The Enemy Within:
The Romanian Intelligence Service In Transition

The Romanian Intelligence Service
A History Of Dissent And Purges

From the very beginning, SRI was depicted as President Ion Iliescu's "personal security service". Indeed, the SRI's "birth certificate", the un-published Decree no 181 of 26 March 1990, stipulated that the new service was to be directly subordinated to the president, while the Provisional Council of National Unity, Romania's surrogate parliament at the time, would have some control over it. The history of SRI, plagued by dissent and purges, appears to be rooted in what was described as the organisation's "original sin", that of being a continuation under a new name of the communist-era secret service.

The presence of a considerable number of former Securitate officers within the SRI ranks is perceived as the main obstacle to a complete overhaul of the Romanian intelligence system. Although no official figures are available and estimates differ widely, in March 1994 Magureanu claimed that "only one-third of the approximately 15,000 Securitate officers had been offered employment in the new organisation". But as the real number of Securitate officers during Ceausescu regime was estimated in the region of 50,000, it is hard to believe that the new SRI and the new intelligence services are not mentally and methodically descended from the old organisation.

Some younger and more open-minded Securitate officers hired by the SRI after the first wave of purges added their voices to those denouncing the continuity in personnel, material resources, methods, and mentality between the two institutions. The first major breach in the secrecy surrounding the new intelligence service was made by Adrian Ionescu, a former Securitate captain placed on reserve on 15 October 1990 on Magureanu's order. Among other things, Ionescu accused Magureanu of having turned the organisation into a tool of the then ruling party (the National Salvation Front), despite pledges that the SRI was an apolitical organization.

A second wave of personnel changes took place in the secret service between June and August 1991, following the scandal in May of that year over several tons of Securitate and SRI secret documents found in a ravine at Berevoiesti (Prahova County). Dubbed in retrospect "the big purge", this wave was reported by Magureanu to have affected some 30% of the SRI's personnel. The purge's most prominent victim was Magureanu's first deputy director at the time, Major General Mihai Stan.

Interesting details about the purge were revealed in a letter addressed to the parliament in April 1992 by a group of unidentified SRI officers demanding Magureanu's removal for what they said was a systematic interference in the country's political life. According to the authors of the letter, most of the "nearly 1,500 officers" dismissed during this second wave were professionals who had no connection with the communist nomenklatura. They added that former party activists in the Securitate, who held leading positions in the SRI, had not been affected by the purge. Magureanu responded angrily to these reactions, speaking of a "demolition mania" with "incalculable consequences" for the SRI. His reaction raised the suspicion that the letter contained reliable information on the service.

In January 1992 another former SRI officer, Colonel Marin Iancu, decided to speak out against the SRI leadership. He criticized the similarities of style, methods, and structure between the SRI and its predecessor and warned that the former might become another "state within the state" if the parliament failed to impose a strict control over it.

Hints about the third wave of changes in the SRI leadership appeared in the Romanian media at the end of 1993. In January 1994 some of the heads of SRI branches in the territory were removed. In February, Magureanu toured the counties of Dolj, Valcea and Gorj to inspect the SRI branches there and make more personnel changes. During his visit in Gorj County, where the Jiu Valley - home of the thousands of miners who ran riot in Bucharest on two occasions in 1990 and 1991 - is located, Magureanu appeared with the controversial leader of the miners, Miron Cosma, at a rally. The director of the SRI urged thousands of striking miners through a loudspeaker to remain calm and to renounce the idea of descending again on Bucharest.

The move was widely attacked in the media as inadmissible interference by the secret service in public life. Magureanu was summoned to the joint parliamentary commission in charge of monitoring the SRI's activities, which concluded that he had overstepped his authority. The commission's chairman, Senator Vasile Vacaru of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), tried to play down the incident and exonerate Magureanu. After this incident, the question raised by the democratic opposition was "who controls who in the parliament?"

In early March 1994, the heads of the SRI's Protection Division (known as Division E, in charge of protecting and monitoring SRI cadres and safeguarding state secrets), were dismissed for having allegedly leaked confidential information to the ultranationalist weekly Romania Mare (Greater Romania). In January, Romania Mare had accused several Romanian officials of working for foreign intelligence agencies. A few days later, the head of the SRI counter-intelligence division, Major General Gheorghe Diaconescu, was also dismissed amid speculations that he had failed to unmask a spy ring reported to include Lieutenant General Marin Pancea, the secretary of the Supreme Council for the Defence of the Country and an adviser to Iliescu; Pancea also had to quit his job. All accusations against Pancea, especially the claim that he had been spying for France, were dismissed by the Presidency as "pure invention", while the SRI said more cautiously that it had no evidence supporting such allegations.

Some journalists later claimed that the true reason for Diaconescu's dismissal was no doubt related to his rather imprudent decision to keep tabs on his own chief, Magureanu. The former counter-intelligence chief, the press wrote, had thus been able to uncover some illegal transactions with foreign firms involving Magureanu and his first deputy director, Major General Victor Marcu. Diaconescu was replaced by Colonel Mihai Lupu, who had worked with the Securitate's Foreign Intelligence Directorate; from 1983; he was the deputy chief of the special unit UM 0110 responsible for counter-intelligence operations in connection with the Soviet Union and other communist countries.

Also in March 1994, one of the SRI's deputy directors and the head of the organisation's training school, Major General Dumitru Cristea, was asked to resign for an alleged love affair with one of his female students. Cristea, who denied the charge and put the blame for the campaign against him on senior PDSR officials, refused to resign. He was subsequently suspended from duty and sent on vacation pending an examination of his case. Despite the fact that, as director of the Bucharest-based Higher Institute of Information, which had been set up in 1992, Cristea was responsible for the training of SRI officers and his position was very influential in both the ruling party and the opposition, he was removed from his post without a follow-up inquiry.

According to the media, the removal of Diaconescu and Cristea was accompanied by more changes in the SRI leadership. Thus, Colonel Constantin Pista, the head of Division C (responsible for the protection of the national wealth), had been dismissed for incompetence, while Colonel Traian Ciceu, the head of Division A (responsible for the protection of the constitutional order), handed in his resignation in connection with the loss of strictly confidential documents on Romania's political parties and extremist groups.

At the same time, in the spring of 1994, Bucharest was hit by other security scandals. Thus, a well organised campaign of innuendos and slander against Gen Spiroiu, the Minister of Defence, forced his replacement with a civilian. But soon after the reshuffle, several newspapers and the opposition demanded an official investigation into allegations that the new defence minister, Gheorghe Tinca, had ties with the Securitate. While these demands were refused, it was acknowledged that army officers are now aware that they will remain under strict control by the military counter-intelligence department of the SRI, introduced in the Army through the back door.

Another scandal was connected with reports that appeared in the media alleging that the secret service through its unit UM 0215 had revived old-style surveillance and harassment actions against political parties, trade unions and journalists. Adrian Severin, the vice-president of the opposition Democratic Party led by the former prime minister, Petre Roman, claimed that his party knew about this unit, and he has urged parliament's defence and security commissions to investigate its activity and the reports that Gheorghe Tinca had ties with Ceausescu's Securitate. These scandals have done little to bolster confidence in the SRI or in the quality of political debate, which - whether in pro-government or pro-opposition circles - tends to be suffused wit h sensationalist rumour and scandal-mongering.

In spite of these scandals, it was said that all the changes that occurred during the spring of 1994 had affected no more than 25% of the organisation's staff. These changes in the leadership of the SRI appear to be part of a long-term personnel policy whose rationale is at least hazy if we take into consideration the fact that Magureanu dismissed allegations that the purge was directed at the pro-Western wing of the SRI as "hallucinations".

But those who suspect Magureanu of anti-Western feelings seem to believe that he had close links to the KGB in the 1980s and was involved in a Soviet-backed conspiracy against Ceausescu. Magureanu is also criticized for cultivating special intelligence relations with Russia and for paying frequent visits to Moscow. He has repeatedly rejected such criticism, claiming that cooperation between the SRI and the Russian secret service currently focused on combating international organized crime. In what appears to be an overreaction to the charges made against him, Magureanu publicly stated that the KGB had played a role in Ceausescu's overthrow in December 1989; and he also suggested that the KGB was the most active foreign intelligence service in modern-day Romania.

However, the current purges within the SRI do not necessarily signal that the uncompromised, new generation of officers have scored a victory over the old Securitate guard. Most new commanders of SRI divisions have Securitate credentials, just like their predecessors. Thus, it is possible that Magureanu's main concern was to get rid of those former Securitate officers who might have posed a threat to his own position. Both Diaconescu and Cristea had long been tipped as possible successors to the former professor of political science at the Stefan Gheorghiu Academy, the Romanian Communist Party's cadre school. Irrespective of the reasons for the personnel changes, the Romanian Intelligence service will probably continue to experience "the enemy within" syndrome for some time, while the mood in the service will remain "extremely tense".