updated 9/20/2006 2:24:05 PM ET 2006-09-20T18:24:05

Pham Xuan An, who led a remarkable and perilous double life as a communist spy and a respected reporter for Western news organizations during the Vietnam War, died Wednesday at age 79, his son said.

An, who suffered from emphysema, died at a military hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, his son, Pham Xuan Hoang An, told The Associated Press.

An had lived in the city, formerly known as Saigon, since South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese forces on April 30, 1975.

In the history of wartime espionage, few were as successful as An. He straddled two worlds for most of the 15-year war in Indochina as an undercover communist agent while also working as a journalist, first for Reuters news service and later for 10 years as Time magazine’s chief Vietnamese reporter — a role that gave him access to military bases and background briefings.

He was so well-known for his sources and insight that many Americans who knew him suspected he worked for the CIA.

Before Saigon fell to the communists, An worked to help friends escape, including South Vietnam’s former security chief who feared death if he was found by northern forces. An later revealed his true identity as a Viet Cong commander, but said he never reported any false information or communist propaganda while in his role as a journalist.

In a 2000 interview with The Associated Press, An said he always had warm feelings for his press colleagues and for the United States, where he attended college at Fullerton, Calif. But deep down, he said he remained a “true believer” in the communist cause as the best way to free Vietnam of foreign control.

“I fought for two things — independence and social justice,” he said.

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