Ion Mihai Pacepa. A personal view
Having followed the press coverage, commentary, and internet postings on the death of General Ion Mihai Pacepa, I thought that your readers might find the results of my own research regarding the circumstances of his defection of interest. I base that assertion on the fact that the General contacted me in 2005 to express his belated admiration for my book Ceausescu and the Securitate. published in the United States and Britain in 1995. At the same time, he outlined problems that he faced in securing his rehabilitation in Romania.
Following a brief exchange of emails, I heard nothing further from him until 2015 when he offered to describe to me the circumstances of his defection to the United States in July 1978. His reason for doing so, he explained, is that he trusted me to use this information in an impartial manner.
I proposed to him that I draw up a list of questions to which he could choose to answer or not, as the case may. I have reproduced his answers below, verbatim, in English as this was the language in which our correspondence was conducted. That correspondence continued until 2018 when ill health led him to break it off. I did ask him twice if we could meet, but he gave a polite refusal on the grounds of major problems that he was having with his eyesight.
I begin by giving some biographical background given to me by the General. It may not concur with documents about his background released since his death in Romania but I offer them as a contribution to the historical record.
In October 1959, Pacepa was appointed by Alexandru Drăghici, Minister of the Interior, head of the technical department of Directorate I, that is, head of Romanian industrial espionage. Such espionage, like all Romanian foreign intelligence activity, was coordinated by the KGB’s Foreign Intelligence Directorate, and Pacepa was given his instructions by the Soviet technical adviser to Drăghici whom he named as Colonel Boris Alexeivici Kotov.
When Kotov, together with the other KGB counsellors, was withdrawn at Gheorghiu-Dej’s request at the end of 1964, the way was clear for priority to be given to Romanian needs in the realm of industrial espionage, needs which were dictated by Ceaușescu.
In April 1972, the existing directorate was rechristened Departamentul de Informații Externe (DIE) and its head, Col. Gen. Gheorghe Nicolae Doicaru, became Ceaușescu’s national security adviser. Pacepa was appointed Doicaru’s deputy in 1973 and in this capacity oversaw most of Romanian foreign intelligence activity, some of which he described in his book Red Horizons but carefully avoided mention of his own part in them.
As a result of Pacepa’s defection, the DIE network was totally destroyed and Ceaușescu himself was severely embarrassed internationally, for Pacepa’s information damaged Romania’s partners in clandestine activities.
Pacepa also proved a time-bomb for Ceaușescu since his public revelations almost ten years later in his book Red Horizons dispelled any remaining traces of the international respectability which the Romanian leader had attempted to preserve for himself as the potential successor to Tito as a spokesman for the non-aligned countries by exposing his alleged direct involvement in murder, blackmail, drug-smuggling and kidnapping.
At the same time, the serialization of the book on Radio Free Europe in 1989 served only to confirm Romanians in their suspicions of the criminal behaviour of Ceaușescu and his family and completely punctured the inflated myths of the personality cult.
Speculation has surrounded the reason for Pacepa’s flight. The general himself gives the following explanation:
”It was more an accumulation — than a combination — of factors that made me reach that decision [to defect, my note]. Let me explain. I became a Securitate officer in January 1951, when the first generation of Romania’s engineers and economists trained under the Communist rule were about to graduate.
At that time I was 22 years old and, as many young Romanian intellectuals who had grown up under the influence of the postwar patriotic fervor, I was willing to try anything to help rebuild my homeland. Once the second largest oil and grain exporter in Europe, Romania was starving in those days.
Four years of war on Germany’s side had squeezed the country like a sponge, and what little remained had been shipped off to the Soviet Union–the „liberating” Red Army had laid waste to the land worse than a plague of locusts.
I spent my first three years as Securitate officer (lieutenant) in the domestic directorate for counter sabotage, where I had the task to protect Romania’s chemical industry. The next three years I was chief of Romania’s intelligence station in West Germany, whose main task was scientific and technological intelligence.
In 1960, I became head of Romania’s industrial espionage service, called S&T from Science and Technology. At that time, the country’s gross national product ($43.9 billion) was ridiculous when placed alongside that of Poland ($116.9 billion) or even that of East Germany ($96.5 billion)–which had half of Romania’s population. In chapter 26 of „Red Horizons” (pp 392 – 408), published when Ceausescu was still in full glory, I described a Politburo meeting that analyzed my S&T activity. I suggest you take a look at that chapter. It is relevant.
In 1972 I became deputy chief of the DIE, and I had gradually realized that sooner or later I would have to screw up my courage and break with that evil society. The physical move proved to be more difficult for me than the mental
one, though. For one thing, I felt sorry for my future self: Ceausescu would sentence me to death and would then erase anything that might remind people that there had ever been a General Pacepa. Defector, that word used by the US government for a Soviet bloc official who chose freedom in the West, also acted as a chain around my ankles, for the word lay in frighteningly close proximity to the word traitor.
Finally, there was my privileged life at the top of Romanian society: my Bucharest villa with its swimming pool and sauna, my tennis court, my cars and drivers, my summer house at the Black Sea, my hunting lodge in
the Carpathian mountains.
The prospect of being directly involved in political killings was the drop that finally burst the dam of my indecision. On July 23, 1978, one day after Ceaușescu ordered my DIE to secretly assassinate Noel Bernard [the director
of the Romanian section of Radio Free Europe, author’s note], I flew to Bonn, where I had to deliver a secret message from Ceausescu to the West German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt. That Sunday the music suddenly went dead on
my TAROM flight to Vienna, where I was to pick up an Austrian plane for the rest of my trip. A woman’s voice cut in fuzzily with an announcement in Romanian and German: Ladies and Gentlemen, our plane will land at
Schwechat airport in a few minutes. Captain Georgescu and his crew wish you a pleasant sojourn in Vienna and hope you will fly TAROM soon again.
As I was leaving for the airport’s VIP salon, I cast one final glance over my shoulder at the white BAC 1-11 plane with the Romanian flag painted on its tail. I knew that I had flown TAROM for the last time.i”
Other explanations for Pacepa’s flight have been suggested. One theory has it that Pacepa feared being held responsible for his failure to negotiate the purchase of Fokker aircraft from West Germany and demotion ii, another that he was about to be arrested as a KGB agent, a third that he was in the cross-hairs of the counter-intelligence department of the Securitate as one of a number of senior officers allegedly involved in contraband smuggling of Western goods such as video and cassette recorders, alcohol and cigarettes into Romania using Romanian international transport lorries (Tir-uri).
The latter investigation was triggered by, according to one source, information supplied by the counter-intelligence unit of the DIE which monitored the officers’ movements.iii
According to another account, it was an anonymous letter from an official in the Ministry of Finance that prompted Ceaușescu to order an enquiry, one conducted by a team working under the supervision of General Constantin Olteanu, one of the Romanian leader’s military counsellors. iv
Fearing that the net was closing upon him, Pacepa is said to have asked Gheorghe Oprea (1927-1989), a Politburo member, for permission to go to Cologne in connection with the Fokker negotiations and it was granted.
Pacepa allegedly arranged with General Teodor Sârbu, a friend, to alert him if his house was on list of those to be searched. Pacepa, having reached Vienna, was said to have telephoned Sarbu at the agreed time of 10 pm in Bucharest.
However, Sarbu did not return home until 10.30 and therefore missed the call. Pacepa interpreted this as a sign that his house had been searched and decided to defect. v
Pacepa describes the circumstances of his defection thus:
”My whole defection process in West Germany took four days, not weeks as Wippl claims. vi
I arrived in West Germany on July 23, 1978. The next morning I requested political asylum at the US Embassy. On July 27, 1978, I boarded a US military plane at the US Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Germany, and on July 28, 1978, I landed at the US Presidential Airport near Washington D.C. vii
Between July 24, 1978 (when I asked for political asylum) and July 27, 1978 (when I left for the US), I was NOT debriefed by either German or US intelligence, contrary to what Wippl alleges. I met only twice [Pacepa’s emphasis] with the same CIA officer (I’ll use only his code name „Pete”) – and never in a bar. The first meeting took place on July 24, when I asked for political asylum at the US Embassy in Bonn. There I talked only with „Pete” in the super secret CIA area.
After a couple of hours, „Pete,” who went in and out of the secure area to discuss with his chief of station and the US Ambassador, told me that only President Carter could approve my request because of my very high positions in Romania. „Pete” also informed me that the process might take a couple of days, and we established another meeting for July 27, at 10 PM in the Hotel Dom in Cologne.”
There were four long days of waiting, during which I had several official meetings as Ceausescu’s representative. On that same Monday I met Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski (the number two member of Germany’s government) to give him a secret message from Ceaușescu, and I spent the rest of the day in the acoustically protected “bubble” at the Romanian embassy, in the company of the DIE chief of station, Gen. Stefan Constantin.
Tuesday I flew to Bremen with the head of the Romanian Commercial Agency for discussions with Fokker.
Wednesday I meet Frederick W. Smith, the chairman/owner of Federal Express, who wanted to buy 100 commercial planes that would be produced in Romania in cooperation with Fokker. On July 27, I had another meeting with Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski, and in the evening I attended the dinner given for me by the Romanian ambassador, Ion Morega, in the salons of the embassy. On that same July 27, at 10 PM, I had my second meeting with „Pete” at Hotel Dom in Cologne.
He gave me a highly classified cable signed by Admiral Stansfield Turner, the director of central intelligence, stating that President Carter had granted me political asylum, security protection, and help for starting a new
life in America. It also said that a US military airplane was waiting at the U.S. Rhein-Main Air Force Base to take me to Washington D.C.
A four-car motorcade took Pete and me to the Rhein-Main Air Force Base. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pile of cloths engraved with the White House seal waiting for me on the plane, as all I had with me were the shirt and pants I was wearing.
I wanted to start my new life without any encumbrances from my past. That was why the only things I took with me were my passport, a camera containing a couple of snapshots of my daughter, Dana, and a wristwatch I had gotten from King Hussein of Jordan for saving his life from a plot organized by Yasser Arafat. Everything else I left in my room at Intercontinental Hotel in Cologne. viii
News of Pacepa’s disappearance was published in Die Welt on 8 August and confirmation that he had defected came two days later from Washington. ix
One thing, however, seems clear. Pacepa was not engaged in espionage for the United States before his defection. To become a naturalized citizen of the United States, a foreign national must meet several legal standards: the applicant must lawfully enter the country and gain legal permanent resident status. After becoming a legal resident, a foreign national must reside in the United States continuously for five years (or three years for spouses of US citizens).
Under the provisions of Public Law 110, commonly known as the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, expedited naturalization is given to those foreign citizens who are deemed to have served the security interests of the country.
It is in this context that we should interpret the award of naturalization after only two years to the Polish defector Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski (1930-2004) who, over the course of nine years, passed vital information regarding Soviet and Polish military plans, as well as Warsaw Pact intelligence, to the CIA and was extracted from Poland in 1981.
Similarly, Mircea Răceanu, a senior Romanian diplomat, who passed on information to the CIA for more than a decade, but who, unlike Kuklinski, was caught in January 1989, received naturalization in a little over two years from the time of his arrival in the United States in May 1990. x
Pacepa, on the other hand, was regarded by the US authorities as a member of the Romanian nomenklatura and government and had to wait ten years for his naturalization to be granted. He received his naturalization on 28 July 1988, ten years to the day that he was granted political asylum in the United States.
The theory that Pacepa was a Soviet agent seems to me to be wide of the mark. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to see documents emanating from his debriefing by the CIA from which it is clear that he provided detailed information about the intelligence coordination among the countries of the Warsaw Pact. Of course, the only answer to this claim would come from access to the relevant Russian archive.
At the same time, his involvement in supervising contraband traffic using Romtrans trucks to bring furniture, alcohol and cigarettes from Middle Eastern countries was confirmed by another US asset and therefore does not appear to be ‘an invention of the Securitate’ as some authors have claimed.
One final point. The reticence of the US authorities to disclose sensitive details about defectors is explained by the fact that CIA officers swear an oath of allegiance that if deemed to have been broken, is punishable by imprisonment.
21 February 2021
Sursa Foto: RFI/ Captură TVR
i E-mail communication to this author from Ion Mihai Pacepa. 4 November 2016 and quoted with his permission.
ii Liviu Țăranu (ed.), Ion Mihai Pacepa în Dosarele Securității. 1978-1980 (Bucharest: Consiliul Național pentru Studierea Arhivelor Securității), 2009, p.36.
iii Private source. Counter-intelligence officers, being restricted in their opportunities to travel, were jealous of their colleagues in the DIE who were involved in the transports abroad. With Ceaușescu’s permission, counter-intelligence officers mounted surveillance.
iv Liviu Țăranu (ed.), Ion Mihai Pacepa în Dosarele Securității, p.46.
v Private information.
vi Pacepa is referring to an interview given by Joe Wippl, a former CIA officer, concerning Pacepa’s defection; see http://www.news.ro/social/exclusiv-ofiterul-cia-care-a-supravegheat-fuga-lui-mihai-pacepa, accessed 31 October 2016.
vii Pacepa is referring to an interview given by Joe Wippl, a former CIA officer, concerning Pacepa’s defection; see http://www.news.ro/social/exclusiv-ofiterul-cia-care-a-supravegheat-fuga-lui-mihai-pacepa, accessed 31 October 2016.
viii E-mail communication to this author from Ion Mihai Pacepa, 28 October 2016, and quoted with his permission.
ix Radio Free Europe Research. Romanian Situation Report/22 (8 September 1978), p.13.
x Personal communication to this author by Mircea Răceanu and cited with his
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