Communist era archives of Romania’s secret police, the Securitate, are due to be open to public scrutiny soon. Former senior intelligence officer John Miller says that a thorough investigation into the archives of the former USSR and its Eastern European allies, with special reference to Australia, is long overdue.
The British magazine The Spectator deserves to be read more widely than some international magazines. Its articles are rarely long or overtaxing, but they provide a perceptive insight into contemporary British issues, which are sometimes reflected in Australian events.
Occasionally, gems appear that are not reported in the mainstream media. So it was with David Rennie’s article, “A Cold War card index is Romania’s best hope” (The Spectator, May 20, 2006).
Writing from Bucharest, Rennie describes Romanian attempts to join the European Community. The Cold War card index he refers to is that of the Securitate, the dreaded secret police of the post-World War II communist regime, over which Nicolae Ceausescu presided until the day the people decided that enough was enough.
Tried and executed
The rest, as they say, is history. There was graphic film shown on television of Ceausescu and his wife Elena being summarily tried and executed. Since that time, the Romanian Government has tried to pursue a reasonably democratic path, but the legacy of the past is a heavy burden. The Securitate records are anticipated to be a bargaining chip in discussions with the EC.
For much of the Cold War, a perception was created in the West that Romania was somehow independent of the USSR – a maverick state, autocratically ruled, but not subservient to its great neighbour.
It probably matters very little that independent Romania was later discovered to be a farce and the Ceausescu regime was able to dupe the West in matters political and diplomatic.
It is indisputable that many Western statesmen knew from intelligence sources that Bucharest remained a case study of totalitarianism at its very worst domestically. There were perennial food shortages and draconian legislation curbing individual freedom.
To the shame of many Western diplomats and heads of state, the plight of the Romanian people was a matter of sublime indifference, while the Ceausescu couple enjoyed invitations to the capitals of Europe and receptions at Buckingham Palace and Government House in Canberra.
The average Romanian family was poorly fed and even elite athletes went hungry on occasion. Domestic power shortages were such that a 40-watt light bulb was the norm, while Ceausescu’s purpose-built palace – effectively a monument to him and his wife – was huge and soaked up considerable financial resources.
Ceausescu’s wife was widely hailed as being scientifically trained and the originator of a great deal of research. Honours were heaped on the couple by gullible governments.
The Romanian illusion was rudely and crudely exposed by the defection in 1978 of General Ion Mihai Pacepa, a top-ranking Securitate officer. Extensively debriefed by Western intelligence services, he provided a great deal of insight into the Ceausescu tyranny and, more importantly, into Romanian intelligence service operations at home and abroad. He also described that service’s liaison with the Soviet KGB and GRU and Eastern European counterparts.
Pacepa went on to write his memoirs, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief (1987). For those with an interest in Romanian history and the politics of the Cold War, it is a must-read book. Only a well-placed insider could reveal, in such detail, a tyranny that made Mussolini’s fascism look relatively mild. The book also has a grim humour, which manifests itself more often than not in comments about Elena Ceausescu’s yellow teeth.
Red Horizons was hailed at the time of its publication as one of the most important books ever to be written by a defector. However, since then, the world has been distracted by momentous events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the USSR and its subsequent dissolution, and the 9/11 attack on America and the War on Terror. As a result, the true horrors of the communist epoch of the 20th-century have been overshadowed and are fast disappearing into history.
It is a great indictment of the West in general that, in a comparative sense, very little has been written on the vast scale of mass-murder and other atrocities inflicted on the subject peoples of various communist dictatorships, commencing with Lenin’s takeover of Russia in 1917 and extending into Eastern Europe following World War II.
Capture of history
This leads us to the situation in Australian universities whereby the teaching of history has become in many cases irrelevant, polluted as it is by the inroads of postmodernist theory (the pervasiveness of which has been mentioned by many writers in News Weekly and other publications) or, in some cases, reduced to a skeleton of its former self, or even removed from the curriculum. George Santayana’s oft-quoted dictum, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, comes readily to mind.
Something is rotten in Western academia and the media in general. What little is taught about communism and the Cold War is so selective and sanitised that it scarcely does justice to this important episode of history.
Recently, Professor J. Michael Waller has written an extremely interesting article entitled “The importance of words in message-making” (Public Diplomacy White Paper No. 3, April 10, 2006), in which he discusses the way language is used as a tool in the war of ideas. He comments that Americans have shown a greater facility for destroying human beings physically as a first option, instead of trying to destroy their pernicious ideas that motivate a hostile will.
He quotes the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the senator and former American ambassador to the United Nations, who criticised the U.S. State Department’s habit of unthinkingly adopting the vocabulary of Soviet propaganda to describe political reality, thereby enabling Moscow to shape U.S. attitudes towards the ideological conflict.
Professor Waller rightly points out how the Soviets “mastered the use of semantics in political warfare, corrupting positive words like ‘democratic’, ‘fraternal’, ‘liberation’, ‘progressive’, ‘people’ and, as [former Czech President Vaclav] Havel has noted, ‘peace’, and applying them to totalitarian and terrorist regimes and movements”.
The media was complicit in this distortion, as when President Reagan described the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”. This accurate epithet of course produced the predictable counterblast from Moscow, but also, as Waller recalls, cringing and sneering among American officials.
The U.S. State Department and other organs of the U.S. Administration were far from being alone in this. Most Western governments, including our own, recoiled from any reference to Soviet tyranny and imperialist ambitions.
This writer is on record as stating that President Putin’s Russia is continuing the expansionist policies of the pre-1917 Tsarist regime, and that the communist era was merely an interlude (National Observer, no. 68, Autumn 2006). Russia is one of the leading exporters of arms around the world, and there is concern about its involvement with the Iranian nuclear program.
A recent report quoted Yury Solomonov, director and chief designer at the Institute of Heat Technology, as saying that Russia’s sea- and land-based missile groups would be re-equipped completely by 2015.
“In line with the image of [modern] strategic missile forces, which is determined both in Russia and the U.S. by the number of warheads in use, our country’s nuclear forces will have at least 2,000 warheads,” said Solomonov, who is also chief designer of Russia’s Topol strategic missiles. (RIA Novosti, Moscow, April 13, 2006).
The “new” Russian intelligence services, the GRU and the SVR, continue to spy on the West with an emphasis on collection of scientific and technical information. This is hardly a surprising development as, throughout Russian history, the intelligence services have been re-badged several times but remain essentially the same.
The War on Terror and the U.S.-led incursion into Iraq have continued to stoke the fires of anti-Americanism throughout the Western world and, as some would say, among peace-loving people everywhere. In Australia, there are indications that the population is fatigued by the talk of terror.
Radio Australia’s Connect Asia program (May 10, 2006), reported:
“There’s been a sombre warning from the Director-General of Australia’s intelligence agency, ASIO, that Australians are far too complacent about the threat of a terrorist attack.
“However, it seems that that complacency doesn’t extend to the Government. Since the September 11th attacks, the Australian Government has spent $6 billion upgrading Australia’s counter-terrorism capabilities – and, in the latest federal budget, millions more will be allocated.
“Even so, the Government’s top national security experts are making it clear that extra funding alone will not be enough to stay on top of the constantly evolving challenges.”
Curiously, this warning raised barely a ripple in the mainstream media.
With this sort of apathy, it follows that, under the influential political left, with their entrenched positions in the media and academic establishment, history will continue to be misread and poorly taught.
Cambridge academic Prof. Christopher Andrew has diagnosed what he calls Historical Attention Span Deficit Disorder (HASDD) as an affliction of modern political culture (History & Policy, June 2004).
The basis of his article was an examination of problems with intelligence work in the present day and, by extension, the lessons of intelligence failure surrounding the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Professor Andrew is well qualified to write on such matters, having had considerable experience in co-authoring books by former Soviet KGB defectors, Oleg Gordievsky and Vasili Mitrokhin.
A balanced appraisal of Australian intelligence work, historically and currently, is long overdue. To date, writing on this subject has largely been the domain of the political left, which is implacably hostile to intelligence and security organisations, and which has completely ignored the fact that the defeat of Soviet imperialism (masquerading as “socialism”) has guaranteed their right to promulgate specious reasoning and defective arguments.
These range from the comparatively moderate views of the former Communist Party member, Dr David McKnight, to a number of academics obsessed with conspiracy theories, who still believe that the CIA was behind the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Government and that the 1954 Petrov defection was engineered by Robert Menzies in order to win an election.
The opening of the Romanian Securitate card index should prompt the Federal Government to launch a full investigation into the archives of the USSR and its Eastern European allies, with special reference to Australia. The present governments of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Germany all have material on the activities of the Warsaw Pact intelligence services, which would include references to operations in this country.
The brief window of opportunity that was accorded the West by the opening of the Soviet archives, including those of the KGB, was largely overlooked by Australia.
It is all very well for the Australian Government to push this form of investigation into the background and rationalise it in the name of focusing on terrorism; but we owe a debt to future generations to set the story straight.
Whether this is done by a government commission, a parliamentary committee, or a project involving academics who have not prostituted themselves to left-wing dogma, is surely worthy of consideration.