My work for the Central Intelligence Agency caused me no moral dilemma. My assignment was simply to be somewhat of an academic traveller. I was a student of Eastern European politics so I had every reason to be visiting Eastern Europe. I was to hang out in various universities in Eastern Europe and gauge the sentiment of students living behind the “Iron Curtain” about living there and their willingness to challenge the existing power structure. CIA operatives had already done the heavy lifting and I was simply adding a more “youthful” perspective to their findings. Over 3 summers “on vacation” I visited Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Eastern Germany. I was a popular figure in many a university campus with my Frisbee and a healthy supply of blue jeans. Just about all students once familiar with me expressed their frustration of living in a “Marxist state” that never walked the talk. Special privileges for party members whether it be special shops with western consumer goods or the best holidays and flats. Making matters worse were the presence of Soviet troops “occupying” many Eastern European countries. There were small “party cadres” at some universities but the majority of students despised these “opportunists”.
So all in all it was easy work. I was keeping an eye on corrupt governments and their student victims. I also gained invaluable academic knowledge about Eastern European regimes. Waiting regularly in lines for food was a common occurrence in several Eastern European countries and yes you could read about it in the comfort of a North American campus but to have to line up for a loaf of bread or chunk of cheese was one of those unique real-life experiences. On occasion I was tailed by local security forces but my movements were unhindered unlike in the Soviet Union where visitors had to be at certain destinations at certain times and regularly report to local police offices to “register” themselves.
It is amazing how many spaghetti dinners I cooked in student kitchens. Many had never had a spaghetti dinner before. Sometimes the ground horsemeat gave it a heavy flavour though.