Dark side of Colin Powell's blond Romanian friend
Exclusive: Ex-spy chief dissects much-publicized cyber-affair
Editor's note: Few people know more about Romania and spies than Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa. The former head of that country's foreign intelligence service, a quarter century ago after defecting to the U.S. Pacepa exposed the massive crimes and corruption of his former boss, Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu in his international bestseller "Red Horizons." The book gave the dictator a nervous breakdown and inspired him to send assassination squads to the U.S. to find his former spy chief and kill him. Not only did all such assassination attempts fail, but ironically Ceausescu was executed by his own people at the end of a trial whose accusations came almost word-for-word out of "Red Horizons." Once in America, Pacepa became a major asset to the CIA's efforts to deal with the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union, and President Ronald Reagan reportedly referred to "Red Horizons" as "my bible for dealing with dictators."
Pacepa, along with historian and law professor Ronald Rychlak, recently authored the much-talked-about blockbuster book "Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism."
Remember when unattached male visitors to Moscow or one of the other Soviet bloc capitals somehow routinely fell into some variation of the sexual entrapment scenario? We have been living happily under the delusion that, since the "fall of communism," those crude Cold War recruitment approaches have become a thing of the past.
But old habits die hard. A new generation of sexy intelligence agents – known in the old days as "swallows" – is still around. But now they ply their trade all around the world, especially at international conferences, where they show off their impressive political credentials and very sexy clothes.
Unfortunately, we have recently learned that a great American patriot and honorable human being, the esteemed four-star general, Colin Powell, may have been the target of such an intelligence trap. We do not know precisely when this long liaison started and how physically intimate it became – indeed, Powell has publicly denied there was ever an affair and he may be essentially innocent. But here are some sobering facts about the other party in the relationship, suggesting it was shaped in the old KGB mold.
The attractive blonde Christina Cretu, now a member of the European Parliament where she is vice-chair of the Progressive Alliance of Socialism and Democracy, is the charmer in question. A 2011 book signed by Eugen Mihăescu, a famous Cold War cartoonist for the New York Times who became senator in post-Ceausescu Romania, once called her "the red courtier of the Stalinist closet."
Let's take a closer look at Cretu: Her father was a communist who studied in Moscow, as did Ion Ilich Iliescu, the former three-term president of post-Ceausescu Romania. Iliescu's father, who named his son Ilich to honor his hero Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, dedicated his whole life to serving the Comintern, the international arm of the Communist Party. Ion Ilich Iliescu, who was a Politburo member under communism, installed himself as president of Romania immediately after Ceausescu was executed, on Christmas Day of 1989, at the end of a trial in which most accusations came out of my book "Red Horizons."
In the late 1990s, President Iliescu brought Cretu to the Cotroceni Palace (Romania's version of the White House) and gave her a job equivalent to that of cabinet member. At that time, Romania's national security adviser was Gen. Ioan Talpes, who had been a deputy to Ceausescu's brother Ilie, the political commissar of the Romanian Red Army. Talpes' adviser for U.S. matters during those years was a self-styled "American historian" named Larry Watts, whose love affair with Romania began during the "Golden Age of Ceausescu" and who was now moved into a rather fancy villa owned by the Romanian foreign intelligence service.
During those early post-communism years, Ion Ilich Iliescu and his intelligence services continued to treat the United States like Romania's main enemy – the term the Kremlin still used – and the Romanian intelligence services were still helping Moscow recruit American diplomats assigned to Bucharest. Mark Sullivan, a first secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Romania, was such a target in a joint operation run together with the Russian intelligence station in Bucharest, the head of which was at the time a former KGB officer named Fiodr Bodnari. I described this case in articles published in Romania during the mid-1990s. Sullivan refused to cooperate with Moscow and was recalled to Washington.
Likewise, a successful, jointly conducted case was run against Harold Nicholson, chief of the CIA station in Romania from 1990 until 1992, who was recruited by Russian foreign intelligence with Romanian help. In 1997, Nicholson was sentenced to 23 years and 7 months in prison for espionage. He is still considered the highest ranking CIA official ever convicted of spying for a foreign power. (In court, Nicholson stated that the case of the spy Aldrich Ames had actually served to inspire him to commit espionage, rather than deter him.) On Jan. 18, 2011, Nicholson was sentenced to eight more years in prison, having pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy to commit money laundering; five other charges had been dropped as part of a plea deal. His son, Nathaniel Nicholson, had been sentenced in December 2010 to five years' probation after making a deal with prosecutors to help build the case against his father.
Here's the point: In all the joint operations run against the United States, there must have been few, if any, such attractive targets for Russian intelligence as Gen. Powell. He is a highly respected black man (his race automatically considered a vulnerability by the KGB, now renamed the FSB or Federal Security Service). He has held such high positions as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff and secretary of state. The prospect of his perhaps even becoming president of the United States should have had Moscow positively drooling in anticipation.
Was his dalliance with Cristina Cretu the skeleton in his closet that made Gen. Powell so stubbornly refuse to run for president? Are we looking merely at embarrassing cyber-flirtation between a top U.S. official and a beautiful socialist operative from a foreign country? Or are we learning of an operation to recruit or compromise Gen. Colin Powell, which would make it one of the more audacious attempts to undermine U.S. security in recent memory?
Today we are dealing with a different Romania, but the intelligence generation that was trained to operate against Americans is still doing what it used to do under communism: promote communist leaders and discredit the United States. Gen. Talpes, Romania's national security adviser during the years when Christina Cretu was trying to draw Gen. Powell into her web, is now actively promoting a book aimed at rehabilitating the despicable Nicolae Ceausescu. According to this book, written by his former adviser for U.S. matters, Larry Watts, Ceausescu was, deep down inside, a democrat who intended to break Romania away from the Soviet bloc, but could not succeed because the CIA didn't trust him. (This is Watts' second book on Romania. His first, "Romanian Cassandra," is an anti-Semitic garble aimed at rehabilitating Romania's Nazi dictator Ion Antonescu, who was instrumental in killing some 300,000 Jews and Gypsies, and who was justifiably executed as a war criminal in 1946.)
One can also hope that the Romanian government, political leaders and media will finally start understanding that the United States and the CIA have always been friends, not enemies, of Romania. The U.S. spent 44 years of Cold War tension and trillions of tax dollars to defeat the Soviet empire and to restore democracy in Romania and the rest of Eastern Europe.
On Nov. 23, 2002, when the Romanians were officially informed their country was being seated at the NATO table, a rainbow appeared in the Bucharest sky. "God is smiling at us," President George W. Bush told a cheering crowd. God was indeed smiling at Romania. From one day to the next, that country, which had suffered through a long, dark history of Roman, Ottoman, Phanariot and Soviet occupations, became no longer vulnerable to foreign domination. Indeed, American soldiers now stationed in Romania are committed to defending that country's territorial integrity with their lives.
Order Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa and Ronald Rychlak's brand new book, "Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategy for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion and Promoting Terrorism" or the companion film, "Disinformation: The Secret Strategy To Destroy The West." Better yet, get both the book and DVD together – and save!