February 10, 1962, a captured CIA spy was exchanged for a captured
Soviet spy. Francis Gary Powers’ CIA spy plane was shot down over
Soviet Union airspace, and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel was caught by the
FBI in Texas."
was a nerd. Yet what he lacked in brawn he more than made up for with
brains. Everyone in town knew him as “the science guy”.
Unfortunately he fitted every nerdy stereotype known to man, not
doing himself any favours with his thick black-rimmed glasses, odd
haircut and pocket protector.
different his life would have been had he not responded to the
pen-pal letter. It was 1955, how did a Russian get to respond to an
advert in a childrens “How to be a Detective”
Annual? Not that Francis knew he was Russian at the time, and he was
not even vaguely suspicious when Rudolf from Stupino, asked him after
a few years, “So, have you ever thought of being a spy?”
How was he to know that Stupino was just outside Moscow? It sounds
images of secret cameras, wired briefcases and fast women, Francis,
thinking it was all in good fun, admitted that it would be pretttty
cool to be a spy! For months they had made up stories and posted
their “spy ideas” to one another, and Francis had developed a pen
with invisible ink for secret messages, and posted one off to Rudolf
in Stupino. Francis realised that there may be a market for such a
don't you invite Rudolf to come and visit here?”
Francis' mother suggested at dinner. “You
boys have been writing to one another for years now. Wouldn't
you like to meet him?”
Francis, reminded of the neat stack of letters in his top desk
drawer, thought, “Why not?”
summer Rudolf arrived with a small suitcase and a big smile. He was
everything that Francis wasn't. Tall, athletic with a square jaw, and
an arrogance that had not been evident in his writing. Francis found
him odd in person. Why did Rudolph feel the need to state the obvious
and spout Americanisms all the time?
one of five children, born into a poor Russian family, was gifted
with more brawn than brains, and with enough charm to make up for it.
From a young age he vowed that he would not grow up penniless,
seeking charity to feed and clothe himself. He dreamt of big houses
and shiny, fast cars. The Annual he had found in a trashcan, (one
man’s' trash is another man’s treasure), was his treasure and he
would frequently sit and pour over its pages. The American
Dream. Could he ever have that life? A headline caught his
eye “Find your own Pen Pal.” Maybe, just maybe…. He
scanned the advertisements and one stood out: “I am Francis. 16
years old. Boy. Hobbies: Science, Reading, Inventing. Write to me
at...” Rudolf scribbled a note in his best English,
grateful that Francis couldn't hear his accent. He was 4 years older
than Francis, but hey, it would be a window into the world he wanted
to be part of. He counted out his rubles and sent off the letter. He
wants to be part of something, and Rudolf was no different. At 20, he
realised that the only way he would get to America, was illegally. He
signed up to join the KGB and after rigorous physical and
psychological testing, was accepted. His first mission began almost
right away – end goal: Get into the USA, make a life for himself
and work undercover. Months of intense training in the English
language, American customs, history and literature followed. Rudolf
spent hours in his tiny room, reading English books out loud and
watching American movies. He would incorporate these into his letters
to Francis and get the American opinion. Everything Rudolf did, was
with the end aim of infiltration and he congratulated himself that he
had found his way in – it was through Francis.
did it go so wrong?"
asking Francis if he ever thought of being a spy was not a wise
question after all. He wasn't an idiot and sooner or later he would
realise that Stupino is not in America. “Damn. Why didn't I
think of that!” The smallest errors give the biggest clues.