The Death of Ion Pacepa
Ion Pacepa’s life was right out of a John le Carre spy novel.
I just learned about the death of Ion Mihai Pacepa.
He passed away quietly at an undisclosed location a few days ago from COVID. He was 92.
I feel obliged to share a few thoughts on Pacepa’s fascinating biography and his unique role in Eastern European history which hastened the end of the Cold War between the West and East.
Early in his military career, Pacepa was assigned to the Directorate of Counter-Sabotage of the dreaded Romanian secret police, otherwise known as Securitate. He was later transferred to the Directorate of Foreign Intelligence and was gradually promoted to the rank of three-star general in the Romanian Army. Pacepa became one of Nicolae Ceausescu’s closest advisors. Then, in 1978, Pacepa stunned the world when he became the highest-ranking defector to the United States from an enemy intelligence agency. He left Romania to seek asylum in West Germany and eventually settled down in America. Someplace, we don’t know where.
At the time, Pacepa was such an abundant bounty of secret insider information on many of the East Bloc and Russian leaders and their internal apparatus that it took 18 months for American intelligence agencies to fully debrief him. When Ceausescu learned about the betrayal and defection, he was so furious that he offered the equivalent of $2 million as a reward for Pacepa’s assassination.
Accordingly, Pacepa became a hunted man for decades. He lived with a target on his back and a price tag on his head 24/7. Even after the Cold War thawed and eventually melted away, Pacepa could never fully shake the fear of being hunted down and murdered by the next stranger in a park or man walking down the street. Simple activities we normally take for granted weren’t possible. Answering doorbells was done by someone else. He feared driving because turning the ignition key to start the engine potentially risked an explosion.
“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 Ceaușescu’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. Ceauşescu 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 him down.” LINK
Pacepa was even pursued by the infamous criminal mastermind Carlos the Jackal who in the 1980s was hired by Romanian intelligence to track, find, and ultimately kill Pacepa in the United States. Documents later discovered in the SRI (intelligence service) archives revealed Securitate had given Carlos a whole arsenal to use in the assassination.
I never met Pacepa, but I read his book, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, which was a prerequisite for all East Bloc diplomats, especially those who were stationed in Romania. When it was released in 1987, the year before I joined the State Department and was assigned to the American Embassy in Bucharest, it blew the lid off outdated assumptions about East Bloc leaders. Pacepa didn’t only spill the dirt, he backed up a dump truck and opened the tailgates — about the wild parties, the sex, the scandals, the infighting, the rumor mill, and the backstabbing. His book made TMZ look like a birthday card. No wonder Ceausescu and every other hard-core Communist leader wanted him dead.
Pacepa later wrote a few other pseudo-historical exposes, which contained information he insisted was culled from his contacts throughout Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. While some of those works remain more suspect in their findings, no one doubts the immense historical relevance of his defection and disclosures about his witness to the events of the Ceausescu regime.
I predict that someday a movie will be made about Pacepa. Ironically, he spent most of his life in the darkness but shined the brightest light of them all.
TAG: Ion Mihai Pacepa and book Red Horizons about Ceausescu regime in Romania