The topic of defector Ion Mihai Pacepa is a controversial one. There are, in fact, lots of controversies regarding Mr. Pacepa. There are debates over his actual employers, whether he was representative of state security – Securitate – personnel, the nature of his defection, the degree of his contribution to the fall of Ceausescu, the extent to which he had responsibility for Romania’s subsequent democratization, etc. Some of these have been resolved and should confound us no longer. Others remain in the realm of supposition. And still others, such as Mr. Pacepa’s role in the fall of Ceausescu and the collapse of Romanian communism, are likely to remain topics over which reasonable persons continue to disagree. Here I address three controversies that frequently emerge in media debates on the subject.
Did Pacepa work for the KGB?
Pacepa told both his West German and American debriefers that he worked directly for the KGB – even though he was the deputy chief of Romanian foreign intelligence. In fact, he has never wavered in stressing his work as a KGB agent. Throughout his 1987 book “Red Horizons,” he emphasizes his personal meetings with KGB chief Yuri Andropov and insists that he reported directly to Alexander Mikhailovich Sakharovsky, the head of KGB foreign intelligence.
Of course, at the time Pacepa was trying to credit the idea that the Securitate – and Ceausescu – were Moscow’s agents. But his claims of reporting directly to KGB commanders were explicit, not metaphorical. In a public symposium on the KGB, where he shared the dais with former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, he stated unequivocally that “I spent 27 years of my life working for the KGB, I defected from it 26 years ago.” (“Symposium: KGB Resurrection (continued),” FrontPage Magazine, 30 April 2004) That “27 years” covers the entire period of his career in the Securitate, from its beginnings in 1951 when Romanian state security was completely controlled by Moscow center, to his 1978 defection.
Pacepa has consistently reaffirmed that in 1972 his KGB superior gave him responsibility for “illegal operations in Romania.” (The American Spectator, 9 July 2010) There is no controversy – not for Pacepa, not for the CIA, not for the German BND, and not for informed opinion – regarding the established and acknowledged fact that Pacepa worked for the KGB. Why there should be one in the Romanian media is a mystery.
Was the Securitate controlled by the KGB?
This is slightly trickier since some interpret the KGB’s ability to recruit double agents within the Securitate as “proof” of its control. However, an overwhelming number of sources confirm that Romanian intelligence as institution stopped all substantive cooperation with the KGB as early as 1963. Czechoslovak intelligence defectors Ladislav Bittman and Jan Sejna report that the problems in collaborating with Romania began in 1962. Soviet leader Nikolai Podgorny specified 1963 as the year collaboration ended. According to the East German Stasi, KGB leaders informed them of the same during bilateral service talks in 1967. And Yuri Andropov noted in the annual report after his first year as KGB chief that his organization received only minimal information from the Romanians, and only from the Romanian ambassador. Except for the Bulgarian KDS, which Romania still hoped to recruit to the idea of a Balkan Pact independent of the Soviet Union, the Securitate had cut-off all substantive collaboration with the other Pact services by the mid-1960s.
In this regard Pacepa’s claim that he was getting his orders directly from the KGB leadership in 1972 is particularly interesting. In 1971, immediately after Ceausescu’s visit to Beijing – the first of any Communist leader since the Sino-Soviet split – Moscow ordered the other Warsaw Pact services to sever all intelligence ties of any sort with the Securitate. There was some lag-time between this instruction and the end of all contacts, allowing the last “social” visit of KGB officials and their wives to Romania in early 1972.
The head of that delegation, KGB foreign counterintelligence chief Oleg Kalugin, noted after he moved to the United States that in 1971, when the other bloc services became “even more subservient to the Soviet KGB,” the Romanians “bolted out of the alliance” and “Ceausescu terminated their ties with the Soviet KGB.” (Harvard International Review, 2002 ) Bulgarian intelligence documents likewise report that the KGB forced the KDS - Bulgarian State Security - to break off all ties with Romania in 1971, and to plead “mea culpa” for having preserved them for so long.
So, on what basis was Pacepa receiving orders from the KGB leadership for “illegal operations in Romania” in 1972? None of the other Pact services considered the Securitate a “fraternal, cooperating partner.” Indeed, all of the other Pact leaders labeled Romania and its leader a “traitor” at their August 1971 meeting in the Crimea. According to the archives brought out by former KGB archivist Vasiliy Mitrokhin, by the end of the 1970s – around the same time Pacepa defected – the KGB First Chief Directorate for foreign intelligence transferred Romania and the Securitate from its 11th Department for liaison and cooperation with fraternal socialist services, to its 5th Department, which included NATO states, Yugoslavia and Albania, all of which were targets of hostile Soviet and Warsaw Pact intelligence operations. Clearly, the Securitate was treated by the KGB as an enemy service rather than a subordinate one.
Why did Pacepa defect?
There are competing theories as to why Pacepa defected in July 1978. One theory holds that he feared imminent exposure either as a KGB agent or for some illegal dealings, or both. Another, that he was ordered by the KGB to do so in order to help head off Romania’s dangerous turn towards away from Moscow and towards the West. Less compellingly, Pacepa claimed in his 1987 book to be motivated by his love of democracy and secret pro-American sympathies. This remains as yet an area of speculation rather than knowledge. That said, prima facie evidence suggests that the first hypothesis is much more likely either of the latter two. The KGB was generally not anxious for its officers to defect because of the secrets they might reveal about it. Nor would the KGB be anxious to lose such a highly-placed agent in both the Securitate and the Romanian hierarchy – Pacepa was, after all, a principal security advisor to Ceausescu.
Suspicions linger that the defection was a Soviet operation primarily because Pacepa made claims about Romanian policy and behavior that he knew to be false but which fully confirmed Soviet disinformation designed to destroy the special Romanian-American relationship. And he continued to do so well into the new millennium. However, it is more probable that he was courting support from a group within the US interested in undermining Washington’s support for Romania, for example, one of the Hungarian-American organizations that insisted Romania practiced genocide against ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania. There is also a remote possibility that he was expressing a personal grudge of some sort. In any case, the question as to Pacepa’s motivations for his defection remains an open one.
Recently I was misrepresented by a journalist as claiming to believe – and to have “proof” – that Pacepa defected to the US as part of a Soviet operation. I neither said nor believe any such thing. However, there are precedents in which defectors have fallen back under Soviet influence after they arrived in the United States.
For example, KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn gave very good information during his initial defection in 1961-1963, before he grew frustrated at not being allowed to brief President John Kennedy personally and moved to Great Britain. When he returned in the late summer of 1963 he did so with a variety of confabulations that confirmed Soviet disinformation, confounded CIA counterintelligence, and greatly compromised CIA operations in the Soviet bloc for the next decade. Among Golitsyn’s new revelations were the claims that the Tito-Stalin, Albanian-Soviet and Sino-Soviet splits were false, that Romanian independence was a myth, and, a bit later, that the Soviet Union would never invade Czechoslovakia because Soviet anger over the Prague Spring was a façade as well. As one US analyst noted, “having established his bona fides during his first stay in the United States,” Golitsyn now appeared to have “returned to carry out his disinformation mission.” (David Martin, A Wilderness of Mirrors, 2003)
The CIA eventually concluded that the costs to the KGB were so great that it would never intentionally have one of its officers defect. However, the same interdiction apparently did not apply to the officers of allied services. In 1987, for example, the CIA discovered that “every Cuban agent recruited by the agency over the past twenty years was a double – pretending to be loyal to the United States while working in secret for Havana.” (Timothy Weiner, A Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, 2007) What was not permitted the KGB was manifestly permitted the officers of auxiliary services whose knowledge of KGB center was limited. Of all the Soviet Bloc intelligence services, the Romanian had the least contact and knowledge of KGB center.
To sum up, we know that Pacepa was a KGB agent and we know that the Securitate was not controlled by the KGB – it was not even on a friendly basis with it (although some Securitate officers like Pacepa certainly were). These are not opinions. They are established facts repeatedly confirmed by documents and statements issued at the time.
This blog appeared in Romanian translation at Adevarul.ro