Nearly three decades after defecting to the West, former Romanian Foreign Intelligence deputy commander Ion Mihai Pacepa appeared on a Romanian TV news programme last week and confirmed that the late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime plotted to kill expatriates working at Radio Free Europe (RFE).
“On July 22, 1978, Ceausescu called for me and ordered me to arrange the assassination of Noel Bernard, head of the Romanian programs at RFE,” Pacepa told Antena 1 television. “That really pushed me over the edge.” Two days later, while on a diplomatic errand in Bonn, he became the highest-ranking intelligent official from the Soviet bloc to defect.
The plot against Bernard is detailed in a ten-page document declassified by the intelligence agency SIE and published by the Romanian news site HotNews.ro.
Bernard, a Romanian-born journalist and political analyst, emigrated to Israel in 1940 and then to Great Britain. In 1953, he settled in Munich, where he began work as an editor for RFE. He ran the Romanian service from 1955-1958 and from 1965-1981. In the declassified document, drawn up by the former communist security network Securitate, he is referred to by the code-name “the Jackal”.
The document cites the “perilous activity the Jackal is deploying against our country” and recommends that “radical measures” be taken against him. It also urges Ceausescu to approve “special measures to paralyse the activity of the target Radio Free Europe and to neutralise some if its employees by â€¦ physically harming the most active employees and collaborators”.
The RFE head died in December 1981 from a rapidly spreading cancer. A second director at the Romanian service, Mihai Cismarescu, was stabbed the same year while walking his dog in the Haar district of Munich. He survived, only to die later of cancer.
In November 1988, a sudden brain tumour felled yet another RFE director, Emil Georgescu. Medics largely agreed it had been caused by irradiation. Less than a year before, a Securitate general had warned him that if he dared to broadcast fragments from Pacepa’s book The Red Horizons, he wouldn’t “catch the end of the year”.
SIE decided to declassify the “measures plan” at the request of another RFE director, Nestor Ratesh, who is writing a book about former Romanian dissidents who fell prey to Securitate plots.
In an article published last year by National Review Online, Pacepa said the Soviet Union gave the Securitate a soluble radioactive thallium powder to be used for murdering political enemies. The substance — codenamed “Radu” by the Romanians — could be put in food and would disintegrate inside the victim, triggering a fatal cancer but leaving no trace detectable in an autopsy.