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KGB agent says Rosenbergs were executed unjustly


March 16, 1997
Web posted at: 2:39 p.m. EST (1939 GMT)

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An aging former KGB agent who had direct contact with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg said the American couple were executed unjustly because they never provided Moscow with any useful material about the atomic bomb, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The Rosenbergs were executed for espionage in 1953 in one of the most celebrated spy scandals of the Cold War.

Alexander Feklisov, 83, told the Times in an interview in his Moscow apartment that Mr. Rosenberg had provided him with military secrets but had never handed over anything of substance about the atomic bomb. The two men met frequently between 1943 and 1946, he said.

"He didn't understand anything about the atomic bomb, and he couldn't help us," Feklisov said. "And still they killed them. It was a contract murder."

A lifelong communist, Feklisov said his ailing health and his loyalty to the Rosenbergs forced him to speak out. He told the Times that he had not received permission from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the successor to the KGB, to make his disclosures.

There was no comment in Moscow to Feklisov's remarks.

'Julius was a great sympathizer'

In a separate article printed in the Washington Post, Feklisov said he is the only Soviet intelligence officer still alive with intimate knowledge of the case.

"My morality does not allow me to keep silent," he said in the Post article. "Julius was a great sympathizer of the Soviet Union. There were others who also believed in communism, but were unwilling to fight. Julius was a true revolutionary, who was willing to sacrifice himself for his beliefs."

Feklisov's accounts with the Rosenbergs also is to appear as part of a documentary March 23 on the Discovery Channel. Feklisov is known in the United States for his role as an intermediary between the KGB and the White House during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Feklisov told the Post that Mr. Rosenberg helped organize an important industrial espionage ring for Moscow and handed over top secret information on electronics.

Bomb part sketch 'meaningless'

Feklisov confirmed with the Times what prosecutors had maintained during the trial of the Rosenbergs, that Mr. Rosenberg had tried to steal details about the atom bomb. Feklisov said he had received a rough sketch of a "lens mold," a bomb part, but he insisted it was "a childish scribble -- it was meaningless."


Particularly unfair, he told the Times, was the execution of Mrs. Rosenberg since she had not actively spied.

"She had nothing to do with this -- she was completely innocent. I think she knew, but for that you don't kill people," he said.

The couple was convicted of espionage mainly on the testimony of Ethel Rosenberg's brother, David Greenglass, and his wife, Ruth. Greenglass was a low-level worker at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, atom bomb project.

Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs that the Rosenbergs "provided very significant help in accelerating the production of our atom bomb."

In the Times article, Feklisov adamantly disagreed. "Khrushchev was a silly man. He didn't understand anything," he said.


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