( translated ): i just thought i was fulfilling my dream. >> stahl: as she told us in both chinese and english, she felt it was her victory-- as an individual, not as part of a collective. by then, li na had been questioning the chinese mindset and standing up to the authorities for years. you looked, to me anyway, to be incredibly brave. you challenged the way things were.
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you were just a little girl, you know. you were just one person. >> li na ( translated ): because i had a goal. i didn't care about the obstacles. i was just heading towards my goal. >> stahl: she inherited the goal from her father, who had enrolled her in china's sports system at an early age, hoping she would follow in his footsteps and play badminton. she wasn't very good, and a coach suggested she try tennis. did your parents even know what tennis was? >> li na: no. >> stahl: no. >> li na ( translated ): i remember my parents used to call it "fuzzy ball." >> stahl: they didn't even call it "tennis." >> li na ( translated ): because, back then, not many people in china knew about tennis. >> stahl: by the time she was eight, she was practicing six days a week on these courts in the provincial city of wuhan. li na lived with other players in a spartan, state-run sports school. that's her on the upper right with the short-cropped hair.
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you look like a little boy. >> li na: yeah. >> stahl: did that bother you? >> li na: no. >> stahl: what did bother her was the constant stream of criticism from her childhood coach, yu liqiao, seen here grabbing her arm. >> li na: the way she speak, everyone think she pretty angry, you know. yeah, so i was, like, scared. >> stahl: she was always making you feel you weren't good enough. >> li na: yeah. push me a little bit. ( laughs ) >> stahl: you hated her? >> li na: yes. ( laughs ) >> stahl: the coach's brutal method was hardly unusual in the chinese sports system, which was modeled on the soviet union's. to this day, china operates a vast network of sports academies that have been criticized for over-training their young athletes, causing psychological stress, and providing inadequate educations. at 15, li na became the youngest person ever to win the national league singles finals, but she was lonely and depressed.
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her father had died and her mother had fallen deeply in debt. the one bright spot in her life was a romance with a fellow player on the provincial tennis team, her mixed doubles partner and future husband, jiang shaan, a.k.a. dennis. did you have to keep it secret in the beginning? >> dennis: no secret for everyone. i think, maybe only the coaches. >> li na: yeah, yeah. ( laughs ) only the coaches. >> stahl: so you did have to keep it a secret from the coach? >> dennis: no, i think that the coach didn't ask it and we didn't answer. >> stahl: but as time went on, li na started feeling bullied by the sports system. during this ceremony in 2001, the official who placed the medal around her neck slapped her after she came in third. a few months later, li na quit, walked away from tennis altogether. but the tennis authorities begged her to come back, so a year and half later, she
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returned and her career took off. >> announcer: advantage, li. >> stahl: at the 2008 olympics in beijing, she upset venus williams in the quarter- finals... ( cheers and applause ) >> announcer: game, set, and match, li. >> stahl: ...and the crowd went wild. >> crowd: li na! li na! li na! li na! >> stahl: she was popular, fans liked her. she wasn't like other typically stoic chinese athletes. when she lost a big match, you knew it hurt. and she also had a firecracker temper. in the olympic semi-finals in beijing, she got so angry with her home-country fans, who were shouting encouragement and advice during the match, that she told them to... >> li na: shut up! >> stahl: ...shut up. your childhood made you an angry person. >> li na: it's not against someone. it's angry about myself because i think i didn't doing good enough. >> stahl: because of the echo of the coach in your head, and you were kind of beating up on
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yourself a lot. >> li na: yeah, maybe. because pretty deep, you know, so it's now... >> stahl: scar tissue. >> li na: yeah, it's not easy to forget or take off. >> stahl: another cause of her anger was that she was competing against western players who had their own personal coaches and trainers, while she did not. she felt the government-run system was holding her back. when she complained about this publicly, the head of china's tennis program denounced "the shortcomings of her morals." you were having difficulty with the system-- not just then, repeatedly all through this period? >> li na ( translated ): well, i think maybe this was sort of a catalyst for me getting my own team. ( cheers and applause ) >> stahl: she got her own team, and was allowed to keep a much larger share of her winnings after the 2008 olympics. zhang bendou, a chinese tennis writer, says it was a stunning development in chinese sports.
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>> zhang bendou: after 2008 olympic games, we have four or five chinese players all get more freedom. they can have their own coach, decide their own schedule, but you have to pay your own coach, yeah, and your flight tickets. >> stahl: but it was seen as a big... i don't know. >> bendou: it's a big change. >> stahl: the change put a lot of pressure on li na's husband dennis, who, at times, also served as her coach and punching bag. >> li na ( translated ): if you don't want to watch, you should just get out of here. you don't need to put on such a stinky face. is the way i'm playing embarrassing you? >> dennis ( translated ): i just want to talk to you about... >> li na ( translated ): get lost! >> stahl: and in her post-game interviews, dennis became the butt of her jokes. ( laughter ) >> li na: you know, sometimes i just make the joke. >> stahl: did you take it as a joke? >> dennis ( translated ): i don't want to answer that
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question. >> stahl: during one very difficult period, dennis left her and li na was devastated. they reconciled, and have been inseparable ever since, even making tv commercials together. the extent of her popularity in asia is hard to overstate. li na has more than 20 million followers on china's social media. "time" magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and last year, "forbes" named her the second highest paid female athlete. if she hadn't fought for more freedom, she would have to have given 65% of her income to the state. last year, she made an estimated income of $24 million, and she very publicly thanked her agent. >> li na: max, agent, make me rich. thanks a lot. ( laughter ) >> stahl: advertisers see her as a way into the lucrative chinese market. her sponsors include mercedes
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benz, rolex, and nike. her ad campaigns are aimed at chinese youth, who are attracted to li na's feistiness and courage. >> bendou: i think that young people love her because, not only she can win the champions, but also she dare to say no to the system, she dare to get out of the system. >> stahl: after her victory at the french open in 2011, she fell into an awful slump. she hired argentinean coach carlos rodriguez to get her back on track, and he told her she needed to strike at the source of her anger. so li na met with her old nemesis, coach yu, and told her how her coaching methods had hurt her. so, was there a release for you in being able to tell her and looking her in the eye? >> li na ( translated ): well, after that, this burden was gone.
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>> stahl: carlos knew what to do. >> li na ( translated ): yeah, he is a very good coach, a very good psychologist. >> stahl: her improved attitude paid off at the 2014 australian open, when she won her second grand slam... >> announcer: game, set, and match. >> stahl: ...and became number two in the world. in her victory speech, she thanked dennis, and brought down the house. >> li na: thanks for him give up everything just traveling with me. thanks a lot. you're a nice guy. ( laughter ) and... and also you're so lucky, find me. ( laughter ) >> stahl: the system wanted to take credit for the victory. when she returned home, coach yu was sent to greet her with a hug for the cameras. li na looked happier when she was slapped! evidence of li na's influence can be found in the rising number of private tennis
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academies that have opened up around beijing, with sophisticated training techniques. a new generation of young women want to be the next li na. no one calls it "fuzzy ball" anymore! but shortly after her australian victory last year, she stunned the tennis world, announcing her retirement. at 32, after multiple surgeries, her tired knees were giving out and so she decided... >> li na: ( speaking chinese ) >> stahl: say goodbye. she left the game with tears, and some regrets. she even went out of her way to thank the sports system and her former coaches. she told us she planned to live in china, start a tennis academy here, and raise a family with dennis. you would like to have children? >> li na: yeah. i would love to have at least two. >> stahl: you don't want to make any announcements on "60 minutes," do you? >> dennis: ( laughs ) no, no, no, no.
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>> stahl: no, no, no. >> li na: no. not yet. ( laughter ) >> stahl: not yet. okay, all right. but at this year's australian open, she had an emotional secret to share with the crowd. >> li na: me and dennis, we are so exciting. our first child will be out in the summer. ( cheers and applause ) >> announcer: li na! >> stahl: after all her dramas and her courageous fight to control her own career, li na says she's at peace, even with the stern and demanding sports system that got her here, the "tennis parent" of her youth. >> crowd: li na! ( cheers and applause ) >> stahl: since our story first aired, li na gave birth to a healthy baby girl. when she's older, li na and dennis say they'll let her decide whether she wants to play tennis. >> for a look at how "60 minutes" reports its stories,
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>> stahl: i'm lesley stahl. we'll be back next week with another edition of "60 minutes." tomorrow, be sure to watch "cbs this morning. ...and itchy eyes. they also bring tough nasal congestion. so you need claritin-d. it starts to work... just 30 minutes. in fact, nothing works faster. so blow away nasal congestion, fast, with claritin-d.
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captioning funded by cbs and ford captioned by media access group at wgbh
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>> previously on "big brother", vanessa learned that she was a back door target. >> we have an alliance to get you out. >> me? >> and liz quickly deflected the blame to steve. >> it was steve's idea, to bring johnnie mack into it. >> so it looked like his goose was cooked. >> when liz confronted john on the betrayal. >> the fact that you had to do that, really pissed me off. >> the rock star dentist stood his ground. >> you guys really go out of your way to make me feel safe. >> hold the phone, liz, yound austin put me on the block. that's not what a good alliance member does. >> after they did some successful backpedaling.


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