Ion Mihai Pacepa, a top Romanian intelligence officer who became the highest-ranking defector from the Soviet bloc when he fled Romania and sought asylum in the United States, has reportedly died after being hospitalized with COVID-19. He was 92.
Ronald Rychlak, Pacepa’s co-author on a 2013 book about disinformation during the Soviet era, told RFE/RL that Pacepa died on February 14 in a hospital in an undisclosed location in the United States.
He said he was notified of the death by Pacepa’s wife on February 14, and he said he had spoken directly with Pacepa the previous day when his health began to worsen.
There has been no official announcement about Pacepa's death.
Pacepa joined the Securitate intelligence agency in 1951 and rose in its ranks. At the time of his defection in 1978, Pacepa was a top general in Romania's much-feared Securitate secret police. He was also an adviser to dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and he held other top security posts in the government.
After being granted political asylum by President Jimmy Carter, Pacepa lived under an assumed identity and government protection, having changed his name and identity twice after it was compromised. Ceausescu reportedly offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture or killing.
In 1987, Pacepa published a memoir called Red Horizons: Chronicles Of A Communist Spy Chief that was then translated into Romanian, and copies were smuggled into Romania.
The following year, the book was serialized and broadcast by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Romanian Service, generating huge interest within Romania.
In December 1989, as Romania was gripped by violent protest, Ceausescu was arrested and put on trial by a military tribunal. Excerpts of Pacepa’s memoir were reportedly read into the record during the trial, which ended with Ceausescu and his wife being executed by firing squad.
“However we look at it and judge it, his book 'Red Horizons' contributed to the unmasking of the 'Great Lie.' After breaking with the dictatorship he had served, he became an irreconcilable opponent of communism,” Vladimir Tismaneanu, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, wrote in an opinion piece published by RFE/RL’s Romanian Service.
In 2009, Pacepa published a book of confessions called Face To Face, based on a series of interviews by the Romanian journalist Lucia Longin.
In 2013, Pacepa and Rychlak collaborated on a book called Disinformation in which Pacepa detailed how the Soviet KGB and allied intelligence agencies worked to sow disinformation and plant false news stories in the Western news media.
In the book, which is largely written as a first-person narrative, Pacepa said the Soviet Union orchestrated an anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda campaign in the Middle East four decades ago -- and the effects of the effort still reverberate in present-day Islamist terrorism.
"Before I left Romania for good in 1978, [Romania's foreign intelligence service] had sent around 500 such undercover [influence] agents to various Islamic countries. Most of them were religious servants, engineers, medical doctors, teachers, and art instructors," Pacepa told RFE/RL in a rare interview after the book was published.
Pacepa recalled being given Soviet instruction manuals to study, and how those manuals recounted the early beginnings of disinformation campaigns dating back to Tsarist-era Russia.
"Tsarist anti-Semitism spawned the pogroms. Nazi anti-Semitism engendered the Holocaust. Soviet anti-Semitism generated today’s international terrorism," he told RFE/RL.
Years after defecting, Pacepa, a devout Roman Catholic, explained that among the reasons he fled Romania and defected to the West was that Ceausescu had ordered him to assassinate the heads of Radio Free Europe’s Romanian Service.
Pacepa’s marriage to his wife in Romania ended before he defected. He is survived by his second wife and a grown daughter, according to Rychlak.