Obituaries

Marcus Klingberg

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6965 (Published 23 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6965
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}europefn.de

Israeli epidemiologist and spy for the former Soviet Union

The medical research career of Marcus Klingberg, a Polish born citizen of Israel, ended abruptly, unexpectedly, and forever on 19 January 1983. An epidemiologist with an international reputation, Klingberg, on that day, stepped into a car that he thought would take him to the Tel Aviv airport for a flight to Malaysia. There had been a chemical explosion there, he had been told, and his expertise was needed.

The car, though, had been sent by Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet. Klingberg, 64 at the time and founding deputy director of the top secret Israel Institute of Biological Research at Ness Ziona, was not driven to the airport. Instead he was taken to an isolated apartment and accused of being a spy, of passing classified information to the Soviet Union, in whose army he had served during the second world war.

At the time, Klingberg was also a professor of epidemiology at Tel Aviv University and chair of its Department of Preventive and Social Medicine. In the 1970s the accused spy had been a driving force behind the establishment of the International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects Monitoring Systems with involvement of the World Health Organization and the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.

Now, in the isolated apartment after his secret arrest, he was “interrogated harshly,” he recalled in an autobiographical paper published in 2010 in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.1 After days of interrogation he broke down and confessed that he “had provided highly secret scientific information to the Soviet Union.” He was tried in camera before a military tribunal, convicted of espionage, and sentenced to 20 …

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