Peter Savodnik: Moscow Is No Place for a Defector

tags: Soviet Union, Lee Harvey Oswald, Edward Snowden, New Republic, Moscow



Peter Savodnik is a journalist in Washington, D.C. His book, The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, will be published in November by Basic Books.

Edward Snowden may not have realized it as he fled Hong Kong last month, but he was about to become part of a tradition that predates Internet metadata collection, or Wikileaks, or the National Security Agency itself: He was an American dissident heading for Russia.

Now, as he nears his third week in consular limbo, the man who leaked word of the NSA’s Prism program must be feeling a tad dismayed by his reception, which has not exactly been warm or cold but somewhere, weirdly, in between. If he’d read up on the history of other Americans who wound up under the dubious protection of the Kremlin, he might not be so surprised. Whether seeking exile in a Soviet socialist paradise or merely hoping that Vladimir Putin’s hostility to Washington means you’ll be able to fly on toward Ecuador in peace, the history of Americans fleeing to Moscow is a long and unhappy one.

Take Robert Webster, the plastics technician from Cleveland who came to the USSR in 1959. Webster was supposed to be in Moscow helping prepare for the American national exhibition but wound up falling in love with a hostess at the Hotel Ukraine (he eventually abandoned his family to return home). Or Harold Koch, the Catholic priest who jettisoned God for Marx and, in 1966, moved from Chicago to Moscow to protest the Vietnam War (he changed his mind three months later). Then there were Joseph Dutkanich, the American Serviceman stationed in West Germany, and Glenn Souther, the Navy photographer-cum-KGB stooge. Dutkanich defected in 1960 and gradually became convinced the Soviets were trying to make him crazy; in late 1963, he was found in a drunken stupor and died in a Lvov hospital. Souther, one of the last Cold War-era defectors, fled to the Soviet Union in 1986; three years later, he committed suicide. There was even a fellow National Security Agency analyst, William Martin, who, in 1960, defected to the Soviet Union. He thought that would change the world forever. He was wrong.1...



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