The Day the KGB Met the IIc

Andrew Rosenthal reminiscences in the pages of the NYT about when, as an AP reporter in the USSR, his Apple IIc arrived at customs:

The IIc was Apple’s first crack at a “portable” computer, which it sort of was if you didn’t mind a 7.5 pound weight, plus monitor, external floppy drive and all the cables. But it was sleek for its time, about the size of a loose leaf binder.

The K.G.B. officers at the Soviet customs desk at Leningrad Station were annoyed. “Where is the computer,” one asked. “Right here,” I said. He gave me that contemptuous look that border guards all seemed to have: “That is the keyboard. Show me the computer!”

This went on while a clutch of guards conferred over what to charge me. The Soviet Union assessed customs fees on electronics based on size and weight, which seemed guaranteed to maximize their take.

This is amusing to me on two levels.  First, it recalls in vividness the inflexible, bureaucratic mindset of the old USSR.  Second, the Apple IIc was the first computer I ever owned (I bought a refurbished one in later high school).

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Science & Technology
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. john personna says:

    The Agat (Russian: Агат) was an 8-bit serial computer produced in the Soviet Union. A clone of the Apple II with some modifications, it was only partially compatible with Apple. Commissioned by the USSR Ministry of Radio, for many years it was a popular microcomputer in Soviet schools. First introduced at a Moscow trade fair in 1983,[2] the Agat was primarily produced between 1984 and 1990, although a limited number of units may have been manufactured as late as 1993.

  2. JKB says:

    And there is lies the deep flaw of socialism: You can beat a ton of coal out of a man, but you can’t beat an iPhone or Apple IIc out of him.

    And as we see from the ongoing protests, the Left really, really hates someone being able to profit from their ideas. Okay, they can profit but only so much.

  3. reid says:

    @JKB: And the Right really, really hates brown people. Jeez, generalize much?

  4. john personna says:

    It is entirely possible that the personal computer defeated communism. They couldn’t invent them, they had to steal the 6502 design (their chips were found to be made from masks made from peeled western 6502s), and they had to steal the Apple II design. Even then, they couldn’t give them to anyone. Computers meant free communication (as we do here, now), and this was the age when communism still licensed typewriters.

    We ramped up our information age, and they were given a choice, free their people, or let us run ahead. Hence, Gorbachev, Glasnost, and the fall of the wall.

    Of course, JKB is a bit mad to think that openness and communication in corporeal form, on Wall Street, is a reversal of that. lolz. Doug likes to make fun of the tweet sign, the #, but that is a continuation, not a reversal at all.