Viktor Chebrikov, 76, the head of the Soviet-era KGB who presided over the downing of a Korean airliner carrying 269 people over Russia's Far East, died here July 1.

His death was reported July 2 by a spokesman for the Russian Federal Security Service, the chief successor of the KGB. The spokesman speculated that Mr. Chebrikov had died after a heart attack, but he could not provide a precise cause of death.

Mr. Chebrikov headed the Committee for State Security, or KGB, during one of the most infamous incidents in the Cold War, the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in Russia's Far East in 1983. The KGB ordered the 747 downed after concluding that it was on a spying mission orchestrated by the United States. All 269 people aboard were killed.

Afterward, Mr. Chebrikov and then-Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov urged that the government keep secret the plane's black boxes, which contained information that they said would undercut the spying allegation.

The KGB was one of the most powerful institutions in Soviet society and had vast responsibilities ranging from safeguarding the country's frontiers to repressing dissent and conducting espionage abroad. It was broken up into several institutions when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Mr. Chebrikov never seemed to regret his service in the KGB, which he headed during years when dissidents were routinely jailed and confined to psychiatric asylums and free speech was not allowed.

"I'm against a frozen view of the past," he said last month in an interview with NTV television. "What seemed obvious then is now subject to doubt. What seemed important turned out not to be, or even lost all sense."

Mr. Chebrikov was born in the Ukrainian town of Dnepropetrovsk and served in the Red Army during World War II. H was a close friend of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and was appointed deputy head of the KGB in 1968.

In 1982, then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, himself a former KGB chief, put Mr. Chebrikov at the helm of the KGB. He was made a member of the Communist Party Politburo, the elite ruling body of the Soviet Union, in 1985 by Andropov's successor, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev ousted Mr. Chebrikov from the KGB in 1988 and then removed him from the Politburo in 1989. Said to be one of those responsible for Gorbachev's selection as party chief in 1985, Mr. Chebrikov was later regarded by some Western analysts as Gorbachev's foe and potential rival.

Mr. Chebrikov stayed out of the public eye after he left power.