JERUSALEM – Marcus Klingberg, an Israeli scientist jailed for passing information on biological warfare to the Soviet Union, has died. He was 97.
Klingberg, who served in a senior position at a secretive Israeli biological research institute when he was arrested for spying, died in Paris on Monday, according to his grandson, Ian Brossat.
Klingberg's case, including his arrest and trial, was for years shrouded in secrecy. One Israeli newspaper once described Klingberg as the spy who caused the greatest damage to Israel.
"This is the type of story they write TV series or movies or captivating books about," Avigdor Feldman, a lawyer who once represented Klingberg, told Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday. "There aren't many people like him."
Polish-born Klingberg fled to the Soviet Union during World War II, escaping the clutches of Nazi death camps where the remainder of his family perished. He served as a colonel in the Red Army and developed a "visceral attachment" to the USSR, "the country that saved him," according to Brossat.
He moved to Israel after the war, where he served as the deputy director of the Institute for Biological Research, a top-secret facility that reportedly develops chemical and biological weapons and their antidotes. Klingberg allegedly began spying for the Soviet Union in 1957, when he was already working at the institute.
After a double agent allegedly exposed him, Klingberg was arrested and secretly sentenced to 20 years in 1983. His case was made public by the British media in 1987 and again in German reports in 1989 amid unsuccessful efforts to arrange an East-West spy swap. An Israeli news blackout was lifted in 1993. Brossat said his grandfather had been held in custody for a decade under a fake name and in solitary confinement.
Klingberg served nearly 16 years of his sentence in prison before being released to house arrest for health reasons, where he remained under round-the-clock surveillance. When his sentence ended in 2003, he moved to Paris to be near his family.
In an interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV following his arrival in Paris, Klingberg told of how he met a Soviet agent he knew only as "Victor" in alleys and cars, starting in the 1950s. He said that the meetings with "Victor" started innocently, but he understood quickly that he was being asked to spy on Israel for the Soviet Union. Asked if there was a point when he made up his mind to cooperate, he said, "Yes, yes."
However, he insisted that he never harmed Israel's security. "To this day I don't consider myself a spy. I handed over some information," he said.
Feldman, who remained in touch with Klingberg, said he never expressed any regrets. "He thought his spying contributed to world peace," he said.
Brossat, a member of a communist group in Paris' city hall, said his grandfather's life was about more than just his espionage.
"I have never been a big fan of spy stories. What interests me is his resilience, which is absolutely extraordinary. He survived everything, and he died at a very old age.
"The second thing I admire is his loyalty toward the people who saved him. He remained a communist until the end, and faithful to communists and Russia."
Associated Press writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report from Paris.