I seldom do book reviews. However, since Ion Mihai Pacepa directly addresses my work in his latest co-authored effort – Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategy for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism (WND 2013) – I will make a partial exception, limited to Mr. Pacepa’s allegations, comments and insinuations regarding Romanian-Soviet intelligence cooperation.
Disinformation is well-titled. It presents the detailed background and thoughtful analysis of a probable Soviet disinformation campaign against Pope Pius XII, which falsely projected the pontiff as “Hitler’s Pope.” It also presents an excellent example of disinformation in its own right because almost every one of Pacepa’s claims for significant Romanian involvement in anti-Vatican, anti-American and anti-Jewish operations after 1963 are without any evidentiary basis.
The sections of the book in which Pacepa identifies himself in the first person will be familiar to his readers since they largely reiterate his previous books and journal articles. The central focus of the book is placed on Soviet operations against the Vatican during the Cold War. Given that the book was preceded by his 2007 article – “Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican” (National Review Online (NRO), 25/01/07) – in which he also depicted Romania, its Communist regime, and his former foreign intelligence service as central players in the plot against the Pope, I will make references to both the article and the book. Part II of this blog will address a similar pairing of article and book on alleged Romanian anti-Israel and anti-Jewish operations. Part III will consider Pacepa’s relationship to the KGB and his impact on US policy towards Romania.
In light of his claims to have run penetration agents inside the Vatican at the beginning of the 1960s it is worth noting that, during the period in question, Pacepa was specialized in the theft of western technology and science from West Germany. That does not necessarily preclude him from having been ordered by his Soviet KGB masters to send Romanian “cleric-spies” to the Vatican to steal documents that could be used to compromise the pontiff. But it does suggest that he was performing different tasks for different masters.
Pacepa claims to have been given the task of placing agents in the headquarters of the Catholic Church by the head of KGB foreign intelligence. The reason why he and his service were chosen for the task was, according to his 2007 article, because he had only recently conducted a “spy swap” (in 1959) in which a Romanian political prisoner, Roman Catholic Bishop Augustin Pacha, was traded for two Romanian intelligence officers incarcerated in the Federal Republic of Germany. Bishop Pacha’s return “to the Vatican via West Germany” allegedly won Pacepa special access to and influence with Vatican officials. (NRO, 01/25/2007)
However, Bishop Pacha never returned to the Vatican. Neither via West Germany nor by any other route. He died and was buried in Romania shortly after having been amnestied five years earlier, in November 1954. Pacepa, operating within the domestic political police at the time, had no role in Pacha’s 1954 liberation either. (W. Totok, “Episcop, Hitler si Securitate,” Observator Cultural, 12/2004)
This error was publicly exposed between the publication of the 2007 article and the current book, and Disinformation acknowledges it as such in a footnote, although in the third person rather than Pacepa’s own voice. Pacepa now maintains that he “negotiated a ‘spy swap’ with the Holy See” for four prominent Catholics (such a swap did indeed take place) and thus “was in an excellent position to contact the Vatican” for access to its archives (pages 111, 367).
However, those “swap” negotiations were held not with the Vatican but between the Romanian and West German governments – all of those imprisoned in Romania having been ethnic Germans. If Pacepa was involved then it is certainly believable that, in the more than half century since, he might have misremembered Bishop Pacha for another imprisoned clergyman. It is rather harder to believe he forgot that the swap he claims to have “conducted” and “negotiated” involved not one but several (four) Romanian prisoners (including a woman). Especially since his involvement in it would have done serious damage to his trade representative cover story.
The general plausibility of Pacepa’s disinformation is based on the fact that the USSR considered the Vatican and its Pope as one of its main enemies, and the KGB conducted a major espionage campaign against it. The Mitrokhin KGB archives contain many details of the Warsaw Pact campaign against the Holy See. Likewise, a good deal of information has already surfaced regarding Soviet operations to discredit Pope Pius XII, including in a volume written by Pacepa’s co-author, a long-time specialist in Vatican affairs. (See e.g. The KGB vs. Vatican City, Mitrokhin Archive, CWIHP; R. Rychlak, Hitler, The War And The Pope (2010))
So far so good.
But now Pacepa drives off the reservation, compromising the otherwise solid research supplied by his co-author by injecting a series of falsehoods and improbabilities, beginning with his attempt to explain how he and Romania came to be at the center of Soviet anti-Vatican operations. In 2007 he made the farfetched claim that the KGB had no other better access into the Vatican than himself and the Romanian intelligence service. Six years later Pacepa claims that the Romanian “people and foreign intelligence service, the DIE, were asked to help” because “Romania had a fairly large Catholic community.” (page 111)
But Roman Catholics constituted only 5% of all believers in Romania, comparing poorly with the close to 90% in Poland; 84% in Czechoslovakia; more than 50% in Hungary; and 13% in the German Democratic Republic. It is true that, in 1959, Catholics constituted only about 4% of believers in the USSR. But that was still about five times more in absolute terms than in Romania which, in fact, had one of the smallest Catholic communities in Eastern Europe.
Other Soviet bloc intelligence defectors (KGB included) – and Warsaw Pact archives – confirm that since the 1950s Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia had the best access to, and were the most involved in operations against, the Holy See. Polish anti-Vatican operations certainly dwarfed anything that Romania may have mounted. By the early 1960s Hungarian state security was considered by its peers as the best in “penetrating the Vatican hierarchy.” Based on its full access to the Vatican, Hungarian intelligence was even designated by the KGB as the lead service for all Warsaw Pact anti-Vatican operations. (L. Bittman, The KGB and Soviet Disinformation (1985): 32; L. Bittman, The Deception Game (1972): 146; C. Andrew and V. Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield (2001): 503; A. Grajewski, “Security Services of the Polish People’s Republic against the Vatican in 1956–1978” and S. Bottoni, “A Special Relationship: Hungarian Intelligence and the Vatican, 1961-1978” in The NKVD/KGB Activities and Its Cooperation with Other Secret Services in Eastern and Central Europe (2008))
In his article Pacepa asserted that, in the early 1960s, he ran three Romanian agents under clerical cover to whom the Vatican granted immediate access to its archives at his request, and that these agents then stole “hundreds of documents” from the Vatican archives. But new arrivals from the only Orthodox Latin country in the world certainly would have elicited more curiosity than “cleric spies” from the predominately Catholic countries of the Soviet bloc that were already in place. Operating with the speed and effectiveness Pacepa pretends, under conditions of inevitably greater scrutiny, would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible.
It is improbable that the KGB would have turned to Romania given its relative lack of Roman Catholic “cover.” Nor is it any less improbable that Romania would have volunteered its relatively few Roman Catholics – who were mostly of Hungarian ethnicity and a traditional target of penetration operations by Hungarian intelligence – for such a mission.
Pacepa describes the main accomplishment of his agents as the theft of letterhead stationery that only may have been used to help create the forgeries used in the campaign against Pope Pius XII, suggesting the marginal nature of Romanian involvement. Given that the letterhead used by Soviet intelligence in its forgery campaign may have reached the KGB through any number of sources, this claim, in the tradition of good disinformation, is almost impossible to prove or disprove. (Disinformation: 112-114, 125)
Any claim of Romanian involvement in Soviet anti-Vatican operations after 1956 is extremely problematic. In 1960 Khrushchev complained to his entourage that “in Romania, and even in the ranks of its Communist Party, pernicious nationalist and anti-Soviet attitudes were developing which must be cut off the root.” By 1961 tension at the level of security intelligence services was so pronounced that Bucharest unilaterally ended the otherwise common practice within the Warsaw Pact (until 1991) of sending intelligence officers to Soviet institutions in the USSR for training. And, by 1962, the KGB was curbing its intelligence cooperation with Romania and ordering the other Pact services to do so as well. (A. Shevchenko, Breaking with Moscow (1985): 97; J. Sejna, Will We Bury You (1982): 66)
In 2007 Pacepa claimed that KGB disinformation chief Ivan Agayants traveled to Romania in 1963 to congratulate Romania for a job well done against the Pope and the Vatican. However, at that time Romania was unilaterally pulling out of its joint espionage operations with the Warsaw Pact services. That same summer Bucharest called for Moscow to shut down Soviet espionage networks not only in Romania but throughout the Soviet bloc. While Agayants may have congratulated Pacepa at some point for his personal contribution, any visit in the summer of 1963 would have only confirmed the break-down in Romanian-Soviet intelligence collaboration. (G. Herbstritt and S. Olaru, Stasi şi securitate (2005): 66; Working Paper #65, CWIHP, wilsoncenter.org)
Pacepa produces no evidence – old or new – for Romanian involvement in anti-Vatican operations during the 1960s beyond that of his own questionable testimony. But in 1958 the Romanian regime authorized the opening of the first Romanian-speaking Catholic Seminary since Stalin. The Mitrokhin KGB archives also suggest Romanian reluctance to engage in such operations. In 1967, for example, the Romanians explicitly refused to participate in hostile espionage operations “against the Vatican.” And they refused even to attend Warsaw Pact meetings on anti-Vatican operations in 1970 and 1975. (Andrew and Mitrokhin (2001): 499-500, 645 endnote 87)
As in his previous books and articles Pacepa’s Disinformation simply ignores or denies Romania’s break with Soviet and Warsaw Pact intelligence. Indeed, Pacepa’s entire thesis regarding Romanian involvement in these operations is premised and dependent upon the existence of close Soviet-Romanian intelligence cooperation. Unfortunately for Mr. Pacepa the breakdown in Soviet-Romanian intelligence relations in 1963 has now been confirmed and reconfirmed beyond reasonable doubt from the archives of every other Eastern European member of the Warsaw Pact member including those of the Soviet Central Committee and the KGB. (G. Herbstritt, “Refused Cooperation: The Relation Stasi – Securitate and Romania’s Aspirations to Independence” in NKVD/KGB Activities (2008); WP #65, CWIHP) As Soviet leaders bitterly complained in 1964, there had been an obvious “limitation of contacts with Soviet institutions” ever since “the end of 1962,” and “beginning in 1963, the Romanian intelligence organs had in fact ended any sort of collaboration with our intelligence organs.” (Document 4 in e-Dossier #38, CWIHP)
Pacepa’s refusal even to acknowledge this breakdown, for which the evidence is now overwhelming, calls into question the veracity of his other ‘insider information’ and undermines the otherwise solid research of his co-author on the character assassination campaign against Pope Pius XII.
(To be continued …)