SpyCast 2.8.22
Ep 525 | 2.8.22

“Russia Upside Down” – with Creator of The Americans Joe Weisberg

Show Notes


Joe Weisberg (Twitter) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss his new book on Russia. Joe is the creator of award-winning TV drama The Americans and a former CIA officer.

What You’ll Learn


  • His past experience as a hardliner who loved to hate the “evil empire”
  • His thoughts on a trip through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the twilight of the Cold War, especially experiencing it as an American Jew
  • His interpretation of the KGB and Vladimir Putin
  • His take on the “moral equivalency” argument and U.S. foreign policy


  • The role of complexity vs. simplicity in understanding “the Other”
  • Joe’s journey from the Chicago suburbs of Illinois to Langley to New York City

And much, much more…

Episode Notes

“How dare you, Joe Weisberg, make me rethink my comfortable loathing of the Russians.” Not Andrew’s words, but those of former chief of CIA counterintelligence James Olson in an encomium for the book (albeit a little tongue-in-cheek). If that is not enough to get you intrigued in Joe’s new book, Russia Upside Down, then perhaps the sub-title will, An Exit Strategy for the Second Cold War. So how do we get out of the Second Cold War?

To find out Joe’s diagnosis and prognosis, and much else besides, Andrew sat down with him for this week’s episode. A fair number of listeners will know of Joe as creator of the award-winning and hugely popular TV series, The Americans, some may even know that he had a three-and-a-half-year stint in the CIA where he trained to be a case officer; a few may even know him from his stint at the Agency which began on the eve of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


The Americans is set in and around NoVa which is replete with all manner of famous sites from intelligence history – including the Arlington home of real-life Russian illegals Nataliya Pereverzeva and Michael Zottoli Mikhail Kutsik who were rolled up by the FBI in 2010 as part of Operation Ghost Stories” which we cover in our exhibits.

Quote of the Week

"When I was working at the CIA and in my younger years, I had a very one-dimensional view of this evil empire, this totalitarian state that we had to fight because we were the good guys, and we were the bad guys. And the book that I've written is essentially a kind of argument with myself or me with my younger self to say, huh, I think you were not looking at that in all the complexity that you might have." – Joe Weisberg

Further Resources



  • Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia, Catherine Belton (2020)
  • The New Tsar: Rise & Reign of Vladimir Putin, Steven Lee Myers (2016).
  • Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer - The Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen & Aldrich Ames, Victor Cherkashin (2004)
  • The Caucasus, Thomas De Waal (2018)
  • Khrushchev's Thaw and National Identity in Soviet Azerbaijan, Jamil Hasanli (2014)
  • The Best Books on Contemporary Russia (Five Books)



Primary Sources

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