The communist spymaster had been dreaming of this day for years, having lived a tortured double life as a top Soviet bloc intelligence official who secretly hated what he and his beloved country were becoming, and looking for both the opportunity and the courage to defect – to America.
“It was a glorious, sunny day outside,” he told WND, “which only magnified the fireworks popping off inside of me. For many, many years, I had learned to hide my personal feelings. For that was the way of life in a Marxist society, where the government had its informants everywhere and where microphones covered you everyplace you went, from the office to the bedroom. But on that unforgettable day, I had an overwhelming desire to dance around in a jig all by myself. I was a free man! I was in America! The joy of finally becoming part of this magnanimous land of liberty, where nothing was impossible, was surpassed only by the joy of simply being alive.”
When WND recently informed Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa – the highest-ranking Soviet-bloc official ever to defect to the West, former chief of Romania’s foreign intelligence service and top adviser to President Nicolai Ceausescu – that he had been chosen to receive WND’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award, he responded, simply: “I am humbled and honored.”
The highlights of Gen. Pacepa’s unique story are already well known: Following his daring defection to the U.S., he was hunted (unsuccessfully) by multiple assassination squads chasing multi-million-dollar bounties placed on his head by Ceausescu, Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gadhafi; he became a major intelligence asset to the U.S., briefing the CIA and other agencies for years on how the communist intel world worked; his first book, “Red Horizons,” exposed Ceausescu’s evil deeds and played a pivotal role in the trial, conviction and execution of the dictator and his wife, becoming what President Ronald Reagan called “my bible for dealing with dictators.”
And his latest book, “Disinformation,” is considered the bible for understanding the secret methods and madness of the little-known “science of disinformation” and its devastating effects on today’s world.
However, WND wanted to know a little more about the private, interior man, the other side of the two-star general who single-handedly annihilated an entire communist espionage service, and Gen. Pacepa consented to an interview. Now in his late 80s, he lives with his wife in the United States as a “proud American citizen,” but under a secret protective identity, due to ongoing security threats.
WND: General, you were at the highest level of power in communist Romania – the trusted top adviser to Ceausescu, chief of foreign intelligence, meeting with world leaders and living in luxury and privilege. But you left it all; you threw the dice and defected to the West. You changed sides. What woke you up? What changed you?
PACEPA: Michelle Obama once confessed in front of television cameras broadcasting her statement worldwide, “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” When I was Michelle’s age, I also liked to believe that history started with me. It took me a very long time to see the light. Power can generate cowardice and blindness, as it did in my case. It took me many more years to find the courage to renounce my exorbitantly luxurious existence and to face up to the truth about the hidden face of Marxism. Communist rulers have always been very generous with their spy chiefs – that is, until they tire of them and kill them off.
It was my desperate hunger for freedom that woke me up.
WND: When did you first start having second thoughts about what you were doing? And when did you first start thinking about getting out?
PACEPA: In an open letter to my daughter, Dana, published in Le Monde and repeatedly broadcast by Radio Free Europe after my defection, I explained why I had left her a temporary orphan:
In 1978 I got the order to organize the killing of Noel Bernard, the director of Radio Free Europe’s Romanian program, who had infuriated Ceausescu with his commentaries. It was late July when I got this order and when I ultimately had to decide between being a good father and being a political criminal. Knowing you, Dana, I was firmly convinced that you would prefer no father to one who was an assassin.
I had decided to break with communism back in 1972, when I became an adviser to Romania’s tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu and deputy director of his espionage service. Until then, I had been managing Romania’s industrial espionage, charged with modernizing the country’s economy. Now I had to manage a disgusting worldwide disinformation operation tasked with embellishing Ceausescu and his communism abroad.
The physical step, however, proved to be harder than the mental one.
Six years later, on July 22, 1978, Ceausescu whispered in my year: “I w-want Noel k-k-killed.” Ceausescu stammered both when nervous and when excited. “You don’t need to r-report back to me,” he added. “I’ll learn about it from the W-Western m-media when he croaks.”
For 27 years, I had been living with the nightmare that, sooner or later, orders to have someone killed would land on my plate. Up until now I had been safe. In the spring of 1978, Ceausescu anointed me chief of his Presidential House, a new position similar to that of the White House chief of staff. He had invented that post the previous April, after a triumphant visit to Washington – where I had accompanied him – but he had also included in it the management of Romania’s national security and the day-to-day handling of its intelligence services. It was like being the White House chief of staff, national security adviser and head of the Department for Homeland Security at the same time. There was no way for me to avoid further involvement in political assassinations, which had grown into a main instrument of foreign policy throughout the Soviet bloc.
Two days later, I requested political asylum in the U.S.
WND: Did Ceausescu, as well as Yuri Andropov and Nikita Khrushchev – all top leaders you knew and worked with – really believe they were on the side of right and good?
PACEPA: Yes. But power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once installed on their country’s throne, each of them became driven by the secret ambition to remain on that throne for the rest of his life. Therefore, while ostensibly holding up the torch of Marxism for others to follow, all reshaped Marxism, the Communist Party and their country to conform to their own ambitions. Ceausescu’s Marxism, nicknamed “Ceausism,” was a ludicrous mixture of Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, nationalism, Roman arrogance and Byzantine fawning, and it was so slippery and ever-changing that he filled 34 volumes of his collected works without being able to define and describe it.
Under Andropov, the first KGB officer enthroned in the Kremlin, the Communist Party played no greater role in the Soviet Union than did Lenin’s embalmed corpse in the Kremlin mausoleum. Andropov’s political police was now the main vehicle of his rule. A Communist Party membership card, Andropov once told me, was no longer sufficient guarantee that a member of the government would carry out his tasks honestly and in a disciplined manner. Therefore, the Kremlin introduced a new standard: All Soviet bloc citizens responsible for running the diplomatic, foreign trade, economic, technological and even religious activities in the West should be made deep-cover intelligence officers. After I defected, Ceausescu demoted four politburo members, fired one-third of his cabinet and replaced 22 ambassadors. All were undercover intelligence officers whose military documents and pay vouchers I had regularly signed off on.
Khrushchev was undoubtedly the most controversial and unpredictable Marxist leader. He unmasked Stalin’s crimes, but he made political assassination a main instrument of his own foreign policy. Likewise, he authored a policy of peaceful coexistence with the West, but he tried to keep Fidel Castro at the helm of Cuba with the help of nuclear weapons, pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war. On Sept. 11, 1971, Khrushchev died in ignominy, as a non-person, but not before seeing his memoirs published in the West giving his own version of Marxism.
WND: Did you believe in God during the years you were working for the atheist Soviet bloc intelligence and disinformation apparatus? When did faith become an important part of your life?
PACEPA: On that memorable day of July 28, 1978, when I became a free man, I fell to my knees and I prayed out loud for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. It took me a while. It was not easy to find the right words to express my great joy and thanks to the good Lord. In the end, all that I asked for was forgiveness for my past, freedom for my daughter and strength for my new life.
It was my deep-down belief in God, inherited from my mother, that had kept my dream of freedom alive for all those 27 years I was a communist spy.
WND: Once you defected and arrived in America, how were you treated?
PACEPA: The same day I defected in 1978, I had my first dinner as a free man. It was a candlelight feast that ended long after midnight and remains vivid in my memory down to the last detail. I was feted as the highest intelligence official who had ever asked for political asylum in a NATO country.
I spent my next 36 American years under six presidents – some better than others – but I have always felt that I was living in paradise. Because I was 50 when I changed languages, I still speak English with an accent. (I call this the Kissinger phenomenon.) But when I go into a store or a restaurant, no one asks me where I’m from. I am just another American – and I am so proud of that!
WND: The Central Intelligence Agency has been badly maligned recently by Senate Democrats, and of course the left has long hated and reviled the CIA. What is your view about the current public bashings of the agency?
PACEPA: As one who once managed a Soviet bloc espionage service, I can tell you those bashings are badly damaging the security of the United States.
Although it is not fair to compare the CIA with my former espionage service, the Romanian DIE, there is an important lesson I can share. At the peak of the Cold War, the DIE recruited the most important agents the Soviet bloc ever had in NATO – the chief of its department for secret documents (Frenchman François Rousilhe) and NATO’s deputy finance director (Turkish colonel Nahit Imre). In the late 1960s, both agents were arrested (based on information provided by the CIA), and Ceausescu ordered a swift investigation of the DIE. The officers who were found “guilty” were pilloried as examples for others. After that, no one in the DIE took any more risks; its officers just tried to protect their backsides and survive quietly. The DIE never again recruited any significant sources in its target countries.
As a defector, I believe the current assaults on the CIA are disastrous. In 1975, when I was getting ready to defect, I got hit in the face by the Rockefeller Commission report describing the CIA as a rogue organization. The following year, the Senate’s Church Commission published 14 more reports portraying the CIA as a criminal organization. These reports froze me in place for a while. If the U.S. government did not trust its own CIA, why should I? It took me three more years to rebuild my trust in the CIA.
Trust is the most valuable asset of any espionage service, no matter its nationality or political flavor. This is the most important thing I learned in the 63 years I have been connected with the intelligence business – 27 in an enemy community and 36 in the U.S. community.
In July 1978, when I asked for political asylum at the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, I refused to discuss the matter with anyone but a CIA officer. At the time I had a deep respect for this unique institution, which has only increased since. That is how it should be. “Made in America” is a premium label around the world.
Espionage is a secret and merciless war that is especially perilous when waged against terrorist tyrants, and the CIA has certainly made mistakes in its operations. So did our allies, but none of them is discussing its intelligence mistakes in public. They are quietly corrected in house. In the words of Stella Rimington, former head British espionage service MI5, “Intelligence work is a little like the unraveling of a knotted skein of wool. You get hold of an end and you have to follow it through until you are near enough to the heart of the knot to see what it consists of.” But you do this quietly, to preserve the credibility of your organization.
Today’s world is very dangerous. On March 17, 2014, Moscow state TV announced that Russia could turn the United States “into radioactive ash.” Meanwhile, our Congressional Electromagnetic Pulse Commission (EMP) has indeed established that an EMP weapon could collapse America’s electric grid and the infrastructure that depends on it – communications, ground and air transportation, banking and finance, food and water – necessary to sustain modern civilization and the lives of over 300 million Americans. The EMP Commission also established that even a small terrorist organization could launch an EMP weapon – obtained from Russia – with an old SCUD rocket from a fishing boat off our East or West Coast.
Therefore, this is no time to be attacking and demoralizing the CIA, for that will not help protect us against a devastating EMP attack or a dozen other major worldwide threats looming. Generating trust in the CIA will. I hope the U.S. president, the director of the CIA and the leaders of the new Congress will find the best way to achieve this goal.
Lifetime Achievement Award
In selecting Gen. Pacepa for its 2014 “Lifetime Achievement Award” – whose previous recipients have included economist and author Thomas Sowell and author and legendary activist Phyllis Schlafly – WND editors are honoring Pacepa, first and foremost, for his historic defection to the U.S. during the Cold War – literally switching sides and helping America win what was at that time the world’s great confrontation between good and evil.
His passage from East to West was a historic event, for so carefully had he prepared, and so thorough was his knowledge of the structure, the methods, the objectives, and the operations of Ceausescu’s secret service, that within three years the entire organization had been eliminated. Not a single top official was left, not a single major operation was still running. Ceausescu had a nervous breakdown, and gave orders for Pacepa’s assassination. At least two squads of murderers have come to the United States to try to find him, and just recently one of Pacepa’s former agents – a man who had performed minor miracles in stealing Western technology in Europe at Romanian behest – spent several months on the East Coast, trying to track down the general. Happily, they have not found him.
Last year, teaming up with historian and law professor Ronald Rychlak, Pacepa wrote the definitive book on the super-secret world of communist disinformation, told from the birds-eye view of an eyewitness and participant. Published by WND Books and titled “Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism,” former CIA Director R. James Woolsey describes it this way: “This remarkable book will change the way you look at intelligence, foreign affairs, the press, and much else besides.” A companion film documentary, “Disinformation: The Secret Strategy to Destroy the West,” released by WND Films, won a prestigious Telly award in 2014.
Just as Pacepa’s first book, “Red Horizons,” became an international bestseller and was translated into 28 languages, “Disinformation” is now catching fire worldwide, with Romanian-language and Russian-language translations now being published. And a quarter century after the end of the Ceausescu dictatorship he was instrumental in overturning, Pacepa is being celebrated in his native Romania (see here and here).
Finally, WND is proud to announce that, having optioned the movie rights for Pacepa and Rychlak’s 2013 “Disinformation” blockbuster, RiverRock Films is moving ahead with planning and production of a major theatrical movie based on the book.
Order “Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategy for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion and Promoting Terrorism” or the companion film, “Disinformation: The Secret Strategy To Destroy The West.” Better yet, get both the book and DVD together – at a radically reduced price.