Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom, 99

Stig Wennerstrom at court in 1963. Code named
Stig Wennerstrom at court in 1963. Code named "The Eagle," he was convicted of treason for spying for Moscow. (Associated Press)
Associated Press
Friday, March 31, 2006

Stig Wennerstrom, 99, a Swedish Air Force officer who supplied Moscow with military secrets for 15 years in Sweden's biggest Cold War espionage scandal, died at a home for the elderly outside Stockholm.

Another resident at the home told the Associated Press that Mr. Wennerstrom died March 21. The cause of death was not reported.

Mr. Wennerstrom, code named "The Eagle" by his Soviet spy-masters, was convicted of four counts of treason in 1964 for revealing classified information of Sweden, the United States and NATO. He was pardoned and released in 1974 after authorities said the information he had obtained during his time as a spy was obsolete.

The Wennerstrom case shocked Sweden, a nonaligned country wedged between NATO and the Soviet bloc, whose defense forces during the Cold War were geared toward resisting a Red Army invasion.

Mr. Wennerstrom confessed to having worked for the Russians for 15 years, including between 1952 and 1957, when he was an air attache at the Swedish Embassy in Washington. He worked as an air attache in Moscow from 1948 to 1952.

He transmitted Swedish defense secrets, such as missile plans and air defense control systems, to the Soviets -- information that could have been crucial for a military invasion. He also revealed Swedish-U.S. military contacts, highly sensitive given Sweden's official policy of neutrality.

The country's security police, SAPO, suspected Mr. Wennerstrom had spied for Nazi Germany during World War II and later offered his services to Moscow. They kept him under surveillance for years but could not find enough evidence to prosecute him.

The breakthrough came in 1963 when his housemaid, who was working for SAPO, found photographs of secret documents in his attic. Mr. Wennerstrom was arrested later that year on a bridge in central Stockholm.

For years, Swedes grappled with why Mr. Wennerstrom, born to an upper-class family in Stockholm, would betray his country. Experts do not think money was his motivation, because he is not believed to have received large sums.

Some have also ruled out ideology, saying instead that the Soviets had blackmailed him.

In his 1972 biography, "From the Beginning Till the End: Memoirs of a Spy," Mr. Wennerstrom said he was promoting world peace. By providing the Soviets military secrets from the West, he said, he was helping maintain the balance of power and averting war.

Two years before his death, Mr. Wennerstrom said in an interview with Swedish magazine Aret Runt that he did not regret anything.

"If I could live my life over again, I am stupid enough to let it be exactly the way it has been so far," he said.

Survivors include his wife, Ulla; two daughters; and six grandchildren.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company