In 2017, Christopher Monckton, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley and a former adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, called Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa the “most influential man of the 20th century and, arguably, the beginning of the 21st.”
He was the man who pulled back the curtain to reveal the disinformation that was being churned out from the Soviet bloc. Unfortunately, most people remained unfamiliar with Pacepa and his work.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 14, COVID-19 accomplished what a $2 million bounty and two separate teams of Romanian-sponsored assassins could not. Ion Mihai Pacepa, “Mike” to those who knew him, was called home to his eternal reward.
Pacepa was born in Bucharest in 1928. He studied industrial chemistry at the Politehnica University of Bucharest, but prior to graduation, he was recruited into the secret police agency of the Socialist Republic of Romania, the Securitate. He was initially assigned to the Securitate’s counter-sabotage department. In 1955, he was transferred to Foreign Intelligence.
Pacepa was named head of the Romanian intelligence station in Frankfurt, West Germany, in 1957. Two years later, he was made head of Romania’s new industrial espionage department, and he held that position until he defected to the West. Starting in 1972, he also served as deputy chief of Romanian foreign intelligence, adviser for industrial and technological development, and right-hand man to communist Romania’s leader Nicolae Ceausescu.
In his new role, Pacepa lived at the top of the communist world order. He traveled the globe. He knew and socialized with Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and of course, Ceausescu. He met Western leaders, including President Jimmy Carter.
Yet, in 1978, he risked his life to leave behind his position at the top of the Soviet/communist world and come to the United States. It became his mission to warn the West about the oppression that necessarily follows socialism and communism. He was and remains the highest-ranking Soviet-bloc officer ever to defect to the West.
Carter didn’t believe Pacepa at first, and he wanted to return the defector to Romania—a certain death sentence. Pacepa’s own disinformation had tricked the U.S. president into believing that Ceausescu was a trustworthy ally, and now Pacepa presented a very different picture.
Eventually the CIA convinced Carter of Pacepa’s bona fides, and Western intelligence agencies tapped the invaluable information he provided. Most important was his explanation of the way Soviet agents planted disinformation to deceive and undermine faith in Western governments, leaders, history, and institutions—especially the churches. When Pacepa later attained U.S. citizenship, the CIA gave him a letter thanking him for his “important and unique contribution to the United States.”
In Romania, Ceausescu created a special Securitate unit charged with the sole task of assassinating Pacepa. The dictator also put two separate $1 million bounties on his head and dispatched the infamous assassin “Carlos the Jackal” to carry out the job, as well as a second team of assassins. They came close. Twice Pacepa’s secret identity was compromised and he had to undergo plastic surgery and rebuild his life with his American wife, a CIA agent whom he met while being debriefed.
Pacepa eventually published his information in the book “Red Horizons,” which exposed the corruption and brutality of the Ceausescu government and the Soviet/communist world. (President Ronald Reagan called that book his “bible for dealing with dictators.”) It was translated, condensed, and smuggled into Romania, where it became a catalyst motivating the people to overthrow their government. Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were arrested, given a hearing, sentenced, and executed on evidence, much of which came directly from that book.
After coming to the United States, Pacepa and his wife lived under assumed identities, but he continued to write books and articles under his real name, including the 2013 book “Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism,” of which I was co-author. He wanted to correct false stories that he had helped create when he was influential in the Soviet-bloc intelligence world.
Among the most important pieces of disinformation that he wanted to correct were that the CIA was behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, that Pope Pius XII was pro-German in World War II, and that Middle Eastern terrorism was organic (rather than fomented from inside the Kremlin). The Soviet bloc intelligence machinery had cultivated all of these false narratives while Pacepa worked in that world. His final book, “Operation Dragon: Inside the Kremlin’s Secret War on America” (co-authored by R. James Woolsey), was just released by Encounter Books.
America’s recent flirtation with socialism had concerned Pacepa greatly. As head of foreign intelligence in communist Romania, he worked with agents, assets, and dupes to plant seeds of distrust in the American mind regarding its government’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He noted that this type of disinformation was going on again today, with “fake news” and all kinds of stories (sometimes later retracted) that painted the United States in the worst possible light.
Pacepa spoke often of the media—more specifically, the money behind the news media, which drives the stories. Pacepa specialized in developing stories in this manner when he was at the top of the Soviet-bloc intelligence community. He helped turn American attitudes on issues in the 1960s and 1970s. He recognized the same techniques being used today so that many people now have a very negative view of their government but a positive view of socialism.
Pacepa leaves behind his wife of more than 40 years and a grown daughter.