In an unprecedented six-hour national broadcast in Romania Sunday honoring Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa – the ex-communist spy chief whose defection to America ended that nation’s espionage service and whose first book led directly to the overthrow and execution of the brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu – one bizarre controversy emerged.
Pacepa served as Ceausescu’s top official before he defected to the U.S. in 1978 and denounced the regime as a tyrannical tool of Soviet disinformation. The Sunday marathon TV program was essentially a long-delayed national tribute to Pacepa for his central role in helping free Romania from a highly repressive national personality cult eerily similar to today’s North Korea. It was the longest Romanian TV show on a single subject, with six prime Sunday hours, and drew a large audience, mostly of viewers between 18 and 49 years old, according to Romanian television host Andrei Badin, who interviewed Pacepa and former CIA director James Woolsey.
The one sour note involved discussion of an American named Larry L. Watts who moved to Romania during the 1980s and published research papers and books contending that the widely reviled Ceausescu was every bit the moderate “maverick” leader the West thought he was before Pacepa helped turned Washington against him. Watts’ charge that Pacepa was an agent for the Soviet KGB and continued in that role after his defection emerged as the sole controversy in the broadcast by Romania's B1 TV channel.
In the interview with Woolsey, the former CIA chief repeatedly called Watts a liar.
Woolsey and Pacepa have charged that Watts is employing the old Kremlin adage, “Change the public image of the leader, and you change history.”
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The interviews with Pacepa and Woolsey on the political commentary program "Aktualitatea B1" followed the broadcast of the new two-hour WND Films documentary based on insider-information Pacepa has shared with Western intelligence, “Disinformation: The Secret Strategy to Destroy the West.”
Asked how he would characterize today's Romania, Pacepa told Badin it is "a country that now knows how a democracy can be transformed into tyranny, but continues to learn how to reverse this drama."
"I know from experience that democracy is not learned overnight," Pacepa said, according to a translation. "I became a U.S. citizen 25 years ago, but continue to learn the secrets of American democracy."
Badin asked Pacepa if he recalled that when President George W. Bush came to Bucharest in 2004 to announce that Romania had been accepted into NATO, a rainbow appeared.
"God smiles," the U.S. president said.
"Yes," Pacepa said. "Our true God smiles, Andrei."
"Now, American soldiers stationed in Romania help protect the territorial integrity of the country. Yes, God smiles, Andrei, but not because Ceausescu was a 'pro-American democrat,' but because the Romanian people drove him out."
Badin asked Pacepa if he will return to Romania, which has not visited since his defection 35 years ago.
"I'm longing to revisit my native land and kneel at the tomb of my parents again," he said. "But I doubt it will happen as long as the Romanian justice system will continue to maintain death sentences on those who 'betrayed' the heresy of Ceausescu – among whom I have the honor to number."
In the interview, Pacepa said Romania followed the pattern of Soviet communist leaders by eliminating opposition. After Vladimir Lenin died, every member of the Politburo was executed as "spies" and "traitors" except for Stalin, he pointed out. After the 1934 Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 110 of the 139 delegates were killed. In Romania, King Michael, after becoming an international hero because of his resistance of the Nazis, was labeled a "spy" by the new communist government and stripped of his citizenship.
Falsifying the past has been the most widely used premise for getting rid of opponents, Pacepa said.
"All historical party leaders, most leaders of the capitalist economy, thousands of officers of the armed forces, security and police, as well as thousands of diplomats, writers, journalists and priests who formed the backbone of the Romanian kingdom and its prosperity were labeled 'spies' or 'traitors' and executed or sent to the infamous secret-police prison," he said.
"In 1978, it was my turn."
Pacepa and Woolsey have called one of Watts' books, "Romanian Cassandra," an "anti-Semitic garble" aimed at rehabilitating Marshall Ion Antonescu, the Nazi dictator of Romania who was executed in 1946 for exterminating some 300,000 Romanian Jews and Gypsies.
They have said that after the book was published, Antonescu's status grew in Romania, paving the way for a self-proclaimed anti-Semite, Dan Sova, to became a member of the Romanian government.
More recently, Watts published a book that Pacepa describes as an attempt to rehabilitate Ceausescu's image by discrediting the CIA, which Watts says destroyed the Romanian leader's image. The book, "With Friends Like These ... The Soviet Bloc`s Clandestine War Against Romania," claimed the CIA in 1978 granted political asylum to Pacepa, even though the agency knew Pacepa was a KGB agent whose task was to prevent Ceausescu's purported efforts to democratize Romania.
Pacepa and Woolsey have called Watts' latest book a product of disinformation, with "whopping lies piled on top of a kernel of truth."
The kernel of truth in Watts' book is that Pacepa was indeed granted political asylum by President Carter, at the CIA's request, they say. The lie is that Pacepa allegedly confessed to Woolsey in his CIA office that he had secretly been a KGB agent all his life and, therefore, never had been granted U.S. citizenship.
In reality, however, Woolsey says he never met Pacepa in his CIA office and never claimed Pacepa was a KGB agent. He first met Pacepa in 2012, he says, 17 years after leaving the CIA, when the general gave him the draft of his new book, "Disinformation."
Pacepa notes that he was granted American citizenship 25 years ago. In the solemn ceremony, he says, CIA officials thanked him for his "important and unique contribution to the United States."
Pacepa also denies Watts' claim that Pacepa had been unable to reunite with his daughter, because she supposedly was so disgusted by her father’s secret KGB affiliation that she refused to join him in the U.S. after the fall of Ceausescu in 1989.
Pacepa's daughter, Dana Damaceanu, was the first Romanian to land in Washington after Ceausescu was executed. She and her husband were escorted to safety from Romania by U.S. Rep. Frank A. Wolf, R-Va., after had spent 11 years under virtual house arrest in Romania.
Pacepa points out that the introduction to Watts' book "With Friends Like These" was written by Romanian Army Gen. Ion Talpes, who he describes as "a kind of disinformation commissar to communist Romania's Red Army who had risen to head the post-Ceausescu foreign intelligence service."
Predictably, Watts' book has been endorsed by prominent historians loyal to Ceausescu, Pacepa says, including the last head of Ceausescu's political police, the infamous Securitate, and other top Ceausescu officials who now hold prominent positions in Romania.
In the interview with Romania's B1 Sunday, Pacepa called for rehabilitating those who fought communism in Romania.
In the past five years, he noted, more than 6,000 people sentenced by Ceausescu’s regime for assisting the U.S. efforts to demolish the Soviet empire have asked to have their sentences canceled, but only three succeeded – with the help of pressure from media.