The Cold War-era prisoner swap, the Soviet spy ... and the Minnesota college student

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It's a story that sounds lifted from the pages of a spy novel.

In the deep freeze of the Cold War, three men were freed in a delicate international prisoner exchange. One was a Soviet spy who'd been convicted and jailed in the U.S. Another was an Israeli citizen being held in Mozambique.

The third was Alan Van Norman, a 22-year-old college student from Windom, Minnesota. He'd been caught trying to smuggle an East German family into the West in the trunk of his car, and spent nine months in an East German prison.

Van Norman was freed on May 1, 1978, and his story—of the American student traded for the Soviet spy—became a media sensation. He spoke with Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer about the experience.