The Enemy Within:
The Romanian Intelligence Service In Transition

The Secret Services' Interference In Politics

The accusation most frequently levelled against SRI and UM 0215 is that they have involved themselves in political life to such a degree that they have become a political police force. Some of these apprehensions are rooted in the highly politicized circumstances under which the new Romanian secret service was created. Critics maintain that UM 0215 was set up and functioned for more than two years as a secret service loyal to Petre Roman's faction within the National Salvation Front (NSF), while the SRI emerged as a kind of "personal security service" for President Iliescu. In December 1991, in a letter attributed to a group of officers from the Foreign Intelligence Service, UM 0215 was depicted as Voican Voiculescu's "fiefdom" and was charged with having continued to provide information to Roman, even after he had ceased to be prime minister.

Growing frictions within the NSF and the party's split in March 1992 led to the conclusion that a "true war" was going on between the SRI and UM 0215. In the end, forces loyal to Iliescu and the head of the SRI, Virgil Magureanu, prevailed. As a result, Gheorghe's subsequent appointment as head of UM 0215 was attributed by some sources to Magureanu's personal intervention. During the critical phase of the conflict in 1992, the SRI repeatedly denied that there was any tension between itself and UM 0215. But it apparently orchestrated a series of media "revelations" about the unit's activities, in an attempt to make the unit shoulder the blame for most of the dark episodes in Romania's political life in the first half of 1990.

The interference of UM 0215 in politics was by no means limited to taking sides in the conflict between opposing wings of the ruling party. The service proved far more active in undermining Romania's democratic opposition, especially in the first months after the fall of the Ceausescu regime. Among the known actions attributed to it are the infiltration by agents provocateurs of an opposition rally on 18 February 1990, which turned violent; the distribution of fake Legionary leaflets claiming that a fascist take-over in Romania was imminent; the selective release of documents from the Securitate archives aimed at compromising opposition leaders who ran in the elections of May 1990; the infiltration of the non-stop marathon rally in Bucharest's University Square from April to June 1990; and direct participation in anti-opposition violence that occurred in Bucharest on 14 and 15 June 1990, when thousands of miners from the Jiu Valley descended on the capital. Voican Voiculescu dismissed some of these accusations as fabrications stemming from the SRI; however he admitted that he had favoured the use of Securitate files in the 1990 election campaign.

The involvement of two UM 0215 officers in the ransacking in June 1990 of the home of Ion Ratiu, a leading figure in the National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic (PNT-CD) who returned to Romania in December 1989 after spending more than 40 years in exile in Britain, was proved in court in February 1994. The accused - former Colonel Ion Nicolae and Sergeant Cornel Dumitrescu - were sentenced to four and three years respectively for having stolen $100,000 from Ratiu's house.

However, the issue of who was behind the June 1990 riots in Bucharest is much more complicated that it appears at first glance. Despite repeated denials by its leaders, there are clear indications of the SRI's involvement. Recently, Voican Voiculescu even accused Magureanu of having staged the violence in order to take over as prime minister. Other sources claim that the miners' arrival in Bucharest was orchestrated by Major Dumitru Iliescu (now a colonel), the chief of President Iliescu's Special Guard and Protocol Unit (renamed the Protection and Protocol Service in July 1991).

After June 1990 Internal Affairs Minister Doru Viorel Ursu and his successor, Victor Babiuc (both close associates of former Prime Minister Roman), are believed to have succeeded in disciplining UM 0215. It is thought that the unit suspended activities that might be construed as interference in political affairs and focused instead on tasks normally undertaken by an internal affairs ministry.

In 1993, however, internal regulations were released that apparently signaled a resumption of questionable, Securitate-style practices, including the gathering of intelligence on Romanians living, studying, or working abroad; people with dual citizenship; employees of foreign firms in Romania; and foreign residents. It was also reported that the service was keeping tabs on leaders of political parties and trade unions, political personalities and journalists. It also revealed the close cooperation between UM 0215 and the SRI, which involved the former being obliged to enter immediately all sensitive information into the SRI's computer network. This implicitly confirms that the two services have buried the hatchet and are now coordinating their objectives.

Following the disclosure, the Chamber of Deputies commission for Defence, Public Order, and National Security summoned Gheorghe and Internal Affairs Minister Doru Ioan Taracila to respond to the accusations. The two defended the reputation of the service and denied again any involvement in Romania's political life. They conceded, however, that some employees might have overstepped the rules; if this had happened, they added, it was only because of behaviour "sequels" among some officers. Taracila stressed that UM 0215 was functioning in accordance with the National Security Law, while Gheorghe insisted that those under surveillance - both Romanians and foreigners - where suspected of involvement with terrorist or criminal activities. The arguments were accepted without reservation by Petre Roman, currently the leader of the Democratic Party - National Salvation Front and the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies Commission for National Security. This position came as a surprise in view of Roman's denouncements of any attempt to revive the spirit and methods of the former Securitate.

As if there were not enough secret services in Romania, in May 1994 media announced the creation of an Operative Surveillance and Intelligence Directorate (DSOI) within the Internal Affairs Ministry. Colonel Traian Dima was appointed head of the directorate, which stressed its independence of UM 0215. The DSOI appears to focus on police-related tasks, especially combating organized, cross-border crime. However, as in the case of the SRI and UM 0215, some of its powers are reminiscent of those wielded by the communist secret police.