American as baseball, hot dogs, and vodka – Spy towns of the Cold War


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.

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15 Responses to American as baseball, hot dogs, and vodka – Spy towns of the Cold War

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Very interesting, Rick! NCIS (and NCIS LA) were two of my late wife’s favorite programs, and I still watch them myself. The Navy appears to have their basic functions divided simlar to the Atlantic “fleet” and Pacific “fleet” in their activities. I know the Seabees engineers are divided that way, so this program is based on reality to a greater extent than people may realize. The USMC mirrors this division as well, with Quantico and LeJeune (spelling?) on the Atlantic and Camp Pendleton on the Pacific, as well as their two major logistic centers; Barstow (CA) and Abany (GA). Just trivia, Bro!


  2. Erik says:

    I wonder if those mock cities are now trying to curb sprawl, trying to add bike lanes, and had a Walmart come in and cripple mock Main St?


  3. Dave Bee says:

    Hi Rick, When I was in the US Navy I was based in a little town (Dunoon/Holy Loch) in Scotland that was heavily influenced by the Cold War and the US Navy. While not specifically built to be an American town designed to train spies, it was an interesting area where Scottish and American culture got together to support the submarines that were such a big part of that era. American and Scottish “English” often combined into strange sentences, there was a country music bar in town, a bowling alley on the small base, a host of US cars with the steering wheel on the wrong side, etc. The base closed years ago after a run of about 30 years. I’d be interested to go back and check out if there’s any trace of the area’s involvement with the Cold War…


  4. anime says:

    Fantastic website. A lot of useful info here. I’m sending it to several friends ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you for your sweat!


  5. John William says:

    Hi Rick, I’m of the opinion that these Spy Towns in the former USSR are a Cold War Myth although a good yarn nevertheless that even had the CIA fooled into producing the Spy Town video that you included above. Still it produced some great Spy stories and programs on the same theme. Like the British 1960’s Spy series, The Prisoner.


  6. John William says:

    Finally Rick, If your looking for an obscure band of heroes from the Cold War. Check out the UK’s Royal Observer Corps. Reformed in 1947 in answer to the emerging Cold War threat from the Soviet Union. The ROC went underground with the advent of the nuclear bomb and the deployment of ICBM missiles in the USA & Soviet Union.
    Composed mainly of volunteers, they were trained to forsake their families for the common good, as part of the UK’s Civil Defence measures. To shelter in one of 1500,
    3 man nuclear mini bunkers, dotted about the British countryside ( as well as the Highlands & Islands of Scotland ) called ROC Posts.
    Their duty was to measure the explosion of any nuclear bomb that’s dropped on the UK by
    means of the BPI ( Bomb power indicator ) and check the height & elevation of the
    blast from a PIN Hole camera mounted on top of the hatch. Then report the explosion to their sector HQ or UKWMO who would then triangulate the blast with those reported
    by other ROC Posts to find the centre of the explosion. That way they warn the general
    public as well as the government of the likely direction of any fallout in time of war.
    Pretty scary stuff I know, during the days of the 4 minute warning but bearing in mind
    that Civil Defence in the UK ( as well as the USA ) during the Cold War was a Phoney
    Most ROC Post meetings were held at the local ‘Rose & Crown’ following underground
    training exercises in a Cold and damp bunker with ‘Orders of the Day’ discussed over a game of darts and Old Speckled Hen Ale.


  7. Pingback: You know “The Americans”? | Cmblake6's Weblog

  8. Stephen Russell says:

    Ideal for tourism alone IF acessable to world public to sample ” US” in Russia.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Slavic Dudkovsky says:

    Nonsense! Don’t want to disappoint anyone but if anything like this ever existed it was not in Vinnytsa or anywhere close. I am from Vinnytsa, my parents and grandparents also. I wish it was true, it would’ve been a cool tourist attraction. However, we have some ruins left of Hitler’s bunker and Pirogov museum. Come and check them out.



  10. Milan Mamusich says:

    This is idiocy. The only thing that came close to American towns in the USSR, where those gated communities which where built for American engineers and their families, while under contract with the Arthur McKee & Company. The Americans built replicas of the Gary, Indiana and Pittsburgh steel mills in Magnitogorsk Siberia during the 50’ies in accordance Stalin’s Five Year Plans.


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