Today’s expedited spy swap in Vienna brought to mind an even more dramatic trade: the 1962 exchange that brought downed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers back home, and sent “Rudolf Abel” back to Moscow to live out his days as a KGB trainer.
Yet there was a third person involved in that sensational Berlin swap: Frederic L. Pryor (pictured), a grad student who the Soviets threw into the deal at the last moment. Pryor had ended up in East German hands after making a grave-yet-understandable error in judgment:
Pryor said he had been studying foreign trade in the east European Communist countries when he entered east Berlin on Aug. 25 to hear a speech by Walter Ulbricht.
When he entered east Berlin, he said, he was carrying with him a copy of his doctoral thesis containing figures and reports on east European Communist trade. It was confiscated.
Several months worth of blindfolded interrogations ensued, until the East Germans and their Soviet masters realized that Pryor really was an economics geek. The thesis was never returned, but Pryor had fortunately made a few copies before departing for East Berlin. Amazingly, the finished thesis is currently available for public perusal, though not in easily accessible digital form. We’d encourage Professor Pryor to post it on his site, so future historians can better understand what made him a footnote to Cold War history.