The December Revolt and the Coup D'Etat - 1989

Romanian Security And Intelligence Organizations

Ceausescu controlled a formidable network of security and intelligence organizations.

However, the Securitate, while large and pervasive, was certainly not the omnipotent secret empire it has been portrayed as in the West. Indeed, the very fact that it was unable to prevent a coup against Ceausescu suggests that it was neither as powerful nor isolated from the rest of society as many believed up to December 1989.

The Romanian security and intelligence organizations were divided into two distinct groups, the domestic departments of the Securitate and a foreign intelligence service called the Center for External Information (CIE). Little information is available in the open literature on the internal organization of the CIE,2 or on any possible role that the CIE may have played in the events of 1989.
Although it has long been assumed in the West that the CIE had a measure of independence from the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) Committee for State Security [Komitet Gosudarstvenoi Bezopasnosti] (KGB) that other non-Soviet Warsaw Pact (NSWP) foreign intelligence services did not, some analysts are willing to consider the possibility that the common wisdom is wrong.3

To date, the only information published that can help us to answer this question came from former employees of the East German foreign intelligence service and Constitutional Protection Office who sent a statement to the East German ADN news agency at the time of the Romanian revolution claiming that the former East German Ministry for State Security neither maintained ties, nor ever co-operated, with the Securitate.4

This, of course, does not answer the question of whether it maintained ties with the organizationally distinct CIE, but does suggest that Romania was isolated from contacts with other bloc security and intelligence services. Indeed, Ceausescu used the CIE and Securitate to collect intelligence on other socialist states, Hungary in particular.5

The Securitate served both domestic and foreign intelligence functions. It was under the nominal control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but received orders directly from the President (bypassing the Council of Ministers).6

Although some Western reports have claimed that the Central Committee (CC) did not have a department tasked with overseeing the security organs, a CC secretary had overseen security matters since 1948. According to incomplete official estimates issued after the revolution, the total number of employees in the State Security Department was 14,259 as of 22 December 1989, including 8,159 officers, 5,105 warrant and noncommissioned officers, and 984 'civilian' personnel.7

Of these, the following staffing levels were reported by the head of the post-revolutionary Romanian Intelligence Service (RIS), Virgil Magureanu:8

  • 8,376 in information and operational sectors;
  • 3,832 in central units;
  • 4,554 in counties;
  • 2,859 officers and NCOs in the Securitate troops (the rest were conscripts);
  • 2,588 officers in technical units;
  • 466 in operational units.

Precise numbers regarding pre-revolutionary staffing levels in the Securitate are still difficult to determine. One source estimates that regional Securitate units included a total of 'about 8,400 cadres' at the time of the December revolt.9

The Guard and Order Directorate (Fifth Directorate), which was Ceausescu's personal bodyguard, and the Fourth Directorate (responsible for military counter-intelligence and disinformation) reportedly consisted of approximately 1,600 officers and non-commissioned officers combined - 1 ,1 of whom would be relieved of their duties following the December revolt. 10 Officers and men from the Fifth Directorate, which numbered approximately 500, became the backbone of the pro-Ceausescu forces during the revolution. These were Romania's elite security forces, and were better equipped than regular Army units. They may even have had a bacteriological and chemical warfare unit created with Soviet assistance.11

The units most likely to have been involved in the fighting in Bucharest during the revolt included an 800-strong anti-terrorist organization, the Fifth Directorate, and a 600-strong Bucharest Security Force.12

The First, Second and Third Directorates and other formations, which were responsible for intelligence, counter-intelligence, and counterespionage duties, included approximately 1,400 officers and noncommissioned officers (of whom 210 had been relieved of duties by late February 1990).13 The Second Directorate was reportedly also responsible for foreign and domestic intelligence operations involving English-speaking countries.14

Ion M. Pacepa, a former senior officer in the CIE's predecessor, the Department of External Information [Directia de Informatii Externe] (DIE), has claimed that Ceausescu also controlled a special unit of approximately 1,000 men solely for the purpose of intelligence operations directed at the Romanian nomenclatura.15

The 'Workers Guards', which had been formed in the late 1950s as a successor to the Soviet-controlled 'Patriotic Guards', were controlled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.16

Local units were controlled through inspectorates generally located in the 39 counties. A special unit was also assigned to Bucharest.17

The International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that 250,000 people belonged to the Patriotic Guards in early 1989, and that of these a mere 12,000 were on active duty.18 They controlled almost all of the police, regulatory, investigative, and paramilitary19 organizations. In the early 1980s there were, all told, approximately 700,000 people under arms in Romania.

When suppressing internal uprisings, Ceausescu preferred not to rely on militarized militia and riot control units. Instead, when riots broke out, as in the Jiu valley in 1977 and in Brasov in November 1987, 20 he had to call on the armed forces to suppress the revolts.21

He did so despite the fact that a specialized unit for handling such actions, a 20,000-strong force of Security Troops,22 existed under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In the event of large-scale protests and rioting, Ceausescu was, therefore, pre-disposed to rely on the one group that, in 1989, he could not be certain would back him unconditionally. Nevertheless, he foolishly continued to alienate the military by giving it inferior weapons and often using units as forced labor for construction or harvesting. This weakness in Ceausescu's apparatus of political control would become self-evident in December 1989.

The Romanian Minister of Internal Affairs in early December 1989 was Tudor Postelnicu, previously chief of the Securitate. Postelnicu had more power than his predecessor, Gheorghe Homostean,23 since the former held a position on the Defense Council, while the latter reportedly did not.24 Postelnicu's choice of successor as the head of the Securitate was Colonel-General Iulian Vlad, who would play a key role as both an original member of the Front for the Salvation of the Homeland which took power on 22 December, and, ironically, has been accused of being the main organizer of the pro-Ceausescu resistance after he was kicked out of the National Salvation Front (NSF) at the height of the fighting.25