It has often been remarked that the most lethal weapon the West had against Soviet Communism was the truth. When the truth worked its way through the cracks of the barriers erected by the dictators who ran the place, the impact was usually devastating to that brutal and ungodly system. Which is why those in charge would do whatever they could to stop it: They knew their system, and their very lives, were at stake.
In 1986, I was approached by the former head of Romania’s secret police, a three star general, who was the highest ranking Soviet Bloc intelligence agent to have ever defected to the West. He had spent over three years being debriefed by the CIA, telling them everything he knew about Soviet intelligence and what went on inside the Romanian government under its strongman, dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. And he knew a lot, not just about Romania, but about the entire KGP-GRU apparatus, which worked in tandem with all East Bloc agencies. In the process of the debriefing, he had virtually destroyed Romania’s foreign intelligence service, and had been responsible for countless Russian and East Bloc undercover and secret agents being recalled.
The General, Ion Mihai Pacepa, had written a book– a thirty day, detailed account of one of his last months as Ceausescu’s foreign intelligence chief. It was full of never-before revealed secrets of a Communist government, and full of revelations about Soviet intelligence. It was, in other words, the truth about Romania’s closed and brutal government.
Pacepa had submitted the book to nineteen separate mainline publishers, all of whom had turned it down because, they said, they were unable to verify everything that was in it. New York publishing was dominated by the left in the 1980s, and embarrassing Communist governments was not high on their list.
After Pacepa had defected, Ceausescu placed a two million dollar bounty on his head and sent two separate teams of assassins to the US to find him. He later employed Carlos the Jackal, perhaps the most famous assassin of the twentieth century, provided him with a veritable arsenal, and dispatched him to the U.S. to kill Pacepa.
But Pacepa was in deep hiding, and none of Ceausescu’s henchmen found him.
To make sure that everything in the book was accurate, we hired a Soviet expert from the Defense Intelligence Agency, gave him the manuscript, and told him to verify everything he could in the book. He did, and found nothing wrong.
We published the book in 1987 under the title Red Horizons. To say that it was full of eye-opening revelations would be an understatement. And it did eventually cause the sensation we had predicted. It was subsequently published in 27 other languages, including several Samizdat editions behind the Iron Curtain. An enterprising Romanian-language press in New York translated the book and brought the book out, in the US, in Romanian. They were pleasantly surprised to find crew members from the twice-weekly Romanian Air flight from Bucharest to New York were buying copies and smuggling them, under threat of death, back to Romania.
Pacepa promoted the book on radio and a couple of TV interviews, lots of telephone newscaster-reporter discussions with (mostly) decent, hardworking reporters and commentators. But it was all done incognito – Pacepa had assumed an alias when he arrived in the US as part of the welcome-to-America campaign – an alias, still managed to this day, courtesy of the CIA.
In the fall of 1989, we arranged for Radio Free Europe to translate and broadcast the entire book, in daily serials, into Romania. Soon afterwards, I received a mysterious telephone call telling me, in a thick Eastern European accent, that I would die if Radio Free Europe proceeded with the broadcast. (The head of the RFE desk in Munich, on the other end of the deal, received a similar call. A healthy man, he died of mysteriously of brain cancer several weeks later).
The book was broadcast in November of 1989, and every radio in the country was apparently tuned into Radio Free Europe. Until then, all the Romanian people knew about Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu was what the official Romanian government propaganda media had told them. With the broadcast, they learned that Ceausescu was an assassin, a thief, drug trafficker, smuggler and promoter of international terrorism. They also learned about the life of luxury led by Ceausescu and his family at the expense of the Romanian people, living in abject poverty. For the first time, people knew what was going on inside of the government that had repressed them, locked them up and assassinated so many of their fellow citizens for forty years.
Only weeks later, in December 1989, a counter revolution erupted. Nicolai Ceausescu and his wife were seized, tried and put to death, and the Communist government of Romania was no more.
The day after the Ceausescus were killed, the official newspaper was taken over by the counter-revolutionaries and started excerpting Pacepa’s book on the front page with a headline stating that it was Red Horizons, which gave the freedom fighters the information they needed to overthrow the dictator.
Pacepa appeared at a dinner in Washington in late October, introduced, for the first time since 1987, by his real identity. He spoke about the book and its impact, about his role as a Soviet bloc intelligence chief and his close alliance with, and knowledge of, the KGB. “Putin’s Russia,” he explained, ‘has become the first intelligence dictatorship in history.” During the years that he was at the top of the KGB community, he told the crowd, “more people worked for its dezinformatsiya and influence machinery than for the Soviet army and the defense industry put together. In Vladimir Putin’s Russia” he said, “this machinery is alive and well and hard at work today.” Quoting the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Pacepa said “some 6,000 former officers of the KGB — which killed over 20 million Russians during the Soviet Union – are now running Russia’s federal and local governments, using KGB tactics to rule the former Soviet Union.”
Putin, being the good KGB officer, runs Russia on the same principles as the Soviet KGB ran the USSR – using deception, propaganda, subterfuge, disinformation and terror to get what they want. Pacepa said that if the Russian people knew what goes on inside Putin’s Kremlin, he doubts if Putin and his cronies would survive for long. What they need is a Russian Red Horizons.
Alfred S. Regnery is the former President of Regnery Publishing.