YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Romania Defector Has Happy Reunion in U.S. : New life: Daughter joins father in Washington 11 years after high-ranking Bucharest official sought asylum in the West.


WASHINGTON — Ion Mihai Pacepa remembers July 23, 1978, well. Then the acting chief of the Romanian espionage service, he stayed up all night that Saturday talking with his 24-year-old daughter, Dana, about her plans for the future. It was a warm evening, and the magnolias in their Bucharest garden were in bloom. Their conversation was a good one. His daughter had just finished her education, had a good job, and was engaged to marry a man who truly loved her.

The next morning Dana--dressed in the blue jeans and khaki shirt her father has held in his memory all the years since--drove Pacepa to the airport, where he boarded a plane for West Germany. His mission was to deliver a message from President Nicolae Ceausescu to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. He did deliver the message, but his real purpose was a different one. Five days later Pacepa was granted political asylum by the United States, the highest ranking official from the Soviet Bloc to do so. He had told no one of his plans to defect.

The only way he could alert his daughter was to phone her the night before he left on July 28 on a hurriedly arranged U.S. troop transport plane to tell her he would be late.

"I felt terrible," Pacepa recalled recently in an interview in a Washington hotel. "But I couldn't tell her a word. It would have put her in terrible danger. They would have killed her. All I could say was 'I'll be late.' 'How late, Daddy,' she asked. 'I don't know,' was all I could say."

It would not be until early January, when she arrived with her husband Radu (her former fiance) and family at Dulles International Airport, that Pacepa, 61, would see his daughter again. She and her family plan to make a new life for themselves in this country.

It would not be until after Ceausescu's execution on Dec. 25 that Pacepa was even able to speak with her. Since her father's defection, she had lived under a kind of house arrest. Then during the turmoil in Romania last month, Dana Pacepa and her family were taken from their home by members of the Romanian Securitate, who threatened to execute them.

Pacepa heard about his daughter's capture when he was awakened in the middle of the night on Dec. 23 by a call from a State Department official. "They said, "We have very bad news. We are so sorry,' " Pacepa recalled. "They were very, very nice."

Several days later, Pacepa got another phone call, this time from Virginia Young, an official at the American Embassy in Bucharest, who reported that Dana Pacepa had turned up at the American Embassy. She and her family had escaped when, as they were being driven to the execution site, news came over the car radio that Ceausescu had been captured. Their guards fled; the family hid out for a few days and then Dana Pacepa made her way to the embassy.

Young arranged a call between father and daughter ("Ginny said, "Here she is. Talk to her,' and believe me I did," Pacepa said teary-eyed). During the call, Young interrupted to tell Pacepa that the new government had approved the family's passports. (The exit visas were already waiting at the embassy.)

He had managed to keep track of her over the years only with the help of the State Department. "Her apartment was across the street from the American library," Pacepa explained, "and at least they were able to see her." When Pacepa, now called Mike--an Americanization of his middle name--left Romania in 1978, he left everything behind: his two jobs as one of Ceausescu's four senior advisers and as acting chief of the foreign intelligence service (the D.I.E. or Departmentual de Informatii Externe), his 6,000-square-foot ground-floor apartment with a large outdoor swimming pool, a sauna, a greenhouse, a basement studio for his artist daughter, his painting collection (including a Courbet), his four cars (a Mercedes, an Alfa-Romeo and two Romanian models), his two drivers and his lifetime career in the Romanian secret service.

He also left behind a bugged apartment (he estimates that there were 10 million microphones or bugged telephones in a country of 22 million people) and his virtual daily contact with Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, both of whom he said he had come to despise.

"(Ceausescu) remained in power because he knew how to lie," Pacepa said. "He was preoccupied with subduing his audience. His idol was Hitler. He studied his speeches, particularly the speech at the 1936 Olympic Games."

What Pacepa took with him, however, was his photographic memory, a talent encouraged by his father, who made his young son memorize a page of the telephone book every day in the hope that Pacepa would become a chemical engineer, which he did in 1951.

Los Angeles Times Articles