Disinformation, a new book by Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the one-time Romanian spy chief turned highest Soviet-Bloc official ever to defect to the United States, was subject to a bizarre attack in the National Catholic Register. The author of the article, Victor Gaetan, writes what amounts to a rehash of the criticisms of Pacepa’s 2007 article, “Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican,” combines it with the latest slanders against Pacepa from the remnants of Nicolae Ceausescu’s entourage, and presents it as a review of the book.
Disinformation is an account of how the Soviet Union used lies to attack its enemies, a tactic known as dezinformatsiya. A key part of this is “framing,” the practice of changing someone or something’s past to suit the present (an example given in the book was the Washington Post‘s fake Mitt Romney hair-cutting bully story, which was meant to frame the former presidential candidate as a nasty homophobe). The primary case study provided in the book is the campaign to discredit Pope Pius XII – providing not only a well-documented defense of the wartime Pope, but an equally well-documented exposé of his accusers (a trail of lies leading right back to the Kremlin).
Gaetan, however, writes:
An oddity about Disinformation is its authorship. Two authors are listed, but only one narrates. Pacepa is an intensely controversial former communist official whose defection to the United States in 1978 is still not well understood. Pacepa, 84, never appears in public, won’t answer questions by phone and responds to email through third parties, one of whom told me, “I don’t know if he even exists!”
I can confirm that Pacepa is indeed elusive. Why? Because there are people trying to hunt him down. After his defection, Pacepa’s assassination became top priority, with death squads deployed and figures like Carlos the Jackal, Yassir Arafat and Muammar Qaddafi routinely being discovered as trying to locate him. Lt. Gen Iulian Vlad – who Ceausescu placed in charge of assassinating Pacepa – is still a free man in Romania and walks the streets with impunity. And yes, Pacepa does exist – see, for example, Congressman Frank Wolf’s autobiograghy Prisoner of Conscience.
Gaetan then goes on to attack Pacepa’s 2007 article:
In the article “Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican,” published in 2007, Pacepa claimed he convinced legendary Vatican diplomat Msgr. Agostino Casaroli — later cardinal and secretary of state under Pope John Paul II — to let three Romanian agents, posing as priests, peruse the papal archives.
Under scrutiny, Pacepa’s story began to unravel, with doubts expressed by historians and Vatican experts.
Then the reason Pacepa claimed to have credibility with the Vatican collapsed: He said he had engineered a “spy trade” in 1959, exchanging jailed Romanian Archbishop Augustin Pacha for two spies caught in West Germany. But Archbishop Ioan Robu of Bucharest showed photos of the bishop’s 1954 crypt, explaining the heroic man was already dead when Pacepa claimed to have liberated him.
He left out that many of the errors the article was criticized for have been corrected in the book. For example, it is noted that: “In his NRO article, Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican, Pacepa mistakenly stated that Archbishop Augustin Pacha was exchanged for the two DIE officers. In fact, Archbishop Pacha was released from jail but died in Romania shortly thereafter.” And he names the four Catholics who were swapped: Msgr. Josef Nischback, rector of the Catholic Cathedral in Timisoara; Dr. theol. Franz Kräuter, archivist of the Catholic diocese of Timisoara; Sr. Hildegardis Wulff, co-founder of the Benedictine order of St. Lioba, who had dedicated her life to working with Volksdeutsche women in Romania; and Sr. Patricia Zimmermann.
Gaetan then really drops the ball:
One of the most startling claims Pacepa makes, in the article and the book, is that, in a one-on-one meeting in Geneva, Msgr. Casaroli agreed “in principle” to give Romania a $1-billion, interest-free loan in exchange for restoring full diplomatic relations with the Vatican — relations that had dramatically ruptured in 1950, when Romania expelled the apostolic nuncio.
He then spends the next few paragraphs attacking this claim. There is one problem – the book never says that. Gaetan just built a straw man, and proceeded to attack it. Here is what the book actually says about the topic:
I had arranged a spy exchange the year before, but now the Soviet bloc needed a new cover story. It was decided that if Romania were to seek a loan from the Vatican, that would provide a possible explanation for why that nation was changing its position vis-à-vis the Holy See. I was instructed to tell Casaroli that Romania was ready to restore diplomatic relations with the Holy See in exchange for access to its archives and a one-billion-dollar, interest-free loan. I was also instructed to tell the Vatican that Romania needed access to the archives in order to find historical roots that would help the Romanian government publicly justify its change of heart toward the Holy See. Of course, this was simply a ploy. Ceausescu had no intention of restoring diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
The loan would, of course, have been welcome, but it was never a true aim. Moscow just wanted to open Vatican doors for a few DIE [Romanian Intelligence] agents. Suggesting that Romania needed money provided a “cover” motivation for the proposal. The Vatican did agree to discuss the loan—although it was never made—and also agreed to what seemed a simple request: to allow three Romanian priests to do some research in Vatican archives. With that agreement, I had accomplished my part of the plan. …
[For the operation], the DIE chose three priests who were also co-opted agents. There they were given access to certain Vatican archives. … The DIE agents secretly photographed some unimportant documents, and the DIE sent the films to the KGB via special courier. The documents were not incriminating; they were mainly things like press reports and transcripts of unclassified meetings and speeches, couched in the routine kind of diplomatic language one would expect to find in such material. Nevertheless, the KGB kept asking for more. Even if these documents did not actually provide any compromising information on Pius XII, the insinuation that his new image was based on “original Vatican documents” would dramatically improve the credibility of the whole framing operation.
Pacepa writes that after his 2007 article was published, researchers in the archives of the Communist-era Romanian Secret Police were able to identify one of the three spies: Fr. Francisc Iosif Pal, SJ. “Nothing that Pal or the other DIE agents found in Vatican archives could be used as a basis for fabricating believable evidence that made Pius seem sympathetic to Hitler’s regime or unconcerned about the Jews.”
Gaetan complains: “Overall, Disinformation is aggressively anti-Russian. Pacepa makes no distinction between the Soviet era and the post-communist one. Pacepa’s caustic description of Russia and the Orthodox Church today directly contradicts Vatican policy.” Pacepa, of coarse, has good reason to be distrustful of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. Upon taking power, Putin appointed his “former” KGB comrades to the most government posts. Russia today is nothing short of a KGB empire. And the patriarch of the Church is “Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk (a secret member of the KGB codenamed ‘Mikhaylov’).” His background: “In 1971, the KGB had sent Kirill to Geneva as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to that Soviet propaganda machine, the World Council of Churches. In 1975, the KGB infiltrated him into the Central Committee of the WCC, which had become a Kremlin pawn. In 1989 the KGB appointed him chairman of the Russian patriarchate’s foreign relations as well. He still held those positions when he was elected patriarch.”
But the most bizarre part of the review is what is used to attack Pacepa himself. Gaetan writes:
Larry Watts, an American historian and intelligence expert who advised the post-communist Romanian government on how to assert civilian control over its spy agencies (and bring them into NATO compliance), published a major study of the Romanian-Soviet relationship, With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania, in 2010 based on extensive research in the East German, Soviet and Romanian archives.
Watts concludes that Pacepa must have been a KGB spy, in large part for the ways he tried to disrupt the U.S.-Romanian relationship when he defected to the United States in 1978, peddling the line that Romania was a Trojan horse for Soviet interests.
Watts’ hypothesis about Pacepa was received as a bombshell in Romania, mainly because it means he is a traitor: A Soviet agent working in Romania, especially after 1958, would be directing events against Romania’s preferences and interests.
Mr. Gaetan is not telling the truth about who Larry Watts is and how he functions.
Watts, an American, traveled to Romania in 1980 and, for unknown reasons, began working with Ceausescu’s regime. Not long after Ceausescu was overthrown in December 1989, Watts became an advisor to the director of foreign intelligence for the government of Ion Illiescu. According to Romanian media reports in the 1990s, Iliescu was recruited into the KGB by “Professor” Igor Botnarichuk while a student at the Moscow Engineering Institute in the 1950s, his code name was IANCU and his code number was D-KGB-90519. Furthermore, according to documentation obtained by Russian dissidents Vlatimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov and Polish historian Adam Burakowski, Iliescu acted on Moscow’s behalf to hijack the popular anti-communist Romanian revolution of 1989 and kept Romania functioning as a Kremlin satellite until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
It was during this time that Watts wrote Romanian Cassandra: Ion Antonescu and the Struggle for Reform, 1916–1941 (1993). This book was part of a semi-official campaign to rehabilitate the Nazi-puppet dictator Ion Antonescu. Watts’ way of approaching his topic is not only to ignore every smoking gun document proving Antonescu’s participation in the Holocaust, but to obscure the facts with a mass of irrelevant documents. Irina Livezeanu of the University of Pittsburgh aptly explains Watts’ modus operandi: “[He operates] less by means of clear, logical arguments and a judicious use of evidence, than through bold revisionist assertions and a bewildering, almost haphazard, array of partial and inconclusive evidence. … In support of his theses, he deploys what appears to be thick documentation, but much of this turns out to be undigested or irrelevant material in terms of the main lines of argument, which are themselves less than clear.” [Slavic Review, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 673-674.]
Thus, like in Romanian Cassandra, in With Friends Like These, Watts drones on endlessly, sighting a multitude of confusing documents, then tells the bewildered reader that it somehow proves his point. Innuendo, however, is not the same as truth. There is nothing in that book showing Pacepa had been a KGB agent. And the claims of a pro-American, anti-Soviet Ceausescu are easily refutable by simply referring to an extraordinary well-written and researched – and very readable – 68-page 2010 thesis of Georgetown University student Rodica Eliza Gheorghe titled “The Romanian Intelligence Services During The Cold War: How Small Powers Can Sometimes Be Strong,” available at repository.library.georgetown.
I don’t know what drove Mr. Gaetan to write this attack, but it is very misguided. I hope he will reconsider his view of Pacepa’s extraordinary book.
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