Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Alexenia Dimitrova, a writer with a 25 year-long career in journalism. She has worked for one of Bulgaria’s biggest dailies, 24 Hours Daily, for the last 15 years. She is the author of 4 documentary books based on her intensive research in the Bulgarian and American secret service archives from the Cold War era. Since 2002 she has her own column in 24 Hours Daily about finding and reuniting long-lost family members and relatives all over the World. For this series, which is extremely popular in Bulgaria, she received in 2004 the most prestigious award for Journalism in Bulgarian named Tchernorizets Hrabar. The is the author of the new book, The Murder Bureau, a book describing a total of ten cases of covert foreign operations of the Bulgarian Communist-era secret services against dissident émigrés. She can be contacted at: email@example.com.
Tell us what inspired you to write The Murder Bureau and what it is about.
Dimitrova: Thanks Jamie.
Let me begin by defining the meaning of SMERSH for your readers: it is a Russian abbreviation and it means “Smert Shpionom” — Death to Spies. This was the name given to a counter-intelligence unit that was responsible for the neutralization of Soviet spies that existed within the Soviet Army in the early 40’s.
The inspiration to write my book came from the suspicions and rumors circulating many years in Bulgaria that a similar SMERSH unit also existed within the Bulgarian Intelligence Services during the Cold War.
For many years I tried to determine whether these rumors were true or not. I have been digging into the Bulgarian and American secret archives from the Cold War era for more than 20 years. But only 2-3 years ago I had the chance for the first time to read some of the inventory lists of the Bulgarian Intelligence from the Cold War. Many of them were and still are not open to the public. The first time when a tiny portion was opened I went to read these inventory lists. After long hours digging and looking steadily at them I saw 3-4 abbreviations – OM, SM, AM, DM, which attracted my attention. It turned out that these abbreviations mean sharp measures, special measures, active measures and disinformation measures. When I ordered the documents I saw that a unit responsible for sharp measures existed since 1963. The name of the unit was Service 7. Under sharp measures the officers meant kidnapping, poisoning, neutralization, liquidation of Bulgaria émigrés.
FP: Tell us about the killers and the victims.
Dimitrova: First let me be clear that not all of the cases ended as assassinations — though they may have been prepared for such. So it is more precise to ask who are the performers and the answer is: Bulgarian officers and agents from Service 7. The targets between 1963 and 1974 were 10 Bulgarian emigrants in UK, Germany, France, Italy, Ethiopia, Turkey, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland.
All the cases are very interesting. The first operation prepared was against the Bulgarian Blago Slavenov, who escaped to Italy in the late 40’s. The operation was under code name Libretto. Slavenov had to be kidnapped and violently returned to Bulgaria from a ship accosted in Trieste. The means needed for the operation were prepared with the aid of the Hospital of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior in Sofia. In the operation, according to the documents, there was the participation of 3 collaborators and 2 officers of the Bulgarian intelligence.
Slavenov became the target of the super-secret department because he was one of the leading members of the Bulgarian National committee – a prominent émigré organization abroad.