Romania’s Rebirth
The former Communist state could be a valuable American ally.


In March 2005, the just-elected Romanian president Traian Basescu stepped into Washington as head of a country that — for the first time in 60 years — had a government without Communists in it. Now he comes to the U.S. as a vigorous ally who has just quelled a domestic anti-American coup organized by a minister of defense who, acting behind the president’s back and without notifying Washington, began informing foreign governments that Romania would withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Basescu will also stride into Washington as president of the first Eastern European country that will officially condemn the crimes of Communism. At his right he’ll have an American professor, Vladimir Tismaneanu, whom he recently appointed chairman of a presidential commission tasked to develop a “scientific analysis of the abuses and crimes of the communist rule in Romania.”

We know by now how a prosperous democracy could be changed into a Communist dictatorship, but we are still learning how to reverse that nightmare. Romania, my native country, is a case in point. During the past 16 years Romania has been greatly changed, but it still has to demolish some of the barriers the Communists erected between themselves and the rest of the world, as well as between individual Romanians. The country’s political police system is one of these barriers.

Communist Nicolae Ceausescu’s successor, a former Politburo member who enthroned himself as president after killing the tyrant and who was reelected to two additional terms, knew only the Communist way of governing with the help of political police. Thus, he made a systematic effort to preserve Ceausescu’s police state by maintaining the political police, the Securitate, under a new name. In 1994 this former Politburo member published a White Book of the Securitate (four volumes, 1,947 pages), which goes out of its way to demonstrate that this instrument of Communist tyranny served the country’s national interest in a certain historical period, and that therefore the former Securitate officers were patriots and should be kept in the country’s new secret services — just as former KGB officers were retained in Russia’s. Former Securitate officers were indeed retained in office, and they preserved the Communist police state.

Today, Romania has seven major intelligence services inherited from Communism — while unified Germany has only two. Romania’s domestic intelligence service (SRI), for instance, employs 12.000 officers, while its German equivalent, the BfV, has only 6,000 employees despite that country’s population being three times larger than Romania’s. Eleven years after Communism collapsed, over 60 percent of the personnel of Romania’s intelligence services still consisted of former officers of Ceausescu’s Securitate.

After December 2004, when Basescu became president, he made Romania’s intelligence services his main instrument for governing — as all his predecessors had done in the foregoing 60 years. But times change. Just before leaving Bucharest on his current visit to Washington, President Basescu forced into retirement the chiefs of Romania’s three main intelligence services, whom he had inherited from the previous crypto-Communist president.

One can only hope these retiring chiefs will not be replaced with other former Securitate officers. Romania has 22 million people, and a new generation of intellectuals is struggling to develop a new national identity. Sorin Iliesiu, a film director who recently has been collecting numerous signatures on a letter asking Basescu to condemn Communism, is just one exponent of this generation. One can also hope that President Basescu will abolish the infamous White Book of the Securitate, which is still the official view of Romania’s government, and will reorganize the country’s intelligence community according to NATO’s needs, not to Communist traditions.

Anti-Americanism is another major Communist barrier in Romania that has yet to be demolished. In 1985, my former subordinate Ion Stana was arrested by Ceausescu based on data provided to the Soviet KGB by former CIA officer Aldrich Ames. Stana was sentenced to 20 years of forced labor because he had worked for U.S. intelligence, and he spent five years in Communist jails. In December 1988, when Ceausescu’s regime collapsed, Stana was freed, but in 1991 Romania’s justice system requested his re-incarceration until 2020, when his sentence would expire. He was, however, immediately granted political asylum in the U.S. and American citizenship. In 2004 Stana asked the Romanian government to cancel his Communist-era sentence, but he received a written reply stating he was still considered guilty of betraying his country.

Constantin Rauta, another of my subordinates who helped the U.S. defeat Communism and afterward became a renowned American scholar, is still sentenced to death in Bucharest. No wonder. Most of my former subordinates in the Securitate, whose identities are still protected by law, are still calling the shots in Romania’s intelligence services and its justice system. Hangmen do not incriminate themselves.

This anti-American attitude is eroding the world’s ability to have new Stanas and Rautas from Syria, Iran, North Korea and other terrorist states, who could tell us what satellite surveillance cannot: what the despots running those countries have in mind and what their plans against us are. To attract high-ranking officials from terrorist countries over to our side, we should give them the confidence that one day, after their countries become normal — as Romania is now — their “betrayal” will be correctly understood and honored. Their roots, their relatives, their friends, and the graves of their ancestors will remain in their native lands.

Until December 2004, when Traian Basescu unexpectedly won in the Romanian elections, he had never been the president of anything. He was a sea captain used to sailing through rough waters, and he now needs all the help he can get from Washington in order to further normalize Ceausescu’s Romania and to transform it into a steady U.S. ally.

–Lieutenant General Ion Mihai Pacepa is the highest-ranking official ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. His book Red Horizons (Regnery, 1987) was republished in 27 countries, and his trilogy The Black Book of the Securitate has become a best seller in Romania.