Obituary: Marcus Klingberg, Soviet spy
Leading Israeli chemical and biological weapons scientist who became notorious as a Soviet spy
Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30
Marcus Klingberg, who died last Monday aged 97, was one of Israel's leading scientists in the area of chemical and biological weapons and the most high-ranking Soviet spy ever caught in Israel.
He started his spying activities in 1957 under the code name "Rok", which in Russian means "fate". His KGB control was called "Viktor" and the two would meet every three months. Meetings would be arranged by either one drawing coded signs in chalk on a concrete wall in Tel Aviv.
Klingberg was taught the tricks of the trade - how to use invisible ink, how to take micro-photographs and how to carry out mail drops - during a special trip arranged for him by the KGB to Europe.
Israel's internal security agency, Shin Bet, suspected that Klingberg was a Soviet spy as early as 1963 and they even detained him for an interrogation, but he was released after passing a polygraph test.
When the Soviets cut off diplomatic contacts with Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War, Klingberg began travelling to Switzerland under the guise of attending international conventions. He would meet his handlers in restaurants and cafes; sometimes a Soviet biological expert would join the meetings. It is assumed that the Soviets handed over at least some of Klingberg's information, which focused mainly on Israel's biological and chemical weapons, to their Arab client states - enemies of Israel.
In 1982 a former Soviet spy-turned-double agent confirmed that Klingberg was indeed a Soviet mole and on the basis of this information Israel's Supreme Court gave the Secret Service sanction to detain Klingberg for 30 days without trial.
On January 19, 1983, Klingberg was accused of selling Israel's secrets to the Soviets. After six days of pressure, Klingberg broke down and confessed. He was then taken to a nearby hotel where he wrote a statement in which he claimed that he had provided information to the Soviet Union only for ideological reasons and that he also felt he owed the Russians a debt for saving the world from the Nazis.
He was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment on charges of espionage and his arrest was a state secret for many years. For the first 10 years Klingberg was held in solitary confinement in a high security prison where he was given a false name and a false profession - editor of a social-science journal.
Abraham Marek ("Marcus") Klingberg was born in Warsaw, Poland, on October 7, 1918 into an Orthodox Jewish family and studied at a Jewish religious school; but he rejected most of his religious training at an early age.
In 1935 he enrolled as a medical student at the University of Warsaw but, in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, he fled to the Soviet Union where he completed his medical studies in Minsk. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Klingberg volunteered for the Red Army and served as a medical officer on the front lines; in October 1941, he was injured and was released from combat duties.
In 1943 Klingberg attended a postgraduate course in epidemiology in Moscow and finished it with distinction.
Later, in December, he was made chief epidemiologist of the Byelorussian Republic.
At the end of the war and by then a captain in the Red Army, Klingberg returned to Poland, where he found out that his parents and only brother had perished in Treblinka. He stayed in Warsaw where he was made acting chief epidemiologist at the Polish Ministry of Health.
Klingberg joined the Israel Defence Forces, serving in the Medical Corps; in March 1950, by then a lieutenant colonel, he was appointed head of the Department of Preventive Medicine. In 1957 he was among the founding members and, subsequently, the deputy director of the top-secret Israel Institute of Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness Ziona, south east of Tel Aviv, that is understood to do research in chemical and biological weapons. The information Klingberg passed on to the Soviets was mainly collected during his years at the institute.
In 1969, Klingberg joined Tel Aviv University as Professor of Epidemiology and was made head of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine in 1978.
Sabbaticals included a year at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a further year at Oxford, where he became a visiting fellow of Wolfson College.
But his arrest in 1983 and the 20-year prison sentence put an end to his espionage and academic careers.
In 1997 Amnesty International appealed to the Israeli government to free Klingberg on medical grounds and a year later he was released to house arrest.
In January 2003, Klingberg was released from house arrest and he immediately left Israel and joined his daughter Sylvia in a one-room apartment in Paris.
Klingberg was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour, the Soviet Union's second-rank decoration after the Order of Lenin.
In 2007, he published his memoirs, Hameragel Ha'akharon ('The Last Spy'), which he co-authored with his lawyer, Michael Sfard.
He married Wanda Yashinskaya, a microbiologist and a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto; she died in 1990. His daughter survives him.