Russian spies often showcased on postage stamps

By Jeff Stein
Friday, July 9, 2010; A10

Russia's spies, now homeward bound, could soon be posing for stamp designers in Moscow instead of prison intake photographers.

Ever since the depths of the Cold War, the Kremlin has used postage stamps to showcase operatives who managed to steal some of the West's most guarded secrets -- from atomic bomb designs and diplomatic cables to sensitive technical information -- before they were arrested.

Their stories are as well known in Russia as the legend of American Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale is here.

Rudolf Abel, an ethnic German whose real name was Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher, was among the most famous Russian spies ever uncovered in the United States. Arrested in New York in 1957, Abel was swapped five years later for Gary Francis Powers, the U-2 spy pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Abel died a national hero in 1971 and was honored in 1990 with a stamp.

At least four other of Moscow's "illegals" in the West and the infamous British double agent Kim Philby, who barely escaped capture by London's spycatchers, were also so honored.

Even if they don't get any stamps, the newly released spies could live comfortable lives after they returned home -- on the outside -- if history is any guide.

In 1969, Heinz Felfe, a former Nazi SS officer who, in postwar years, spied for Moscow while heading the West German Office of Counterintelligence, was exchanged for three West German students held on charges of spying on the Soviets for the CIA.

After recovering on the Crimean from eight years of prison, Felfe settled in East Germany, lectured on criminology at Berlin's Humboldt University, and leisurely wrote his memoirs, published in 1986. He died at his home in May 2009.

Jeff Stein writes the Spy Talk blog at

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