WASHINGTON – Alexander Feklisov, 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. He was 93. 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, 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, a few blocks from the White House.

For 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 Feklisov.

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

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

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 Feklisov in a New York Automat in late 1944.

Important nuclear information was later passed through 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.

In his activities, Feklisov, who used the code name Fomin, sometimes employed techniques made familiar in spy novels.

For example, he told Dobbs that when handing off contraband, he and those working for him “would arrange to meet in a place like Madison Square Garden or a cinema and brush up against each other very quickly.”

During the 1962 missile crisis, the United States faced off with the Soviet Union after discovering that nuclear missiles had been delivered to Cuba. After days in which war seemed imminent, a plan was devised to resolve the situation.

Some accounts indicate that the way out was proposed informally by Feklisov to ABC news correspondent John Scali at the Occidental Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. There, it has been written, he broached the idea that the missiles would be withdrawn if the United States pledged not to invade Cuba.

But Dobbs, who is writing a book on the missile crisis, said stories about Feklisov’s being a “back channel” to Moscow “were overblown.” Feklisov, he said, “never confirmed them.”

Feklisov told Dobbs that he decided to tell of his association with Julius Rosenberg because he considered him a hero who had been abandoned by the Soviets. “My morality does not allow me to keep silent,” he said.

Dobbs said that when Feklisov visited this country for the TV documentary, the former spy, an emotional man, visited Julius Rosenberg’s grave and brought Russian earth to place on it.

AP-NY-11-03-07 1436EDT


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