Jerusalem (AFP) – The man considered the Soviet Union’s most successful spy in Israel before being unmasked more than 30 years ago has died in Paris at the age of 97, his daughter said Tuesday.
Israel sentenced Marcus Klingberg to 20 years in prison in 1983 for having passed information to Moscow on its biological weapons research.
He had worked as deputy head of the Israeli Institute for Biological Research and managed to avoid detection for years before finally being found out with the help of a double agent.
His case was so sensitive that his arrest, trial and conviction were kept secret for more than a decade.
He was jailed under an alias and held in solitary confinement, while queries about his disappearance were met by claims that he was in a psychiatric hospital “somewhere in Europe”.
“He was a Communist who acted out of conviction and gratitude to the Red Army for having allowed him to fight the Nazis who massacred his entire family in Poland,” daughter Sylvia Klingberg told AFP.
Klingberg had always maintained that his motivation for spying was ideological and not financial.
Born in Warsaw into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family, Klingberg fled Poland during the Nazi invasion in 1939 and made his way to the Soviet Union, where he studied medicine.
In 1941, after German troops entered the Soviet Union, he enlisted in the Soviet army.
He returned to Poland at the end of the war, where he discovered that his parents and brother had died in a concentration camp. He emigrated to Sweden, then to Israel shortly after the state was created in 1948.
He served in the Israeli army’s health services, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel and specialising in epidemiology. He joined the top-secret biological institute, located in Nes Ziona south of Tel Aviv, in 1957.
Israeli suspicions turned toward him in 1963 and there were suggestions that his spying began long before, but he was arrested only 20 years later in 1983 with the help of a double agent codenamed Samaritan.
Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency arranged for him to go on a foreign trip, but rather than being taken to the airport, he was taken to an isolated apartment where he was interrogated for several days before signing a confession.
He was sentenced to 20 years but freed on house detention after serving around 15. In 2003, he was authorised to live with his daughter in Paris, where he died on Monday.
In memoirs published this year and entitled “The Last Spy”, Klingberg said “what upset me the most was the shame and the regret. Not for having spied for the Soviet Union, no. My sense of humiliation came from the fact that they broke me.”