Thursday, April 9, 2015

Romanian Revolution December 1989 (III): Pitfalls of Testimony as Evidence

There are a number of problems with the current use of “evidence” regarding the presence or absence of Soviet (and Soviet bloc) “tourists” in Romania during the 1989 revolution. They appear repeatedly, for example, in perhaps the only (partly) English-language blog dedicated solely to Romania’s revolution, run by Richard Andrew Hall. (See Richard Hall Blog)

Hall begins a series of posts on what he regards as lessons learned about the 1989 Revolution with one entitled: “The Securitate Deny Foreign Instigation of the Timisoara Uprising” (Securitate being Romanian short-hand for the Department of State Security or DSS). Hall claims to prove that the presence of Soviet tourists is a “myth” and an “absurdity” based on former DSS officer witness depositions and a media report. (#1 Securitate Deny Foreign Instigation)

Hall insists that this evidence proves his argument in many of his subsequent posts, (see, for example, #8 Romania Closes its Borders to Almost All Foreigners … Except Russian Tourists Returning from Shopping Trips to Yugoslavia.) Before examining this evidence it is worth noting that Hall steadfastly ignores the context of Soviet-Romanian relations, nor does he seem aware of the USSR’s repeated use of “tourist” cover for intelligence, paramilitary and military operations in the Soviet bloc (including Romania) prior to 1989. He also appears to assume that Moscow had no motives for forcing a change in Romanian policy under the right circumstances. (See Romanian Revolution December 1989 (II) Divining Soviet Intent)

Hall persistently confuses the ethical problem of responsibility with that of agency, seeking “who is to blame” rather focusing on “how something happened.”  Setting off from the premise that the DSS was culpable for all or most of the violence perpetrated in 1989 necessarily blinds the analyst to any evidence of outside involvement. Indeed, when arguing this hypothesis Hall repeatedly shifts from a discussion of “tourist” presence to the specific roles “tourists” played (or rather did not play) in Timisoara, thus misusing testimony to the effect that foreigners were not observed playing such roles as proof that they were not observed – and therefore not present – at all.

Unfortunately, none of the DSS testimony cited by Hall was generated during the event for internal purposes. All of it was generated after the fact and for a specific audience: the Romanian courts. Each of the DSS officers giving testimony was under investigation. No matter their individual strength of character, each had a vested personal interest in not antagonizing their interrogators.

The reader should know that historians and courts both regard eyewitness testimony as the least reliable form of evidence because memory is so easily manipulated. The reliability of testimony rapidly declines within days of an event. Weeks and months after the fact the accuracy and value of testimony becomes highly questionable. With time, memory falls increasingly under the influence of emerging public interpretation while subsequently formed impressions increasingly replace forgotten details. 

Hall claims that the four testimonies he originally cited were written “immediately after the December 1989 events.” That is not true. The testimony most proximate to those events, that of Niculae Mavru, was written more than three weeks later, and a second citation from Mavru eighteen months later. The second-most proximate, Emil Macri, testified one and a half months later. The third, Filip Teodorescu, submitted his testimony one month and three weeks after the events. And the least proximate, Liviu Dinulescu, gave his testimony a full year and half later.

Testimony Under Duress

The fact that Hall does not dwell on how those testimonies came into being is also problematic. The circumstances in which testimony is given can have a significant influence on its content.  Testimony is highly susceptible to distortion over time even when third-party influence is benign. Testimony is even more susceptible to distortion when given under duress.  

General Vlad on Trial
Several DSS officers have complained of being told during the 1990 trials that they would be acquitted if they denied any Soviet bloc presence during the revolution. Interestingly, none of the DSS sources cited by Hall as denying the existence of “tourists” was convicted (3 were acquitted and one died before trial). All of their cited testimonies had been made in the quality of witness in the trials of others. On the other hand, several of the DSS officers convicted, including DSS chief Iulian Vlad, insisted on the Soviet bloc presence at their trials and in later hearings before various Senate commissions of inquiry. A rigorous comparison of the depositions given by the convicted and the acquitted DSS officers might set this particular devil to rest, one way or the other. (See e.g. S. Sandulescu, Decembrie ’89: Lovitura De Stat A Confiscat Revolutia Romana (1996): 158-208)

Hall evades discussion of these problematic circumstances with the rather astonishing claim that coercive influence on DSS officer testimony is not “terribly plausible.” A serious effort to gauge plausibility would start with an examination of the circumstances in 1990-1991 when these depositions were given. Mainstream opinion at that time held the DSS to be the “most brutal” repressive institution in the Soviet bloc. There was even a concerted effort to brand it – along with the entire communist regime – as a completely illegitimate criminal institution (an anomaly among the former Warsaw Pact members).

By the end of December 1989, DSS personnel had not only lost their jobs, they were also subject to criminal investigation and incarceration, with the distinct possibility of long-term imprisonment. Some of the very officers cited by Hall spent time in jail previous to their testimony. Only the most obtuse would not have experienced these circumstances as coercive pressure. Contrary to Hall’s denials, it is in fact highly plausible that a number of DSS personnel tailored their testimony in order to please their jailers (or potential jailers). Such “tailoring” does not require one to commit perjury. Topics towards which interrogators show disinterest or hostility can simply be avoided. And one can employ ambiguity to allow for multiple interpretations; that preferred by interrogators as well as the truth.

The Brief Coup of Pro-Soviet Officers

Pressure on those affirming a Soviet presence was particularly evident, and it is obvious why it should have been so. In the midst of the revolution, on December 23, General Nicolae Militaru, forcibly retired eleven years earlier when he was caught red-handed spying for the Soviet Union, set himself up as the new head of the Romanian Army. He was confirmed as defense minister on December 24, 1989, only to be dismissed from that position seven weeks later for bringing about the disintegration of the Romanian Army. Militaru bragged about his Soviet contacts in his famous joint interview with co-conspirator Silviu Brucan. (Adevarul, 23/8/90)
General Nicolae Militaru
The DSS was subordinated to the military on December 26, two days after Militaru officially took over the Defense Ministry and the Army, which gave the Soviet agent control of the DSS while it underwent reorganization. Whatever residual bureaucratic leverage the DSS may have possessed disappeared with its formal dissolution on December 30, 1989. Militaru reactivated some 30, mostly Soviet-trained officers (many known or suspected of being Soviet agents) and appointed them to senior positions in the military and in the newly forming security intelligence institutions under his control. This wave included the new foreign intelligence chief (and former DSS foreign counterintelligence chief) Mihai Caraman, and the advisor to the vice-prime minister (and former DSS foreign intelligence chief) Nicolae Doicaru, as well as the new interior minister, chief of the general staff, chief of military intelligence, etc.

The military prosecutors and military court trying DSS personnel in the immediate aftermath of the revolution were also subordinate to Defense Minister Militaru. In fact, Militaru exercised direct control over who was incarcerated, tried and convicted until February 14, 1990, when he was dismissed. And no major reforms were undertaken or personnel changes instituted in the military justice system prior to the first constitutional election in 1992.

Even if the kangaroo court and summary execution of the Ceausescus on the flatly ridiculous charge of genocide had not made the entire world aware of how fast and loose the Romanian military justice system operated at that time, it would still strain credulity to deny the manifest interest of Soviet agents in obscuring their roles.

The more closely one examines Hall’s evidence the more problematic it appears. Hall quotes Filip Teodorescu from a January 12, 1990 deposition regarding his report from Timisoara on the evening of December 18 that “there is no data indicating any leaders or instigators coming from abroad.” [nu sint date ca ar exista instigatori sau conducatori anume veniti din strainatate.]“ In another posting Hall draws attention to General Vlad’s July 19, 1991 deposition stating “More precisely, those sent by me to Timisoara reported that they had no evidence indicating any foreign involvement in producing the events in Timisoara.” [Mai exact, cei trimis de mine la Timisoara mi-au raportat ca nu au elemente din care sa rezulte vreum amestec al strainatatii in producerea evenimentelor de la Timisoara.] (Vlad Testimony, 19/07/91)

Cherry-Picking the Testimony

It would appear that Hall is cherry-picking the evidence. As related by Vlad’s chef de cabinet and confirmed by General Vlad to this author, Teodorescu’s initial report on December 18, 1989 stated that “there was not enough manpower to prevent access [to Timisoara] on the Buzias Road” and the militia thus “left access into Timisoara from this direction open.” [nu au existat fortele necesare pentru interzicerea accesului prin Calea Buziasului, deoarece … a ramas descoperitat directia respective de access in Timisoara.] This lead to the following exchange:
Col. Teodorescu

Gen. Vlad:       “And did they enter?”
Teodorescu:     “Some 3-4 automobiles entered, each with 2-3 occupants.”
Gen. Vlad:       “And what did they do?”
Teodorescu:     “We don’t know.”
Gen. Vlad:       “I’ll tell you what they did. They performed their mission and moved on. Do not leave      the [local DSS] headquarters, so that you are not blamed for their provocations.”
 (A. Rogojean, Fereastra serviciilor secrete (2011): 158-9)

Within two months of his initial testimony Teodorescu was describing publicly how he had “detained foreign agents during the Timisoara events.” (Romania Libera, 9/03/90) In his subsequent statements Teodorescu consistently noted how DSS attention was “drawn to the unjustifiably large number of Soviet tourists” claiming to be “in transit to Yugoslavia.” “Unfortunately,” Teodorescu notes, “we did not have enough manpower and conditions did not allow us to monitor the activities of at least some of these ‘tourists'.” [Ne-a atras atentia numarul nejustificat de mare de turisti sovietici, fie cu autobuze, fie cu autoturisme. … Declarau cu totii ca sint in transit pentru Iugoslavia. … Din pacate nu dispuneam de forte si nici conditiile nu au permis; pentru a urmari activitatea macar a unor dintre “turisti.] (F. Teodorescu, Un Risc Asumat (1992): 92)

Hall misrepresents the testimony of General Vlad in a similar manner. Elsewhere in facsimile reproduction of that testimony (but not translated by Hall), Vlad made the following clarification:  “I mention that the mission of Gen. Macri and of the others that I sent to Timisoara was to establish, in the first place, what involvement foreigner and foreign interests had in setting off the events, because the data base of which we disposed from foreign sources indicated this…” [Mentionez ca misiunea gl. Macri si a celorlalti pe care l-am trimis la Timisoara a fost aceea de a se stabili in primul rind ce amestec au strainii si strainatatea in declansarea evenimentelor, intrucit pe baza datelor pe care le detineam din surse externe, rezulta acest lucru…] (Vlad Testimony, 19/07/91)

A related problem appears when one reads the entire page of Nicolae Mavru’s testimony, of which Hall translates only those sections asserting that “(there were not any [foreigners]) who incited disorder, acts of violence or other acts”; that “Although we tried we could not report to Col. Sima the complete involvement of any foreign citizen in the evolution of the demonstrations”; and that he was unable to discover any foreign involvement. [(nu prea au fost) care incita la dezordine, acte de violenta sau altfel de acte… (13/01/90) Desi ne-am straduit nu am putut raporta col. Sima implicarea completa a vreunui cetatean strain in evolutia demonstratiilor. Cu toate eforturile facute nu a rezultat lucru pe linia mea de munca.] (25/06/91)]

Hall is using Mavru to support his compound assertion that Soviet “tourists” were neither involved nor present during the revolution in Timisoara. According to Hall, therefore, Mavru, Tedorescu, Macri and Dinulescu all claimed that: “they could find no such presence and role played by Soviet tourists.” However, none of those officers claim that Soviet tourists were not present. They insist only that, according to their investigation, foreigners were not leading or overtly instigating the events in Timisoara. In the facsimile reproduced by Hall, Mavru actually goes on to explain that Vlad’s request for intelligence on possible foreign involvement was motivated by the extraordinarily large numbers of foreigners appearing in the region:

“The order of Col. Sima referring to foreign elements was justified because an exodus of visitors from foreign states to the dwelling of Pastor Tokes had begun two months earlier. Thus, there existed suspicion of the implication of circles from other states in the launching of the events in Timisoara. I would also like to point out that in November approximately 1500 persons from one and the same neighboring state appeared in Timis county and the city of Timisoara, usually men, whom I was not able to keep under surveillance, because of lack of manpower. I reported details regarding these foreigners only verbally without drawing up any notes.” [Ordinul col. Sima referitor la elementele straine era justificate pentru ca cu 2 luni mai inainte incepuse un exot de vizitatori din statele straine la locuinta pastorului Tokes. Deci exista banuiala implicarii cercurilor din alte state in declansarea evenimentele la Timisoara. Tin sa precizez ca in noiembrie aproximativ 1500 din unul si acelasi stat vecin au aparut in judetul Timis si orasul Timisoara, de regula barbate care nu i-am putut supraveghea, din [lipsa] de oameni (forte).] (#1 Securitate Deny Foreign Instigation)

Two the original four testimonial sources cited by Hall as proof of Soviet non-implication in the Timisoara events provide much stronger evidence for the counterargument; that the Soviets were present and vexatious. Indeed, both Mavru and Teodorescu insist on the unusual influx of Soviet bloc “tourists” into Romania immediately preceeding and during the December 1989 revolution.

But testimonies from former DSS officers are not the only evidence cited by Hall. He also cites media reporting as providing ‘definitive’ proof that there were no Soviet “tourists” coming over the border in worrisome quantity.

To Be Continued

The Romanian Version is at

Friday, January 30, 2015

Romanian Revolution December 1989 (II): Divining Soviet Intent

 Conversation overheard at an unspecified Customs and Passport Control point 
(possibly at the border with one of Russia’s neighbors)

Customs Officer: Nationality?
Tourist: Pусский. (Russian)
Customs Officer: Occupation?
Tourist: Нет! Нет! Я только посещение! 
                         (No! No! I'm just visiting!)

The use of “tourist” cover by KGB, GRU and regular Soviet Army officers was employed within the Soviet bloc on more than half a dozen occasions between 1956 and 1987. On a number of occasions (Poland 1956, 1980 and 1981, Romania 1968 and 1987) such “tourism” was not accompanied by any observably hostile action, as if the deployment was based on a contingency that did not occur or for an operation that Moscow, in the final analysis, chose not to authorize.

Did the USSR have sufficient motive for deploying “tourists” in Romania in 1989?

Post-mortem assessments of the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 by U.S. intelligence concluded that Moscow’s principle motivation for military intervention was the loss of Soviet control; either intentionally, when local leaders attempted to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, or unintentionally, because of serious domestic instability. ( Czechoslovakia: The Problem of Soviet Control, 16/01/70)

Former Warsaw Pact Chief of Staff Anatoly Gribkov confirms that a principal motivation for the 1968 invasion was fear of a “possible loss of Soviet control over the Czechoslovak armed forces – indeed, in the future there could arise the question of Czechoslovakia’s departure from the Warsaw Pact. As a result, there would take place an inevitable weakening of the European borders of the Pact, followed by a revision of the post-war order in Europe and the break-up of the East European system of military security as a whole.  The Soviet leadership drew an analogy with Hungary’s attempt to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact.” (A. I. Gribkov, Sud’ba varshavskogo dogovora: Vospominania, Dokumenty, fakty [Part of the Warsaw Pact: Recollections, Documents, Facts], (1998): 117-118)

Did Moscow harbor such concerns regarding Romania? It certainly did. Already in 1964 Khrushchev argued that leaving the alliance was “exactly what the Romanian leaders want” but that allowing it would be “totally and disastrously wrong.” On the contrary, Khrushchev insisted, the “whole Balkan situation would become untenable” if Romania were to withdraw and it was “the responsibility of the Party to stop Romania leaving the Pact.” Soviet Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky referenced contingency plans in case of an attempted departure, underscoring that French assistance would hardly be of “any help to the Romanians in resisting a blitzkrieg from the Warsaw Pact,” while Khrushchev stated that “if they’re so blind as to try and leave the Warsaw Pact, then our soldiers, not de Gaulle, will have the last word.”(J. Sejna, We Will Bury You (1982): 74-76)

As the CIA noted in 1965:Certainly the evidence suggests that Bucharest would at least like to leave the Pact” and that, by attempting to do so, it would provide the “one very telling reason why the Soviets might actually use force”: “to preserve their empire, not only in Rumania but throughout Eastern Europe. A failure to intervene would signal to the other Eastern European states that the USSR had either deliberately decided to let the empire break up or that it was powerless to prevent it.” (Rumania and the Warsaw Pact, CIA/DI/ONE Staff Memorandum 2465, 25/06/65)

In July 1967 Brezhnev announced to the other Pact members (plus Yugoslavia’s Tito) that he anticipated Romania’s imminent withdrawal from the alliance. KGB sources confirmed that “such anxieties about Eastern Europe as existed in Moscow Center when Andropov became chairman [in June 1967] centered on Romania,” and that “ironically, there was far less concern about Czechoslovakia” than about Romania at the beginning of 1968.  (Document 2 in J. Hershberg, The Soviet Bloc and the Aftermath of the June 1967 War, J. Hershberg, The Soviet Bloc and the Aftermath of the June 1967 War; O. Gordievsky and C. Andrew, KGB: Inside Story (1990): 481-482)

Clearly, Moscow perceived the same causa incursio in Romania and Czechoslovakia – a potential withdrawal from the alliance and collapse of Soviet security architecture. Defense Minister Andrei Grechko told the Soviet Politburo in May 1968 that Bucharest was “seriously considering full withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact” and if it did then “the Pact would not be able to hold together.” (M. Ouimet, The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy (2003): 17)

Why then did the USSR and loyalist bloc members not invade Romania earlier? The standard myth is based on the tautology that Romania was not invaded because it lack any strategic importance for the Soviet Union, and that insignificance is proven by the lack of Soviet invasion. According to General Gribkov, however, Moscow’s ability to command the Czechoslovak defense minister to order his army not to resist was a decisive factor in the Soviet decision to invade in 1968. Gribkov advised against invading Poland in 1980-81 precisely because he believed the Polish military to be “battle ready and in a patriotic frame of mind,” and therefore likely to join in any “struggle against our troops and the other allied troops.” (Gribkov (1998): 119-147)

Gribkov was equally clear on exactly where Romania stood along the spectrum bounded by Czechoslovak submission and anticipated Polish defiance. The Romanians, Gribkov observed, had immediately “adopted a doctrine of defense of the entire people,” “secretly redeployed” their best troops “close to the Soviet border,” prepared for the “destruction of aircraft and airborne troops,” refused permission for the Soviet Warsaw Pact commanders “to land at Romanian airports or to fly across its territory to Bulgaria without written permission,” and threatened to shoot down unauthorized Soviet aircraft. (Gribkov (1998): 75-76)

The CIA concluded that aside from the communist party holding a monopoly of power two internal conditions had to be met before Moscow would intervene. First, “the local Party must be alienated from the people” and, second, “the local leadership must be capable of fragmentation.” Neither of these conditions held true for Romania in 1968. Both conditions had been fulfilled by December 1989. ( Czechoslovakia: The Problem of Soviet Control, 16/01/70)

It bears emphasis that the Romanian “threat” to Soviet interests was not limited to its possible departure from the Pact or internal destabilization. Bucharest actively challenged Soviet policy, “caused harm to USSR interests,” and endangered Soviet security across a broad range of issues within the Soviet bloc and internationally.

According to the Kremlin, there was virtually no chance that Romania would voluntarily stop pursuing “relationships with the principal powers that oppose us, in the contemporary world, not only in the political domain, but also in the economic, military, cultural, etc., diminishing, at the same time, real collaboration within the framework of the Warsaw Pact and the CMEA.” Meanwhile, Bucharest undercut Soviet foreign policies in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, for example, by “warning” Khomeni after the fall of the Shah “not to invite specialists of the USSR into Iran,” and advocating moves of an “overtly anti-Soviet character” to the Afghanistan Democratic Republic in the spring of 1979, weeks before the Soviet forces that would lead the invasion were infiltrated into Kabul under cover. (Documents 1-4 in L. Watts, The Soviet-Romanian Clash over History, Identity and Dominion (2012))

In Moscow’s view, Romania pursued the destruction and “disintegration” of the alliance from within, by lobbying other Pact members “to combat together, through joint action, the actions and measures of the USSR within the CMEA and the Warsaw Pact, as well as on many other questions connected with the communist and workers movement and the resolution of a series of problems of international importance.” According to Soviet military leaders, Romania had “prejudiced the defense efforts of the countries participating in the Pact during times of peace, as well as in case of an armed aggression.” (Documents 2-4 in L. Watts, The Soviet-Romanian Clash over History, Identity and Dominion (2012))

By the late 1980s Bucharest’s campaign to transform the alliance out of existence caused serious concern in Moscow. According to other Pact members, Romania refused “to allow any strengthening of alliance structures,” and aimed instead to achieve the “weakening” of the alliance. Soviet officials likewise reported that Romania pursued an “obvious” policy of “dismantling the organs of political and military cooperation within the Warsaw Pact.” (Romanian Proposal For Warsaw Pact Reform: Information Regarding The Romanian Proposal, 08/07/88; Joint Memorandum of the [Hungarian] Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of National Defense on the Future of the Warsaw Treaty, 06/03/89,; Document 3, 24/02/89 in CWIHP Bulletin 12/13 (2001): 69)

Romania now also posed a destabilization threat to Soviet security.  During 1983-1985 the KGB’s London resident received multiple requests “for intelligence on Western attitudes to Romania” because KGB Center believed it to be on the verge of an economic collapse that would result in “loss of control by the regime” and a Romanian “turn toward the West.” Soviet officials feared the same in 1989. The Soviet foreign ministry warned in February that, the most likely scenario entailed “the danger of a decisive shift of the country in the direction of the West (including its exit from the Warsaw Pact),” after which “financial and material support from the West, highly probable if there are real changes, may prove to be very effective for a country possessing a good deal of natural and economic resources.” (Gordievsky and Andrew (1990): 641; Doc. 1, 02/89 in CWIHP Bulletin 12/13 (2001): 57-59)

Hungarian communist officials insisted to Western media in July 1989 that Moscow’s “priority is to maintain the system of alliances,” and that “the Soviet Union considers it essential for Romania to remain a [member of] the Warsaw Pact.” The sigh of relief in the Kremlin was almost audible when Romania’s provisional authority announced in December that it would respect its obligations to the Pact. (M. Shafir, “Matyas Szűrös’s Interview with RFE’s Romanian Service,” Radio Free Europe, 20/08/89; Background Report/127, RFER, 20/08/89; TASS, 23/12/89)

Perhaps the greatest problem that Bucharest’s “separate course” presented for the Kremlin was its impact on the approximately 3 million co-ethnics in the contiguous Soviet Moldavian and Soviet Ukrainian Republics. Romania’s defiance made it a point of attraction and a dangerous example of independent behavior vis-à-vis Moscow Center. And Soviet officials repeatedly complained of Moldovan susceptibility to Romanian “subversion” during the 60s, 70s and 80s; while undertaking actions to combat that threat. (Documents 11, 13, 17 and 19 in L. Watts, A Romanian Interkit? Soviet Active Measures and the Warsaw Pact Maverick, 1965-1989 (2012))

Moscow thus had a variety of serious motives for considering an intervention in Romania. More, in fact, than it had regarding any other member of the Soviet bloc. But did these motives persist under Gorbachev’s “New Thinking”?

By 1988 Gorbachev began signaling a change in Soviet policy to the effect that the Brezhnev Doctrine was no longer applicable in Eastern Europe. Few Pact members believed him sincere at the time, partly because of the continued use of violence within the USSR. (And the legitimacy of that skepticism was apparently confirmed by Gorbachev’s later authorization of commando operations against independence movements in Lithuania, Latvia and Azerbaijan.)

However, even as Gorbachev applied “New Thinking” to Eastern Europe generally speaking, the Kremlin still held Romania to be an area of special strategic interest because of its links with and attraction for the majority population in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic – a unique situation in the Soviet bloc. According to KGB reports, Romania remained a dangerous center of subversion and nationalist point of attraction for “Soviet peoples” – i.e. ethnic Romanian Moldovans and not only – well into late 1989. It is worth emphasizing that KGB Chief Vladimir Kryuchkov had designated the fight against “the centers for ideological diversion and nationalists” as the number one operational priority. Understandably so given that they threatened the territorial integrity of the USSR. (Doc. 24, 26 and 27 in Watts, A Romanian Interkit? (2012); Andrew and Mitrokhin, The World Was Going Our Way (2005): 243)

According to the CIA, the December revolution “strengthened” the identification of Moldovans with Romania and that sentiment was “likely to grow if Romania’s new regime can stabilize that country and begin to forge a viable democratic political system.” The projected result was not one Moscow would have found comforting. “As ethnic Romanians,” the CIA concluded, “the Moldavians are looking to Bucharest for assistance in resurrecting their long-suppressed national identity. They also hope to lay a foundation for eventual reunification with Romania.” Moscow continued to fear and exploit the Romanian-Moldovan linkage after 1989 in an effort to influence Romanian security policy and block its entry into NATO, long after it had accepted NATO entry for Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. (National Intelligence Daily, 02/10/90. See also Perestroyka At The Crossroads: An Intelligence Assessment; J. Bugajski, Cold Peace (2004): 95-8, 103-5, 215)

The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was another point of major Soviet vulnerability and concern in late 1989. Alone within the bloc since the 1960s, the Romanians persistently and publicly criticized the 1939 Pact, which enabled the USSR to annex their former territories of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina as well as parts of Poland, Finland, and the Baltic states in their entirety. Specifically, Bucharest condemned the 1939 Pact for encouraging Hitler’s expansionism and causing World War II. (New York Times, 05/14/66: 4) By mid-1989 the groundswell of protest within the bloc gave alarming proportions to what up to that point had been singular Romanian protest. When Gorbachev attempted to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in December 1987, Ceausescu riposted publicly that the “agreement signed with Hitler” gave “Germany a powerful support for her striving towards war, for which mankind paid a high price, particularly the Soviet Union.” (Scanteia 01/26/88) At their July 1989 meeting he underscored to the other Pact members that it was “well known” that “the treaty between Molotov and Ribbentrop, did not stop the aggression, but on the contrary facilitated it.” (Records of the PCC Meeting in Bucharest: Speech by the General Secretary of the PCR (Nicolae Ceauşescu), 7 July 1989: 11-12/144-145,

In mid-November 1989 Ceausescu insisted that Hitler’s agreement with Stalin be annulled along with all dependent accords, “including that involving Bessarabia and northern Bucovina” – “a part of Romania that was ceded because of the agreements with Hitler.” On November 21, before an international audience at the 14th RCP Congress, he argued the “particularly important” need to “clearly and unequivocally condemn and cancel all agreements with Hitler’s Germany,” while implementing practical measures “to do away with the results of all those agreements and dictates.” (ANR, CC al PCR, Cancelarie, 76/1989, f. 115-116)

Regardless of its moral or legal merit, such advocacy held the potential to rip the Soviet Union apart from the Baltic to the Black Sea – and to destabilize Europe in the process. Diplomats observing this frontal assault evaluated it as by far the dictator’s “most dangerous” move yet, the gravity of which was reflected in TASS’s immediate response “that no serious or responsible politician could bring up the question of post-World War borders, including the Soviet-Romanian border.” (Y. Govrin, Israeli-Romanian Relations at the End of the Ceausescu Era (2001): 114)

There were, in fact, several extremely plausible motives for the USSR to intervene in Romania at the end of 1989. But the existence of motivation, no matter how powerful, does not prove intent. Indeed, categorical proof of intent would require an internal Soviet document generated at the time that clearly indicated it. Even absent such evidence, however, the existence of contingency plans for intervention certainly justifies hypotheses of intent under the right conditions.

Were Soviet coercive institutions under Gorbachev continuing to prepare for such an intervention? Treating either the Soviet Union or Romania as a unified rational actor in December 1989 is exactly where many theories and hypotheses regarding the Romanian Revolution come crashing down. Various groups with conflicting agendas were at work in their party and state leaderships as well as in their coercive institutions. Many analyses of 1989 overlook altogether the fact that Gorbachev was unable to reform the Soviet Army/GRU or the KGB during his six-year tenure. His relationship with the USSR’s institutions of state coercion was so antagonistic that their leaderships eventually mounted the coup to oust him in August 1991. (See e.g., Gorbachev's Growing Confrontation with the KGB: A Coming Showdown?01/06/88)

Gorbachev’s failure to reform these institutions and the mutual antagonism between him and them had two very practical implications for analyses of Romania’s December 1989 Revolution. First, the Soviet military and the KGB were predisposed to independent behavior, on several occasions going “off the reservation” during this period. Second, there was virtually no reconsideration or alteration of KGB or Soviet military contingency plans for dealing with serious instability among the Bloc members or attempted departures from the Warsaw Pact. If alliance departure or destabilization constituted triggers for such contingencies prior to Gorbachev, then they very probably did so at the end of the 1980s as well.

How then, can one assess “Soviet” policy and intent towards Romania? Indeed, the question arises as to what was “Soviet” in late 1989, when Boris Yeltin’s Russia was allied with republican independence movements against Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. And how does one factor in the contradictory policy interests pursued by competing Soviet authorities? Who best represented “Soviet” policy toward Romania in December 1989: Gorbachev? The KGB? The Soviet Army? The latter two carried the main responsibility for implementing Soviet security policy abroad.

Complex and complicated issues are, perhaps, best addressed by breaking them down into their component parts and then following the evidence regarding each component, wherever it may lead. Given such complexity, the rigorous evaluation of evidence – its reliability and its interpretation – is of critical importance if one is to avoid the generation of more confusion. On the other hand, carelessness in approaching the evidence is almost guaranteed to obscure rather than clarify.

[To be continued]

Friday, January 16, 2015

Romanian Revolution December 1989 (I): A History of Soviet Tourism

Confusion continues to surround many of the events and details of Romania’s Revolution of December 1989. So much so that each new archival revelation seems to complicate as much as it clarifies. The persistence of this seemingly perpetual fog is due not only to continued efforts at obfuscation but also, and perhaps even more so, to logical fallacies in research agendas and the lack of appropriate contexts.

In his very good book on the revolution based on the evidence then available, Peter Siani-Davies noted this apparently global breakdown of normal analytical processes when attention was turned to Romania. “It is a little ironic – he observed – that a revolution which sought to reassert rationality in Romania created an apparent collective loss of the same facility in the outside world.”
(P. Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 (2005): 282)

Indeed, structural problems afflict many of the arguments and approaches employed in studies of Romania in 1989. That does not mean, however, that such approaches can or should be simply dismissed. Not all arguments that prove structurally false in one respect are false in all respects. And even if they were false in all respects that would not necessarily mean that they are false in substance. One can be right based on only some of the reasons one uses. A single structural error in one’s argument does not invalidate it. One can even be right for all the wrong reasons.

Nor does the use of structurally false argument or substantially false conclusions necessarily mean that the analyst has a hidden or sinister agenda. Many structural and substantive errors in argument and analysis are born of very human cognitive biases that one can hope to identify and control but never remove.

For example, analysts who came to the study of Romania during the 60s and 70s were able to observe first-hand Bucharest’s extraordinary clashes with Moscow over foreign and security policy. Consequently, their evaluations usually take performance in those domains into account resulting in less absolutely negative assessments of the regime than those made by analysts who began their study during the 1980s, after the domestic situation and Ceausescu’s reputation had fallen into the abyss.

Apart from what might be considered a generational bias, analysts frequently mistake responsibility for cause, confusing ethical issues with a problem of agency by merging two very different questions – “How did it happen?” and “Who is to blame?” – into one and then demanding a single answer. Many an analyst has fallen victim to this error, as has more than one post-communist institution, rejecting evidence of regime behavior and intent that does not provide proof of the desired culpability as allegedly “rehabilitating” Ceausescu, communism, and repressive authoritarian dictatorship in general.

A related error commonly met is the argument ad consequentiam, whereby the validity of a line of reasoning is judged according to whether or not one likes its implications, driving the analyst to accept or reject reasoned argument on the basis of the consequences that flow from it. This error seems to surface whenever the possibility of Soviet bloc involvement in the revolution, the overthrow of the dictator, the collapse of communism, and/or the execution of Ceausescu are at issue. The apparent fear being that the Romanian people will be excluded entirely from the story of their own revolution or that the “real” culprits will be provided alibi.

In the next several blogs, I propose to approach the issue of Soviet bloc “tourists” by examining context, interests and evidence. The basic question addressed here, however, is not the role that “tourists” may or may not have played in the revolution – and certainly not the far less credible assertion that they played a determining role in it – but whether and why Soviet “tourists” might have been present and why it seems so difficult to establish the truth of their presence or absence.

The practice of infiltrating paramilitary and clandestine agents into countries for purposes of targeted violence, subversion, sabotage and terrorism is firmly embedded in Soviet security practice. The team of professional revolutionaries that Moscow sent into Hungary in November 1918 arrived under the cover of “humanitarian assistance,” in the guise of Red Cross “military surgeons and medical specialists” (as did a team sent to Poland in the same period.) Indeed, Soviet intelligence often used the Red Cross and “humanitarian missions” as façade for smuggling in agents, assassins, saboteurs, terrorists, etc.  (R. W. Leonard, Secret Soldiers of the Revolution: Soviet Military Intelligence, 1918-1933 (1999): 50, 59)

The KGB, the Soviet military and the loyalist bloc member services all sent clandestine operatives under cover of “tourists” into Czechoslovakia in 1968. Different sorts of “tourists” fulfilled different missions. Some were responsible for the commando operations that established a bridgehead by taking over Ruzyne airport in Prague. Some provided reconnaissance of transportation and invasion routes. Some established clandestine command networks to takeover control of both the soon-to-arrive invasion forces as well as the Czechoslovak armed forces. Some provoked opposition members and demonstrators into actions that could be used to justify the invasion. And some simply gathered intelligence on the unfolding events and their various players. (See L. Grigorescu and C. Moraru, “Trupe în Aproprierea Frontieri şi Turişti în Interior” [Troops Near the Frontier and Tourists Inside], Magazin istoric 32, no. 7 (1998): 29; M. Retegan, In the Shadow of the Prague Spring (2000): 93-100; C. Troncota, Duplicitării [The Duplicitous] (2004): 178, 181)

In 1968 in Czechoslovakia, the provocateurs and intelligence gatherers from the KGB's PROGRESS operation appeared as “tourists” and “journalists” from West Germany, Austria, England, Switzerland, Lebanon and even Mexico. Meanwhile, the Soviets claimed that Western agents disguised as “tourists” were flooding into the country. (V. Mitrokhin and C. Andrew, Sword and Shield (2000): 251-257, 334; O. Kalugin, The First Directorate (1994), p. 107)

In 1968 Romania also experienced an unusual influx of Soviet bloc “tourists,” mostly coming in over the Bulgarian border – Bulgaria being the least threatening of Romania’s Warsaw Pact neighbors. These “Bulgarians” gathered around stores in the immediate vicinity of the Romanian Ministry Defense, which was subsequently relocated. (Retegan, In the Shadow of the Prague Spring (2000): 93-100)

This was the first time local security organs noted the peculiar urge of young men of military service age, with correspondingly short hair cuts and high standards of fitness, to visit Romania during crisis. Former Warsaw Pact Chief of Staff General A. Gribkov described the Romanian reaction in his 1998 memoires:

The Romanians were concerned they would share the fate of Czechoslovakia. So they adopted a doctrine of “defense of the entire people.” Gradually and secretly they redeployed their troops. The best-equipped and most combat capable divisions were deployed close to the Soviet border and to the Iron Gates [on the Yugoslav frontier], and close to the border with Bulgaria. Later the Hungarian front was strengthened. They deployed anti-aircraft batteries with combat charges, at all airports, including the capital, for destruction of aircraft and airborne troops. The Commander-in-Chief and Chief of Staff of the Warsaw Pact Armed Forces did not have the right to land at Romanian airports or to fly across its territory to Bulgaria without written permission from the Romanian authorities. When a [Soviet] aircraft approached Romania - it was as if it was about to be put under enemy fire.”
(A. I. Gribkov, Sud’ba varshavskogo dogovora: Vospominania, Dokumenty, fakty [Part of the Warsaw Pact: Recollections, Documents, Facts], (1998): 75-76)

The West German military attaché warned that if the Soviets could not force Romania to host a military exercise in order to achieve “the permanent stationing of Soviet troops and also the replacement of several high officials of the party and state who in one way or another oppose the Soviet line” then “the contingency plan of the Soviet leadership provided for instigation of diversions among population and the establishment of pro-Soviet factions to oppose the measures taken by the Romanian government, both domestically and in foreign policy.” (M. Ionescu and D. Deletant, Romania and the Warsaw Pact: 1955-1989 (2004): 86,

In 1980 and 1981 Soviet bloc “tourists” descended upon Poland. Apparently, their missions were very similar to that of the “tourists” visiting Czechoslovakia (and those involved in aborted missions in Romania) a dozen years earlier. General Gribkov later acknowledged not only that there was a “plan for the entry of allied troops into Poland,” but also that “there was even a reconnaissance of routes of movement and of regions of concentration of troops, in which Polish representatives took an active part.” As part of this plan the “SOYUZ” exercise was mounted and continued for two-months, and the staff headquarters of the Warsaw Pact was relocated from Moscow to Legnica, Poland. (Gribkov (1998): 144-146)

The CIA’s principal asset on the Polish General Staff, Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, likewise reported that the loyalist Soviet bloc members sent officers into Poland “dressed in civilian clothing” to undertake “reconnaissance of invasion routes as well as the distances and terrain for future operations.” (www.kuklinski.usCzechoslovak intelligence archives confirm that, in 1980/1981, “several hundred agents” of the Czechoslovak state security “volunteered to go to Poland” as part of a Soviet-planned invasion. That group stood down only after martial law was implemented. (Mladá Fronta Dnes (Prague), 21/12/2005.)

Between the Czechoslovak and Polish crises the USSR had invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. In the best of cases Kabul was an unlikely vacation destination and a sudden influx of “tourists” would have stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. Thus, commando units were infiltrated in as aircraft maintenance and embassy staff personnel. (Gromyko-Andropov-Ustinov-Ponomarev Reports, 28/6/79 and 6/12/79 in Cold War International History Project Bulletin (CWIHP) 8-9 (1996): 152, 159,

Along with the periodic use of “tourist” and “humanitarian assistance” cover, the exertion of pressure on the borders of non-compliant partners by Moscow had a history of over 70 years before December 1989. Typically, Moscow coordinated reports of border incidents by other bloc members that set the target country in a negative light internationally and registered official complaints against the target country’s border closures. These techniques were applied towards Romania, Poland, Finland and the Baltic states in 1939-40, and again versus Yugoslavia in 1949-51.

As the CIA observed in the latter case, “the Soviet attack was carried on by Hungary and Albania and strongly supported by Bulgaria,” and “included troop concentrations and recurring incidents along the Albanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian borders with Yugoslavia, increased hostile Hungarian espionage activity,” open Bulgarian encouragement of “subversive activities” and sabotage within the country including “harassment by guerilla forays, particularly in Yugoslav Macedonia,” and the “tightening of the economic blockade.” The loyalist bloc members coordinated their propaganda “to undermine Tito’s internal and world position,” giving “considerable play to charges that the other side is suppressing various national minorities and denying their rights.” (CFM Meeting 24/6/49, Tito-Kremlin Conflict 2/9/49 and Propaganda Directed To or About Yugoslavia 1/9/50,

There are also several examples of Soviet bloc “tourism” in which the suspicious sightseers took no apparent operational actions. For example, Czechoslovak “tourists” in Poland under Gomulka in 1956, “Bulgarian tourists” in Romania in 1968, and East German “tourists” in Romania (in and around Brasov) in 1987.

None of this proves anything about December 1989. However, it does prove that the concept of Soviet “tourists” was neither an absurd “fairy tale” nor a fantastic “myth” invented by Ceausescu. The insertion of Soviet intelligence and military personnel in the guise of “tourists” was eminently plausible precisely because Moscow had done it many times before. The Soviets had even done it before in Romania. By 1989 the precedent of Soviet “tourism” for ulterior purposes was well established.

[To be continued]