The December Revolt and the Coup D'Etat - 1989

Role Of The Securitate In The December Revolt And Coup

Officers and troops belonging to the Securitate were apparently divided over whether to support the revolutionary government or side with Ceausescu. The testimony of one member of a pre-revolutionary conspiratorial cell, Nicolae Radu, indicates that a former Securitate officer, Virgil Magureanu, may have been the leader of one cell of conspirators called the 'Securitate group', which included Iliescu, and that he might have used his position as a professor to recruit students to go into the Securitate.158 The 'Securitate group' has also been accused by Radu of having blocked efforts by a cell in the military led by Militaru to launch a coup, and that the failed 1984 attempt had been launched because Militaru had grown tired of waiting for Magureanu and Iliescu to act. 159 Thus, Radu's testimony suggests that Magureanu and Iliescu did not have much support within the Securitate apparatus before the revolution started in December 1989. However, evidence has since accumulated indicating that a sizeable portion of the Securitate apparatus quickly sided with the anti-Ceausescu forces on 22 December.

The popular history of the revolution holds that it was the Army that sided with the people, while the Securitate defended the old regime. However, in the months following the revolution reports from key officials in the NSF government and eyewitnesses indicated that army troops did most of the shooting in towns like Timisoara, Cluj, Sibiu and Brasov.160 General Militaru now states that resistance to the revolution by some army units, which were not co-opted until 23-24 December, has been completely ignored in the West.161 On 22 December, in fact, Militaru had appealed to the generals of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the army, in particular, to 'halt the slaughter '.162

Less well known is the role that Securitate forces and other security forces played in aiding the revolutionary forces. During the conflict in Bucharest hundreds of Securitate troops quickly joined army units in hunting down snipers in Bucharest, while hundreds more actually joined the ranks of the military. Romanian militia units also appear to have sided with the army and post-Ceausescu governments after the deputy chief of the General Inspectorate of the Militia, General Campeanu, was appointed head of the militia by the Salvation Front and appealed to militia officers and units to side with the anti-Ceausescu forces.163

On the day Ceausescu fled from Bucharest a Romanian Army general was quoted as saying that the Securitate 'practically does not exist any longer'.164 On 22 December, the Council issued Decree No. 4, placing all Securitate forces under the control of the armed forces.165 However, the ruling council did not issue a decree ending the existence of a separate State Security command structure until 30 December.166 This means that the NSF Council, while fighting renegade Securitate forces, was actually relying in part on the Securitate command structure to co- ordinate the use of former security troops fighting on the side of the revolutionary forces.

General Militaru has stated that he and Brucan attempted before the coup to get some of the Securitate units and other units belonging to the Ministry of Internal Affairs to side with the conspirators. They claim that they succeeded in enlisting the support of 20 army and Securitate generals and almost all of the 25,000 troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs,167 led by Chief of Staff Colonel Dumitru Peniuc, who had been in contact with Militaru since 1986.168 Brucan has also credited Militaru with making contact with, and neutralizing, the battalion responsible for guarding the Central Committee building and the Royal Palace.169 However, the coup plotters do not appear to have been successful in winning over the 4,000 or so interior ministry troops trained especially for urban guerrilla warfare, including the 2,000 officers of the Baneasa Securitate Military School (headed by the Conducator's brother Andruta), 800 men belonging to the Special Unit for Anti-terrorist Warfare (USLA), the 500 or so members of the Fifth Directorate, which was responsible for Ceausescu's personal security, and the 600 troops from the Bucharest Municipality Securitate.170 Nor were they successful in stopping the Interior Ministry troops from siding with army troops in shooting demonstrators before the chain of command broke down following Ceausescu's departure from Bucharest on the 22nd. Finally, it should be noted that Ion Iliescu has challenged the veracity of the account provided by Militaru and Brucan. In a statement which appears to have been designed to distance himself from Ceausescu and the legacy of the Securitate, Iliescu has claimed that very few, if any, Securitate forces immediately joined the army.171

On the evening of the 22nd, Securitate forces allied with Ceausescu began to attack the central square in Bucharest, the radio and television offices, the central post office, and other important buildings. However, they did not attack the Central Committee building in which the Securitate chief, Colonel General Iulian Vlad, was located. At the time, Vlad was acting ostensibly as a member of the NSF, until members of the 'War Council' decided on 24 December that he and other Securitate officers were actually organizing the pro- Ceausescu resistance.172 However, Vlad, and several witnesses at his trial, have stated that after the Executive Political Committee meetings of 17 and 22 December 1989, when Ceausescu had ordered troops to fire on demonstrators, Vlad told close associates on both occasions that he would not give the order to fire.173 The head of the USLA responsible for guarding CC Council of State buildings, Colonel Georghe Ardeleanu, was also a part of Iliescu's entourage late in the afternoon on 22 December, but was later dismissed when he was suspected of having ordered a group of forces to attack the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense.

Key members of the original NSF government had ties to the Securitate. The following members of the original NSF government were reportedly at one time Securitate officers: Magureanu, Dumitru Mazilu (a former Securitate colonel and professor at the Securitate training school), and Corneliu Bogdan. Mazilu was later forced to resign after allegations of his ties to the Securitate were made public. Bogdan, a former ambassador under Ceausescu, was revealed only after his death to have worked for the Securitate.174 In addition, Militaru's contact within the organization controlling the troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Chief of Staff Colonel (later Major General) Penciuc, was appointed as 'commander of the Securitate troops' until the organization was dissolved and absorbed by the army. He was released from active service in February 1990, but was reactivated in March to take a position in the General Inspectorate of the Police.175 Several leading state security and interior ministry officers also remained in active service with the army until they were purged and arrested from 26 to 31 December, including Colonel General Vlad, Lieutenant General Gianu Bucurescu (former deputy Minister of Internal Affairs), Lieutenant General Aristotel Stamatoiu (another former deputy Minister of Internal Affairs), and Lieutenant General Gheorghe Vasile (former head of a directorate in the Ministry of Internal Affairs).176

The Securitate forces fighting army units were never in contact with Ceausescu after he left Bucharest aboard his personal helicopter. The dictator and his wife were, in fact, captured by the military on the 22nd and then held, in secret, until they were executed after a summary trial. Instead, it appears that the resistance was led by senior Securitate officers who had been left behind by Ceausescu in Bucharest and who, like chameleons, eventually joined the revolutionary government. Sporadic fighting involving Securitate troops and the revolutionary forces erupted on the night of 22 December and lasted until Ceausescu's trial and execution were broadcast On national television on 25 December. Isolated sniper attacks continued for a few days afterward, but by that time the pro-Ceausescu resistance had been broken.

Western press reports on the scale of the resistance by Securitate forces during the hectic days of the revolution now appear to have been grossly exaggerated.177 Securitate snipers, small units, and Arab terrorists who were being trained by the Securitate did provoke impressive displays of firepower by army troops in the streets of Bucharest and led to more than 1,000 fatalities.178 There was also a strong attack launched against the building from which the NSF was broadcasting, and another on the Ministry of Defense building while members Of the NSF Council were inside, giving rise to the impression that the attacks were well co-ordinated. According to government officials, some were, in fact, co-ordinated by General Vlad. However, the widely held view of a massive Securitate apparatus turning on the army and protesters and leading large-scale assaults throughout the country is without basis. As described above, the Securitate was much smaller than most understood. Moreover, the defection of thousands of Securitate troops to the revolutionary forces had sharply reduced the size and effectiveness of the organization's forces.