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Red past in Romania’s present
Question of the Day
The Bush administration is about to certify to Congress the democratic bona fides of seven new NATO member countries. But one of them is yet to make a clean break with its communist past.
In 1999, 10 years after the collapse of communism, Romania’s Supreme Court, under intense Western diplomatic pressure, canceled two death sentences and a $2 million bounty on the head of Ion Mihai Pacepa. The court also decided this former head of the Romanian equivalent of the CIA and FBI should be reinstated in the rank of general and his confiscated property returned. But the Romanian government is yet to heed this 4-year-old ruling. And Mr. Pacepa, arguably the Cold War’s most important defector, remains in hiding and in limbo.
Mr. Pacepa’s boss was once the communist counterpart of Saddam Hussein. Nicolai Ceaucescu and his martinet wife were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day 1989 during Romania’s anti-communist uprising. Mr. Pacepa defected in 1979 by walking into the U.S. Embassy in Bonn after delivering a message to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. He was flown secretly to the U.S. under Public Law 110. Because of his high position, President Carter himself had to approve his request for asylum. Thus, the federal government became responsible for his security for the rest of his life.
Upon hearing the news of Mr. Pacepa’s defection, Ceaucescu went ballistic. A third of the ruling Council of Ministers was demoted, 22 ambassadors replaced, a dozen ranking security officers arrested, and a few dozen more never to be seen again — made to “disappear” on Ceaucescu’s orders.
At least two assassination teams were dispatched to the U.S. to gun down Mr. Pacepa. Romania’s agents in the U.S. are still looking for him — and this despite Romania’s two-year mandate on the U.N. Security Council, which began Jan. 6, its new (Nov. 21, 2003) NATO membership, and the decision of its own Supreme Court.
Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Pacepa gave the CIA the best intelligence ever obtained on communist intelligence networks and internal security services. Not only did he provide chapter and verse on the opulent lifestyle of the Ceaucescus while the country lacked essential staples, but, more damaging, unmasked the lengths to which the regime had gone to disinform Western journalists, academics, politicians and businessmen into believing Romania was a moderate, independent state, worthy of Western aid and trade. That is how Romania obtained Most Favored Nation trading status from the U.S., sealed in a state dinner in the Carter White House.
It was Ceaucescu’s fourth and most triumphant trip to Washington. President Carter hailed him as “a great national and international leader.” Everybody who was anybody took up the hosannas. He even conned the British establishment into a historic drive through London with Queen Elizabeth in the royal coach.
Mr. Pacepa worked with the CIA to bring down communism for more than 10 years, and the agency described his cooperation as “an important and unique contribution to the United States.”
Mr. Pacepa’s memoirs — “Red Horizons” — took the title of the code words of the system Ceaucescu had used to dupe the West about the benign character of his brand of independent communism. Ceaucescu was depicted as tyrant, crook, drug smuggler and sponsor of terrorism. The book was translated into 19 languages and published in 27 countries — and so infuriated the dictator he imposed a second death sentence in Mr. Pacepa and decreed anyone caught reading it would be executed.
The second Pacepa book — “The Kremlin’s Legacy” — in 1993 was an insider’s look at East European satellite intelligence services from their creation following World War II. Then in 2000, Mr. Pacepa’s “The Black Book of the Securitate” quickly became Romania’s all-time best seller. And still Romania’s new “democratic” government insisted Mr. Pacepa was a traitor to his native country and there could be no stay of the death sentence ordered by Ceaucescu and rescinded by the Supreme Court.
In Poland, Cold War defectors from the communist regime have been decorated by the government and made honorary citizens of their native towns and cities. Even though a naturalized U.S. citizen, Mr. Pacepa still has to live clandestinely in the U.S. with a false ID, surgical enhancements, and secret location and occupation. Why? Because the legacy of communism is alive and well in Romania. Mr. Pacepa says former Securitate officers, who still form some 50 percent of the secret services’ personnel, artificially maintain the anti-CIA environment in Romania.
There are 13 other Romanian defectors from Securitate sentenced to death by the defunct communist regime who are still living under cover in Western countries.
“The Eyes and Ears of the People (Ochii Urechile Poporului).” Published in 2001 by Gen. Nicolai Plesita, who was Mr. Pacepa’s successor at the head of Ceaucescu’s espionage service, called on Romanians to “execute Pacepa in the U.S. or wherever he is.”
Romania was invited to join NATO on Nov. 21, 2002, together with six other former communist countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia). The Pentagon has long been planning to create “lily pad” bases in Romania and Bulgaria that are designed to bring U.S. troops closer to the Middle East and Central Asia in case of emergency. A number of U.S. and NATO installations in Germany will be closed as NATO moves eastward.
As a member of NATO, an attack against Romania is the same as an attack against the U.S. American soldiers might then be required to go into harm’s way to defend a split personality regime nostalgic for its communist past.
Before taking that leap of faith, it would behoove President Bush to get on the blower to Romanian President Ion Iliescu. This would be a good time to make clear that the sine qua non of Romania’s NATO membership is cancellation of Mr. Pacepa’s two death sentences — loud and clear in a government communique that formally endorses the Supreme Court decision.
In the same phone call, Mr. Bush could also request a pardon for all other Romanian anti-communist Cold War defectors now hiding in Western democracies. Romania owes its new democratic NATO allies an answer to two fundamental questions — what is “treason” and who are the “traitors”?
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.
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