Many people who have relatives who escaped the USSR know the feeling of having closed-off relatives. Making them talk about their lives in the USSR and how they managed to escape the USSR is a conversation that goes nowhere.
After getting my hands on a FBI file on a Soviet immigrant who came to the USA after WWII, I have a better understanding of why some Soviet immigrants are so reclusive.
A friend of mine, who left Russia for Ukraine, asked me to find information on his Ukrainian great-grandfather. I obtained his great-grandfather’s Alien File (see below for more information) from the U.S. Department of Citizen and Immigration Services. For some reason, several pages were blank and stamped with CONFIDENTIAL.
That got my curiosity peaked. I appealed the USCIS’ decision to deny me access to the pages by sending an appeal in the form of a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI. (My personal file at the FBI must be growing from my curiosity.)
A few weeks later, an envelope from the FBI came in the mail. The “secrets” of a man I’ll call Vladimir Ivanov were revealed.
He got the attention of the FBI for visiting the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York City. In simple terms, Vladimir visited the office representing the Soviet Union for the United Nations.
Like in the movies, they detailed in the FBI file Vladimir’s appearance from his hair to clothes. Obviously, a FBI agent was watching who was visiting this office. The report goes on “Upon departing the SMUN this unknown male boarded an IRT subway train and repeatedly asked directions of other individuals in the car. He was observed to speak in a heavy accent and on one occasion was overheard to advise another subway passenger that he was from Lithuania.”
I can imagine a FBI agent in a trench coat, sitting in the subway train with his newspaper covering his face. Then the agent followed Vladimir onto a bus to Patterson, N.J., where Vladimir visited Manpower to look for temp jobs. The agent gets a Manpower employee to reveal his identity and activities as an employee.
The FBI agent contacts the Immigration and Naturalization Service to learn more about Vladimir’s immigration process and life in the USA and then a bank for his credit records, which didn’t exist. The final stop was the Patterson Police Department to check for any criminal activity. Vladimir only had paid a $100 fine for drunkenness.
Even though there isn’t any evidence that he could be a Soviet spy, the investigation runs from February to June 1966, all because he visited that office.
All of this makes me wonder about how many Soviet immigrants were investigated and documented by the FBI. The fear of Soviet immigrants must have spread from FBI agents doing these investigations.
Soviet immigrants came to this country for freedom and a better life, but who was being watched as if they were still in the Soviet Union? Only the FBI knows.
Guide for success in obtaining Alien Case Files