My Spy Next Door

The recent spy ring round up in my area of suburban New Jersey brings back a memory of another east bloc spy that I knew…. really.

Before I get into that story, since this is the Mobileman blog, I need to tie this story to something wireless.

The recent Jersey/Russian spies exchanged messages in a Starbucks using a private WiFi Network and hid messages (eventually not well) in jpg images on websites and social media.

Okay enough of that. Now my spy story.

When I was in high school the cold war was the real deal.  My kids laugh at me when I recall the “Duck and Cover” civil defense drills we did in elementary school.

“When you see the flash of the nuclear explosion, duck your head and cover up!”  I can still hear that catchy little song in my mind “Duck… and Cover” , sung by a turtle with a helmet on his head. The video below was already over 20 years old when it was being used in my elementary school.

In high school I was part of the “Computer Club”. (The statute of limitations on Geekdom has expired!)   We were a group of 6 guys and one girl that competed in programming contests with other schools.  Our computer room was a converted boys bathroom that had 3 Teletype computer terminals complete with paper tape storage and long rolls of continuous yellow paper.

A former boys bathroom in a high school is hardly the setting for the next Tom Clancy novel….. or is it?

One of the computer geeks in our club was Peter Hermann.  Peter was a year older and by all accounts` extremely brilliant.  He was just another normal Westchester suburban kid,  with the one additional  detail.  Peter and his family were East German spies.

This became the setting for a real life novel written by another classmate of mine – Lawrence Kessner.  In 1981 he wrote “The Spy Next Door”.  This has nothing to do with the recent movie or another spy novel of the same name. Of the three it is my favorite spy story.

It seems Peter was being groomed to be a master spy.  He was destined to go to an Ivy League school or a D.C school such as Georgetown.  At college he would make the lifetime connections that any good spy needs.  His major would be in  government and his future job was planned to get him access to good spy stuff to send back to his handler.  His parents, while also spies, were “mulls” –  Spies who would move messages from one place to another.  Peter was the sleeper crown jewel.

I remember Peter showing us some of his spy gadgets.  This was a safe thing for him to do because who ever suspects a 15 year old classmate to be a real spy?  I remember a small  “spy” camera and a nickel that opened up and had a small space that something (microfilm) could be placed.  I even remember saying something like , “Gee , that would be cool stuff to play spy with…”  I am sure he got laugh on my account for that one.

The Kessner book goes into more details on Mark’s other relationships and activities.  It seems the KGB even used a “honey-pot” trap to keep him in the fold.  Could you imaging a 14-year-old boy going to Moscow for training and being seduced by a gorgeous KGB woman?   They could have easily won the cold war through mass recruitment if they made that perk well known.

Fact stranger than fiction.

In the end the East German spy family was caught and turned into double agents by the FBI.  When the East Germans and the KGB suspected that this had happened they asked them to return to East Germany.  At this point the family entered the witness re-location program.

Moving trucks came by their house in the middle of the night and removed all their belongings.  The house was on the market the next week.  We assumed that the moving trucks came from our government and not from the KGB. No one has heard from them since, although I am sure they have been living normal lives in the open. I also wondered if the new family that moved in was also a spy family being re-located from somewhere else?  A Spy exchange program?

Spies in the suburbs.  Not a new story.

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