I always find it interesting how certain blog post ideas come to me. This one was totally on a lark. I was watching NCIS Los Angeles Tuesday night and near the end of the episode, Hetty and Callen were in a discussion where she referenced a Soviet-era Cold War city in the Ukraine named VinnytsIa. Near this city, the KGB designed, built, and operated as a typical American suburban town for the sole purpose of training and educating deep cover spies. While this historical factoid was not entirely new to me, it did create the spark of an idea for writing this post – so here we are.
Needless to say, in 2013 it is rather hard to imagine replicating a slice of Americana in the middle of the Soviet Union, but sure enough, it was done. It also begs the question as to whether the United States did the exact same thing here or in one of our allied counties as a way to train spies for their deep cover work behind the Iron Curtain. I have never heard of replicated Soviet-style communities here, but give the politics and fear-factor(s) of the time, it would not surprise me in the least.
After some research using the internet it appears that the amount of verifiable information written on the topic is limited, other than by conspiracy theorists. However, I did find a 1959 Time magazine story about Vinnytsia which confirms the existence of the spy training town located there. I also found 2010 articles from both the New York Post and New York magazine when Anna Chapman (alias Anna Kuschenko) and 10 other Russian spies were caught, that describes one of these towns closely resembling Chevy Chase, Maryland and other American suburbs. Apparently, these towns include everything from a replica McDonald’s or 7-eleven, to American television programs. Here is a weblink to video on YouTube of an old Cold War-era CIA film on the topic.
If anyone has more information on other such artificial communities, in the former Soviet Union, the United States, or elsewhere around the planet, please feel free to pass the information along. As an urban planner, it would be fascinating to learn what communities aside from Chevy Chase, Maryland were used as role models for a typical American town and how many there were/are. It’s an unusual aspect of urban planning history that certainly deserves more documentation and an historical record to be established and preserved.