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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Computer Pioneer, A U.S. Defector, Dies at 82




SAN DIEGO, California -- Joel Barr, a U.S. defector and friend of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and a computer whiz credited with propelling Russia into the computer age, died recently at a Moscow hospital. He was 82.


Longtime secretary Svetlana Shmelyova said the electronics expert died Aug. 1 of complications from diabetes.


Barr traveled extensively in the 1990s to visit his U.S.-based children and to try to interest investors in a microelectronics venture. He lived in St. Petersburg for many years.


Born to Russian immigrants and raised in New York City, Barr defected to Czechoslovakia in 1950 amid suspicion he was giving secret information about U.S. technology advances to the Soviets. The secrets were allegedly passed on to Julius Rosenberg, who gave them to his Soviet contact. Barr denied he was ever a spy.


In the Soviet bloc, he became a leading force in the Kremlin's computer industry, joining forces with another American engineer who defected, Alfred Sarant.


Together, the two former New York roommates were invited by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to set up their own microelectronics institution. They helped develop advanced Soviet weaponry, such as the first radar-guided anti-aircraft guns, that enabled the Communist country to compete in the Cold War.


In a 1992 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Barr said his actions were never intended to "put the United States in peril," but rather to help Communism thrive so that it might spread to this country.