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Alexander Feklisov, 93; Key Soviet Spy in U.S.

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By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 3, 2007

Alexander Feklisov, 93, who was regarded as one of the Soviet Union's principal Cold War espionage agents, with connections to the Rosenberg spy case and atomic secrets, died in Russia on Oct. 26.

A Russian news agency said his death was reported by a spokesman for the Russian intelligence service.

In addition to obtaining key secrets of western technology for the Soviets during and after World War II, Mr. Feklisov was often credited with helping to defuse the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world close to nuclear war. He was then on his second tour in the United States, serving as Soviet intelligence chief, with an office in the Soviet Embassy on 16th Street NW, a few blocks from the White House.

For Mr. Feklisov, deception was a way of life. His employers were obsessively secretive. But revelations he made long after the events in question have won considerable acceptance.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Michael Dobbs, formerly a reporter for The Washington Post and now on contract to the newspaper, interviewed Mr. Feklisov.

Dobbs's story was published in 1997, around the time a TV documentary was shown about the former spy and four years before Mr. Feklisov's autobiography, "The Man Behind the Rosenbergs," was published. Dobbs said this week that he believed Mr. Feklisov "was being pretty truthful," particularly in his account of his dealing with Julius Rosenberg.

Mr. Feklisov said there were dozens of meetings with Julius Rosenberg from 1943 to 1946. But he said Ethel Rosenberg never met with Soviet agents and took no direct part in her husband's spying.

Both Rosenbergs were executed in 1953 after a treason trial at which they were accused of giving the Soviets atomic bomb secrets. Their fate evoked protest around the world, and many insisted on their innocence.

In Mr. Feklisov's account, Julius Rosenberg was a dedicated communist, motivated by idealism. But Mr. Feklisov said Rosenberg, who was not a nuclear scientist, played only a peripheral role in atomic espionage.

Mr. Feklisov said Rosenberg did give him the key to another one of World War II's closely guarded secrets: the proximity fuse. This device vastly improved the effectiveness of artillery and antiaircraft fire by causing shells to detonate once they came close to their targets, rather than requiring direct hits.

A fully functioning fuse, inside a box, was turned over to Mr. Feklisov in a New York Automat in late 1944.

Important nuclear information was later passed through Mr. Feklisov to the Soviets by Klaus Fuchs, a nuclear scientist working in England who was a devoted communist. Historians have said that espionage advanced Soviet bomb development by 12 to 18 months.


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