Reading – “Russians Among Us”

I was a huge fan of The Americans when it was on the FX network. It was one of those series that took me completely by surprise as I was caught up in its intrigue and 80s nostalgia with some references to events that I remembered from my own teenage years. I’ve watched it through twice and gone back for individual episodes.

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Gordon Corera‘s book, “Russians Among Us“, tells the real-life version of Russia’s program to plant long-term sleeper agents (“illegals”) here in America. Corera has been the BBC’s security correspondent since 2004 and specializes in reporting on terrorism, spying and other related issues so he has some perspective on the story. Although the book references the popularity of The Americans, much of its account takes place after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The book actually does start out with an account of the failed hardliner coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991 from the perspective of the CIA and KGB agents of the time. For those of us who watched the events unfold on CNN at the time, it’s an interesting view of an essential historical event.

I’m only a few chapters in at this point but it’s looking good. I will say that it’s not a light read. This is not a sensational Cold War thriller; it’s history written by a journalist who specializes in the field. His writing style is comfortable and engaging but it’s a story with many different characters, some of whom have multiple identities and roles. If you don’t pay close attention, it might be challenging to keep up with the cast of characters.

One passage caught my eye today and it was amusing in its irony considering all the other news about the U.S. / Mexico border over the years.

Canada was a long-established stepping-off point (the “host” country in the center’s terminology) to prepare to reach the “target country.” At least four of the eleven ghosts who would be the target of the 2010 arrests would have some kind of Canadian documentation. Canada was the ideal launching pad for illegals into America. The culture and language allowed an illegal to acclimatize and build up their identity while border and document checks were largely ineffective. “Canada is a lot like the US, only colder and with fewer people,” a KGB officer explained to one illegal in the 1970s.

Gordon Corera – “Russians Among Us” (page 42)

The book is just over 440 pages so I have a ways to go but it definitely has my attention at this point.