As chief of Romanian foreign intelligence, I worked closely with Libya’s Muammar Khaddafi before I defected, in 1978, to the West. I was Khaddafi’s handler as he geared up the weapons programs he now is so eager to disclose to the U.N. In 1972 Moscow decided to deploy three leftist Arab governments–Libya, Iraq, and Syria–as well as terror groups like the PLO, against our mutual enemy, “American imperial-Zionism.” Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB, assigned Libya to Romania. We already had close connections with Khaddafi. He and Kim Il Sung of North Korea had long sought Romanian chemical-weapons expertise, as well as our proprietary technology for “dirty” suitcase-sized radioactive bombs. Iraq was Moscow’s baby. Syria, Andropov told me, was next on our list, where President Hafez Assad’s brother was already our well-paid agent.
Khaddafi, in my judgment, is not a man of honor in the making. Rather, he is afraid for his life. He does not relish Saddam’s fate. Tyrants are always paranoids–for good reason. Ceaucescu never ate anything unless it had been tasted for poison. Khaddafi may calculate that his best chance of holding onto wealth and position for his golden years is by cutting a deal and getting Libya delisted as one of the world’s worst rogue regimes. His gambit may be something like that of the communist overlords of China a few years after the death of Mao, who saw that by humoring the West they might have their cake and eat it too.
Appeasement never works with such men. But fear sometimes does.
President Clinton once thought he could appease Yasser Arafat, stroke him into cooperating by inviting him to the White House and treating him like a head of state. The result? Palestinian terror only grew worse. President Jimmy Carter fawned over my former boss, Nicolae Ceausescu, hailing the tyrant as a “great national and international leader.” Ceausescu treated this as a free ticket for terror. Soon afterwards, he hired Carlos the Jackal to blow up Radio Free Europe headquarters in Munich.
I last met Khaddafi in 1978, when I flew to Tripoli to ask him to finance the weaponization of brucellosis, a deadly virus codenamed “Brutus.” Oil-rich Libya had plenty of foreign exchange for military R&D. In perennial hiding, Khaddafi was three days late for our appointment. “Prudence is the mother of wisdom,” his spy chief told me. Paranoid maneuvering was standard operating procedure for Khaddafi. In 1999, he even kept Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general, waiting for hours.
“Union is strength,” Khaddafi said, when he finally met me in his green tent. “And no secrets between us,” he added, with a note of menace. As usual, he was seated on a golden throne, with his chin cupped in one hand. Like all tyrants, Khaddafi was a physical coward who compensated by acting like a monarch. He agreed to finance “Brutus” on condition that its production be shared equally, then passed me off to his staff to work out the technical details.
I met him in Tripoli once more on that trip, seated on the same golden throne, this time in a different tent. Khaddafi gave me a message to deliver to Ceausescu–what he really wanted was to develop nuclear weapons using the large reserves of uranium in northern Romania, particularly a “portable radioactive weapon” for terrorists to carry. Money would be no object, he told me.
I recommend that the West not gloat too soon about the Libyan Leopard’s apparent capitulation. We need to keep a close eye on Khaddafi. I knew him as a liar and a master of deceit. All dictators possess these particular skills. Khaddafi has been simultaneously fomenting and renouncing terrorism for the past 20 years. Right after my own defection, he announced with fanfare the destruction of the Rabta chemical complex Romania had just helped him build. Of course, since I had just compromised the site, this was hardly the noble blow for peace he tried to make it seem. Later it was found that he had only staged a fire at Rabta, painting scorch marks on the buildings, and burning truckloads of tires to create smoke. He then built a second chemical-weapons facility hidden 100-feet underground in the hollowed-out Tarhunah Mountain, south of Tripoli. In 1992, the CIA estimated that Libya had produced 100 tons of chemical warfare agents and that some of those materials were being used to fill aerial bombs.
In early April 1986 I helped the U.S. government pay Khaddafi back for the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin that killed two U.S. soldiers and injured 200 people. On April 15, 1986, American warplanes attacked the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, destroying the tent of Libyan leader Muammar Khaddafi. According to media reports, Khaddafi had left the tent just minutes before the U.S. attack.
After that, a “new” Khaddafi proclaimed that he was done with all terrorist operations against the United States. But two years later, Libya again masterminded the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers on board and 11 people on the ground–the deadliest act of terrorism against the U.S. up to that time.
After Lockerbie, yet a “new, new” Khaddafi proclaimed himself to the world. Calling the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. “horrible,” he said the United States had every right to go after the perpetrators. “In the old days, they called us a rogue state,” Khaddafi said in a speech on national television. “They were right in accusing us of that. In the old days, we had revolutionary behavior.” He had put all this behind him, he said, and now opposed Islamic insurgents like al Qaeda.
Behind the scenes, however, Khaddafi still looks to me like the same old sponsor of terror. According to last week’s revelations, he has continued to the present day to quietly build one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the Middle East. He very recently acquired centrifuges to enrich weapons-grade uranium. And he has recently bought missile technology from North Korea. Preliminary U.S.-British visits to just ten of his production facilities show Libya’s nuclear-weapons program to have been far more advanced than Western intelligence suspected.
It is good that Khaddafi now once again says he has chosen “of his own free will” to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction. I hope he will be a role model for other dictators to do the same–and to avoid the fate of Saddam, whose meek and disheveled visage must chill many a tyrant to their very bones. But we should also keep in mind that Khaddafi is a trickster who may have a few cards up his sleeve.
–General Ion Mihai Pacepa is the highest-ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. He is currently finishing a new book, Red Roots: The Origins of Today’s Anti-Americanism.