“Tyrants are always assassinated late; that is their great excuse.”
It is no surprise that there are a number of mysteries about this book. The author was the deputy director of the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service; for reasons that he does not care to explain, he defected to the USA in July 1978. Was he a deep-cover American agent? Just before he defected, he says, he took up from under the parquet of his apartment an envelope containing his membership card for the Association of Young Friends of the USA, issued in 1945, and destroyed it. How strange! Was not that just the moment when the card might have come in handy? And fancy keeping it all those years—even under the parquet—when, as he makes it clear, every senior official was spying on his peers on the direct orders of President Nicolae Ceausescu. And why wait ten years before publishing all this flesh chilling information in a book, when the ghastly practices of the Romanian Intelligence Service were revealed by one of his colleagues in 1984? Qe refuse de tuer, un agent secret roumain révéle les dessous de l’affaire by Matui Haidaen.)
The author reveals that as a child he was forced each day by his father (who worked for a General Motors affiliate in Bucharest) to learn by heart a whole page of that city’s telephone directory. This training gave him a photographic memory that made him most useful to Ceausescu, and no doubt accounted for the closeness of their relationship. He uses this memory to recount word-by-word conversations that happened ten and 20 years ago. If there are contradictions in the text they may, perhaps, be ascribed to the English-language amanuensis who probably assisted him. It is greatly to be regretted that neither Pacepa nor this assistant understood the principles on which such a book of memoirs should be compiled; it is neither chronological nor organized around subject matter, just a stream of recollections, sadly confusing despite some fascinating material.
The writer himself compares Ceausescu to Marcos of the Philippines; he says that both are of the same small build and have similar facial characteristics, except that Marcos’s skin is slightly darker. The two dictators have been good friends, as have their wives, who are alike in many ways, although Elena Ceausescu can in no way rival the good looks of Imelda Marcos. Elena Ceausescu, however, exceeded Imelda’s dress collection by having a new garment for every day of the year.
Most offensive of all, Elena Ceausescu poses as an intellectual, a scientist, a chemist, having her books written by the Intelligence Service, and demanding honorary doctorates in whichever country her long-suffering husband visits. (The Philippines gave her a degree only after the intervention of the omnipresent General Ver.)
Pacepa also claims that Ceausescu had salted away, as of ten years ago, no less than $400 million—some in the safes of the Romanian Intelligence Service, some in Swiss banks “against a rainy day.” Ceausescu only came to power in 1965; if he had plundered this sum in 13 years, how much is his “nest egg” worth now?
Pacepa’s book understandably concentrates on aspects of Romanian devilry which are of interest to American readers. One of these is Ceausescu’s flirtation with Qaddafi, when the Libyan was overflowing with oil revenues. The crafty Romanian president managed to wheedle promises of Libyan money to finance no less than three oil refineries along the Black Sea shoreline. Ceausescu also extracted Libyan funds to construct a whole series of tanks based on the West German “Leopard” (the designs of which had been “lifted” by Pacepa’s Intelligence Service). But little seems to have come of all this cooperation; the money was wasted, as has happened with so many of Ceausescu’s schemes. He saw Romania as a vast supplier of stolen Western-designed armaments. He also saw himself as the winner of the Nobel Prize for having mediated between Arafat and Golda Meir, but all he achieved was preventing Golda’s assassination while she was in Bucharest.
Ceausescu paid no less than four state visits to the USA—in 1970, 1973, 1975, and 1978. Posing as an independent within the Warsaw bloc, he secured the “most-favored nation” status for Romanian trade while at the same time having his engineers acquire designs from the US, notably in electronics, which were then passed on to the USSR. Napoleonic in his vision of his role on the world stage, he saw himself not only as intermediary between Zionists and Arabs but even between the two superpowers. However, his appalling human rights record eventually destroyed his image in the US, largely thanks to the presence of 300,000 Romanians who have immigrated here, many to escape his tyranny. When they gathered outside the Waldorf Astoria on his last visit shouting “Ceausescu—Idi Aminu,” pelting his car with eggs and tomatoes, he escaped to his suite by the back entrance and vomited. Like most bully-dictators, Ceausescu is no hero; while visiting Dallas he could not sleep all night for the fear of being assassinated like John Kennedy. Revelations about his corruption, brutality, and incompetence by Romanian dissidents on Radio Free Europe have thrown him into such rage that he has ordered the immediate murder of the broadcasters. These killings, Pacepa says, are not carried out by Romanians, but by Mafia thugs recruited all over Europe to take part in Romania’s cocaine trade.
Perhaps it is the drug-running that will be Ceausescu’s final undoing—this windfall from the Near East, with which he has maintained such close contact. Ceausescu has five palaces and a special residence in each of the country’s 39 provinces; he has a fleet of private planes that exceeds that at the disposal of Queen Elizabeth and her family; he has special trains, and even four special ambulances standing by at all times, in case he may need them. He has placed his brothers in the top positions in the country; his younger son Nicu, a drunken lout by all accounts, has unlimited prerogatives, and his wife. Elena, to believe Pacepa, runs the internal affairs of the country while he tries to strut the world stage as an unwanted mediator. Corruption, personal aggrandizement, tyranny: these are features of almost all despotisms. Ugly, vicious, and cruel as they are, it has become accepted that these vices are not sufficient grounds for external interference. But drug-dealing—passing cocaine from the Near East in Romanian T.I.R. trucks to Western Europe—that is another matter. If this vice is enough to cause the civilized world to take action against General Noriega of Panama, then Ceausescu’s days may be numbered. We should all be grateful to Pacepa for revealing this disgraceful racket.
[Red Horizons, by Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa; Chicago: Regnery Gateway]