Tag Archives: FBI

The Readers Have Spoken

Tom and Jan Mooradian, on the grounds of the Etchmiadzin
Tom and Jan Mooradian, on the grounds of the Etchmiadzin

When I landed on the tarmac at the Romulus International Airport in July 1960, after spending 13 years in the Soviet Union, I had seven dollars in my pocket – dollars I had kept during the entire period I lived in the USSR. The $100 issued to me and allowed by the Soviet government to take from the country had undoubtedly been taken from my wallet by one of seven Syrian fighter pilots training in the Soviet Union the night before my departure at a drinking fest. The pilots were my guests at the Hotel National in Moscow.

All of my savings, furniture, the Soviet bonds, and the apartment I had – any and all Soviet rubles I had or banked during my Soviet life – everything, and I mean everything, I had accumulated during those thirteen years as a Soviet were confiscated because “they belonged to the people.”

Even though I had nothing, I was thankful to be home in one piece from a so-called “worker’s paradise”. With really nothing in my pockets but hopes and dreams of picking up the pieces of my life in the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” I began my long search for the American Dream.

While I remain grateful to God for allowing me to celebrate the miracle of life and, at times, to question some of my youthful decisions, I shall never apologize for my choices, for I discovered early that with each dawn and with each twilight there is a new adventure, a new challenge, and so much to be thankful for.

That this nation is blessed most of us realize and, although the world may have its problems, the people of these United States have time-and-time again stood ready and willing to discharge humanitarian duties, to eradicate injustice, to defeat evil and bury the “isms” of Nazism and Communism. Where would England and Europe and Asia and, yes, the United States be today, if Americans of all race, color, and creed, had not joined the ranks of the Allies in World War I or World War II?

Nazi Germany is now but a mere page in the history of humankind, and the Berlin Wall and The Iron Curtain have disintegrated because men and women are not born to live in shackles. In Thomas Jefferson’s words, “I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom…”

Americans are not easily duped by those political charlatans who lack common sense, point fingers at the media for their own incompetence, ridicule reporters to disguise their own ignorance and ineptness. They not only dishonor themselves but the country they purportedly say they love. To turn one faction against another is not to serve one’s country, but is an attempt to divide it.

In the many years abroad, I have had no occasion to hate any race, or color or creed.

In fact, I am honored to have had the privilege to live among the brave Russian people who shared their bread and cheese with me, even though they, themselves had little to eat. My 13 year odyssey behind the Iron Curtain was painful, yet seasoned with patience. Showing interest in human beings and their culture taught me life lessons that define me to this day.

I visited the homes of the rambunctious Georgians and the gregarious Azerbaijani invited me to their dinner table for a special meal of “shashlik” and rice. Then, in the mountains of the Transcaucasus, around a camp fire, the irrepressible Chechens talked about freedom and liberty. I have dined and shared a bottle of wine with the Jews of Odessa and learned about my ancestors and met an aunt in Armenia who lost three sons in the Greek Civic War.

I spent many days and nights in Riga, and Vilnius, and Tallinn and Kiev. With vodka flowing as silently as the Don, I talked about life in America with those Soviets who were eager to know the truth about the West. I put my neck on the block when I told them that their newspaper, Pravda (Truth), should be changed to “Ne-pravda”. (No truth) Would you believe they laughed!

I shall never forget the Volga and its ruins and the millions of men, women and children who died in the bloodiest battle, for the city of Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad was Nazi Germany’s first major defeat and turned the tide in favor of the Allies in World War II.

I stood on the steps of the shell of a building where Germany’ military genius, Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, surrendered the skeleton of his once-considered invincible 350,000 troops to Soviet Marshal Vasili Chuikov. Only 9,000 of the 350,000 Germans returned to their homes and families. During my early days in Soviet Armenia, having nothing more to do, I would visit a park where I sat on a rock and watched for hours as German prisoners of war built a bridge over a river in Yerevan. Ironically, that bridge eventually would collapse because of the faulty design and material used in the construction.

Upon my return home to Detroit, I was picked up by an FBI agent, driven to the Federal Building, then, after an initial interview, asked if I was willing to go to Washington D.C. to discuss my life in the Soviet Union. Having nothing to hide, I agreed to go. The information the FBI and CIA compiled should be as intriguing as a John LeCarre or Dan Brown novel….provided everything has not been redacted.

My hesitation in receiving these files is not without validation. After all, my intention was to journey to Armenia for a few years, not the better part of my youth. I had no concept that once I stepped off The Rossia I would lose all the freedoms I had enjoyed. That I would be watched and followed with severe mistrust.

While the Freedom of Information Act allows individuals to submit requests to see their own CIA and FBI files, who can accurately predict what will come of this inquiry? In today’s severe mistrust of the Middle East, will I re-awaken the government’s interest in my own personal history? Will my wife, children, and grandchildren be safe from their scrutiny?

Last week, I asked readers if I should ask the agency for my dossier. I received many replies, though Facebook, my blog, personal emails, and phone conversations supporting me to submit the request. With unending curiosity and extreme hesitation, I shall make application for the dossier as soon as this is post hits the cloud.

Wish me luck.

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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A Cross Road in My Life

Armenian Hillside
On the road in Armenia, photo courtesy of Bethany Mooradian

After thirteen nebulous years as a citizen of the former USSR, I remember with pride and no prejudice the early days of my life as a reinstated citizen of my country. I was proud to again say, “I am an American.”

I shall not take up your valuable time to count the ways I am indebted to those who helped me get back to my family. The circumstances in which this all came about in itself have remained locked up in mind and memory.

After touring around the country, giving numerous talks to share my time in the USSR…an American under 13 years of Soviet Rule…many have asked – no demanded – that I finish the story. While “The Repatriate” accounts for my time as an Armenian-American repatriate during the time of Stalin, it seems that curiosity remains for what happened upon my return to America.

In unison, it has been asked, “What happened after you came back. You have left us, abandoned us…surely there is more to tell…”

There is.

First, let it be clear I am not a malcontent. I love my country. I have lived under despotic rule and Americans should never lose sight that the loss of liberty is worse than death. Death is final. Tyranny! Unlawful arrests! Lack of due process! Torture! Dehumanization! Informers! For little or no reason, one can be shoved on a truck, driven to a train station, tossed in a cattle car, where you have no space or room to breathe, no water, food, or somewhere to pee, except in your pants. Human beings… dehumanization, treated worse than cattle driven to the slaughter fields and houses. Those who live, who dread each dawn, are but dust in the hands of their guards who can blow them away at their will.

Is it any wonder that we, here, in America are the envy of the world!

In the twilight of my life, I live in serenity. The past is but an apparition, appearing now and then to remind me of the ghosts who are but ghosts now. Unlike the past, there is no fear of retaliation for the words I utter on a telephone, or in public, or what I write.

I have read the Constitution. I do know my rights now. Unfortunately, after the Iron Curtain meltdown, and upon my arrival in America, I learned that ignorance is not bliss. The FBI taught me a civics lesson that to this day I have not forgotten.

Joe McCarthy may have been dead…but McCarthyism was still alive and well when my plane touched the landing strip at Metropolitan Airport in Detroit in July 1960.

Little did I know that FBI agents were standing there in the shadows, looking at this strange man, with one suitcase, dressed in a double-breasted wool suit, penniless waiting, hoping, praying that someone knew of my arrival. That young man had information they wanted…or was a “Manchurian Candidate”. I soon would learn that I was “a person of interest” to the FBI, and would discover that I also was not out of the KGB’s reach.

Now I have come to another one of those crossroads in life…it’s a “should I or shouldn’t I” situation. Which road should I follow?

When a friend asked a CIA employee…Does Tom Mooradian have a file with you?”

The answer was, “One moment please.” Then, “Oh, yes, he has.” Then, silence. “If he wishes to obtain the information he will have to apply.”

Now my question to my readers: SHOULD I APPLY FOR THE DOSSIER? I leave it to you.

 

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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A Slave to Nightmares

Russian PassportRead more about Tom’s return to the US in A Person of Interest Part 1 and Part 2

Inside the walls of the days and nights of my past I became a slave to my nightmares. I had been in the shadows of the KGB for so many years their ghosts became real and they were the masters of my mind.   The encounter with the FBI raised my anxiety level. I sought psychiatric help. Stopped after one session after I found out how much it cost.

There was no place for me to hide. To run. I felt exposed. Scorned. An outcast in my own country. And I dared not reveal my secret life to my family. They would not understand.

I had always walked with confidence at my side – the two agencies took that away from me. No one, I believe, would read this prose without stamping it the work of a paranoiac. But, in the final analysis, it was my life. I know the truth.

Did the KGB make a conscious effort to follow up on the threat it had made to me in Moscow that, if I became a “tool of the capitalists” there would be repercussions?

Did the FBI interrogate me after my return?

And did the KGB walk in my footsteps when I walked the streets of Detroit?

It will be you who will judge and decide upon the evidence.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there appeared in a newspaper article published in the now free republic of Armenia that carried the headline: “What Happened to Basketball in Armenia…” In that article, which did not have a byline, the writer describes the rise and fall of the sport in Armenia and goes on to mention the names of some of the top players of the 1950’s. My name appeared in that list. For all of the others mentioned, statistics and playing information was recalled, but following my name, there were intimate details of my personal life in America. A good editor would have asked the writer: “What the hell does this all have to do with basketball” and edit the paragraph out of the story.

I do believe the KGB made a conscious effort to monitor my actions in America. It is obvious that the FBI also considered me a “person of interest” until, like their counterparts in Moscow, interest waned. But, the evil that lived and thrived throughout the 20th century – suspicion, ambition, greed, hunger, exploitation and segregation – lives on unabated in the 21st century.

Despite all of the political nonsense we hear today from those who would be president, even those who advocate “Making America Great, Again”, I have always cherished and loved my country and have celebrated its achievements.

I would say to those who celebrate our country and wish to “Make America Great, Again” that America Has Always Been Great.

Let us all work together to “Make America GREATER!”

Read more about Tom’s return to the US in A Person of Interest Part 1 and Part 2

 ***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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A Person of Interest…Part 2

Armenian passport
Tom Mooradian’s passport: in Armenian and Russian

This is Part 2 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 1 here.

Do you not think that a man or woman who was born, raised and educated in the United States and disappeared for thirteen years behind the Iron Curtain, and then suddenly appeared in the United State would not raise J. Edgar Hoover’s eyebrows?

Would not the director of the FBI see “The Repatriate” as a possible “Manchurian Candidate”, waiting for someone to ring a bell or display a card so that the young man from Behind the Iron Curtain would execute his mission in the USA?

I was flown to Washington, D.C. and was met at the airport by one of the agents who drove me to the Mayflower Hotel. The next day, at about 9 a.m., the same agent drove me to a building where I was questioned about my life in the USSR. I answered the agency’s questions to the best of my knowledge. During the interrogation I also was given a lie-detector test.

I went along with my “hosts” through this process. Upon reflection I think it was because I had completely forgotten about my rights, after all, I had just graduated from high school when I had left America with the group of repatriates. I, and all of the teenagers who sailed on the Rossia, believed we could return to the States whenever we wanted to. To our dismay we discovered that was not true.

On day I-do-not-know-which, the FBI introduced me to a Russian-speaking interrogator. He began this session of questioning asking me about my life in the USSR, my travels, and then questioned me about the KGB and why I was permitted to leave when no others had. (I had been the first American to leave. Only a small group of French women who had gone to the Soviet Union with their Armenian husbands had returned to their homeland before I.)

That interview with the Russian brought back all of my nightmares. It reminded of what my KGB handler had told me back in Moscow: “Remember, Tommy, wherever you are we can reach you. Do not become a tool of the capitalist.”

The psychological effect of being in the same room with a Russian-speaking interrogator, his eyes and his glares, his sarcasm, his methodical questioning and degrading “the accused” to make him feel inferior, emasculating the “prisoner” ultimately unleashed the frustration, the hatred I had held back of the loathsome Soviet system …I fired back with a volley of four letter Russian words that I had picked up in the locker rooms of his country. He stood up slowly, deliberately, and I stood to confront him. There we were, toe to toe… A door behind me quickly opened and my “handler” rushed into the room and separated us…

Finally safe in my native land, the home of the free, I stood there thinking, I must be guilty. Why did they bring me here if I wasn’t “guilty”?

But of what?

Back in 1949, I was taught a life-and-death lesson by the Cheka. The Soviets stopped me from boarding a plane bound for Moscow from Yerevan because their pawns had informed them I was heading for the US embassy with some important papers. They tossed me in a truck and drove me to their headquarters. The Soviet interrogators told me that if I confessed they would be lenient. “We never arrest anyone who is not guilty…and we can’t release you, because our citizens would think that we are arresting innocent people.”

So, what do you confess to?

I wanted to scream. But, instead I bit my lip and waited from their next move.

Silence, at times, is a powerful word.

This is Part 2 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 1 here.

 ***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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A Person of Interest

Tom Mooradian, Armenian Repatriate

This is Part 1 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 2 here.

Once my feet had touched American soil there was a sense of relief. A cathartic sensation never before or since experienced flushed my veins. My nightmare in the USSR was over. I was a free man – free from the Soviet sham, from the terror one suffers as a citizen of a totalitarian state. I was no longer in the clutches of the KGB.

Or was I? How naïve I had been back then. How naïve I am.

When the KGB stepped out of their shadowy nooks and abandoned their imbecilic stratagem to unmask me as a “sleeper”, a “tool of the capitalists”, I asked them why the continuous surveillance. Why were their agents following me? I never got a satisfactory answer.

Those thirteen years behind the Iron Curtain are now history. Those thirteen years without a single Christmas…or Easter…or letter or parcel that had not been opened. I lived in a Soviet Republic that desecrated over 1000 churches and padlocked the doors or used the religious edifices as shortage space.

How tragic it all was…for it did not have to be as history reveals. Today the terror of the night is but mist and the fear to live is blotted forever.

But as sweet as it has been to return home, there were bitter moments of gloom and despair. My battle left me with scars.

You, dear reader, ask… “Where is the sequel to The Repatriate? “You have left us in limbo,” writes a reader. “…the story is incomplete.”

As proud as I am of my country and of the American people, the treatment afforded me upon return made no sense to me at the time. I understood the “hate mail” and I understood why some employers were terse, even rude, when they learned of my past, but…Depression had set in and I took long walks. Friends had lives of their own. I was broke and miserable.

As I strolled on a street in southwest Detroit, a well-dressed man approached me. “Aren’t you Tom Mooradian?”

I was caught off guard. I thought for a second that he may have been a classmate of mine or a basketball fan who recognized me. I was wrong on both counts. He said, “I’m from the FBI.”

The announcement startled me. The agent continued, “My director would like to talk to you… Do you have any time on your hands?”

I looked at him, smiled and replied, “If you have been following me all these weeks you know I have nothing but time on my hands.”

The agent raised his hand. A black sedan came out of nowhere, stopped at the curb and the agent opened the door for me, inviting me to get in. Once we were seated, the driver headed toward the Federal Building.

As the car sped toward our destination, I broke the deep silence in the car with a nervous laugh. The agent asked, “Want to share that with me?”

I had nothing to lose, so I said, “For a moment, I thought I was back in Moscow.”

The agent smiled and said, “No. …No. We don’t play the game the way they do.”

I would soon learn that they did.

This is Part 1 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 2 here.

 

 ***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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