|Theodore "Teddy" Temish|
Theodore "Teddy" Temish
4 June 1967|
Syracuse, New York,
|Died||7 April 1995
Syracuse, New York,
Theodore “Teddy” Temish (June 4, 1967 – April 7, 1995) was an American soldier accused of spying for the Soviet Union in 1990. He underwent an investigation after hiking three miles from one observation tower in Alaska to another, while sick and injured, following a power failure at the post where he was stationed. Documents were found among his belongings which appeared to contain correspondence between himself and a Soviet liaison. However, upon further investigation, it was discovered that the communications were actually a forgery, created by Temish himself, as part of an elaborate fantasy life that he had fabricated. The charges of espionage against him were eventually dropped, but he was discharged from the Army and later committed suicide. He has been described as a Walter Mitty-like figure.
Theodore Temish was born in Syracuse, New York in 1967. He was of Ukrainian and Greek descent. His father’s surname was originally Temishenko. His mother was from the city of Thessaloniki, Greece. His family was of the Eastern Orthodox faith. Temish attended Corcoran High School, where he played football and was a member of the choir. He spoke Greek and Ukrainian fluently, and enjoyed skiing and hunting. He went by the name “Teddy,“ and was known as a quiet and reserved student who never made trouble and earned satisfactory grades. Upon graduation from high school, he enlisted in the United States Army in 1986 and was stationed with the 6th Infantry Division near Fairbanks, Alaska. He served as a radio operator and maintainer, attaining the rank of corporal.
On November 3, 1990, Temish was stationed at a remote observation tower about 60 miles north of Fairbanks. He had been instructed to operate the radio there for one week, filling in for the regular operator. The tower contained a small sleeping quarters and Temish was to stay there alone. On November 5, there was a power failure in the observation tower, of unknown origins. It left the communications system of the tower inoperable. On this same day, Temish became violently ill, suffering from a high fever, dizziness, nausea, and intense head pain. According to Temish himself, he had tried to activate the tower’s backup generator, but was unable to, and was left without a means of communication, and suffering from an unknown illness. It was at this point that he decided to hike to another observation tower three miles east, to seek medical assistance. He dressed himself fully and gathered some medical supplies in a bag, and was descending the stairs leading down from the tower when he fell, breaking an ankle and fracturing his wrist. Despite his injuries, and the fact that he was in intense pain, Temish managed to reach the nearest observation tower and shortly thereafter was transported to a hospital at Fort Wainwright for treatment. His illness was identified as food poisoning.
Meanwhile, while the power failure at the observation tower was being investigated, soldiers looking through the desk that Temish had been stationed at found several folders of documents which he had left there. Among the documents was a handwritten list of radio call signs and frequencies, as well as a notebook filled with rudimentary hand-drawn maps of various parts of Fort Wainwright, and of the service roads leading to observation towers. There were several notepads containing coded messages. There were also empty envelopes marked with a series of squares and triangles, which was presumed to be a code. Upon the discovery of these documents Temish was immediately questioned by a superior officer, and he “confessed” to having been acting as an agent for the Soviet Union, transferring Army intelligence information to a liaison for that country. On November 10, 1990, he was formally charged with espionage.
However, after closer scrutiny, the documents that were discovered in Temish’s desk were found to have been completely fabricated – the “codes” within them merely a meaningless series of symbols. One note pad was found that had been completely filled in with black ink, containing no information whatsoever. Another had a series of circles, increasing and decreasing in size, drawn on every page. Army intelligence officers determined that there was nothing written in any of the documents that constituted genuine espionage, and that Temish had most likely created his identity as a “spy” out of whole cloth. He was referred to a panel of Army psychiatrists, who determined Temish to be expressing symptoms of histrionic personality disorder and pathological delusion. They concluded that he had been “living in a dream” and that he had built up a “towering, fraudulent persona” as a secret agent to cope with what he saw as an uninteresting and pointless life, in the manner of Walter Mitty – a famous fictional character by James Thurber who imagines himself in various exciting scenarios to combat the boredom of his actual life. During the examination, Temish made a second “confession,“ this time admitting to fabricating all of the documents. An official statement noted:
- The subject, Corporal Temish, suffers from profound feelings of inadequacy and disillusionment, and has created this elaborate fantasy life [as a spy] rather than face reality. He neither has the skills nor the inclination to carry out actual acts of espionage, and the identity he has built is pure fiction. He has, in fact, lived in a self-described fantasy life from a young age, but never expressed it outwardly until now.
The espionage charges against Temish were dismissed on December 20, 1990, but he was given a medical discharge from the United States Army. He moved back to Syracuse and worked for an electrical contractor for several years. He never spoke to the press about the espionage incident, and declined all interviews that were offered to him. He lived at home with his parents and kept a low profile. On April 7, 1995, he committed suicide by hanging.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
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