Last week Israel seized a boat carrying 50 tons of Iranian-made mortars, long-range missiles and antitank rockets destined for the Palestinian Authority. The vessel, Karim A., is owned by the Palestinian Authority, and its captain and several crewmen are members of the Palestinian naval police. I am not surprised to see that Yasser Arafat remains the same bloody terrorist I knew so well during my years at the top of Romania's foreign intelligence service. I became directly involved with Arafat in the late 1960s, in the days when he was being financed and manipulated by the KGB. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel humiliated two of the Soviet Union's Arab client states, Egypt and Syria. A couple of months later, the head of Soviet foreign intelligence, Gen. Alexander Sakharovsky, landed in Bucharest. According to him, the Kremlin had charged the KGB to "repair the prestige" of "our Arab friends" by helping them organize terrorist operations that would humiliate Israel. The main KGB asset in this joint venture was a "devoted Marxist-Leninist"--Yasser Arafat, co-founder of Fatah, the Palestinian military force.
Gen. Sakharovsky asked us in Romanian intelligence to help the KGB bringing Arafat and some of his fedayeen fighters secretly to the Soviet Union via Romania, in order for them to be indoctrinated and trained. During that same year, the Soviets maneuvered to have Arafat named chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organizaiton, with public help from Egypt's ruler, Gamal Abdel Nasser.
When I first met Arafat, I was stunned by the ideological similarity between him and his KGB mentor. Arafat's broken record was that American "imperial Zionism" was the "rabid dog of the world," and there was only one way to deal with a rabid dog: "Kill it!" In the years when Gen. Sakharovsky was the chief Soviet intelligence adviser in Romania, he used to preach in his soft, melodious voice that "the bourgeoisie" was the "rabid dog of imperialism," adding that there was "just one way to deal with a rabid dog: Shoot it!" He was responsible for killing 50,000 Romanians. In 1972, the Kremlin established a "socialist division of labor" for supporting international terrorism. Romania's main clients in this new market were Libya and the PLO. A year later, a Romanian intelligence adviser assigned to the PLO headquarters in Beirut reported that Arafat and his KGB handlers were preparing a PLO commando team headed by Arafat's top deputy, Abu Jihad, to take American diplomats hostage in Khartoum, Sudan, and demand the release of Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian assassin of Robert Kennedy.
"St-stop th-them!" Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu yelled in his nervous stutter, when I reported the news. He had turned as white as a sheet. Just six months earlier Arafat's liaison officer for Romania, Ali Hassan Salameh, had led the PLO commando team that took the Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Olympic Games, and Ceausescu had become deathly afraid that his name might be implicated in that awful crime.
It was already too late to stop the Abu Jihad commandos. After a couple of hours we learned they had seized the participants at a diplomatic reception organized by the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum and were asking for Sirhan's release. On March 2, 1973, after President Nixon refused the terrorists' demand, the PLO commandos executed three of their hostages: American Ambassador Cleo A. Noel Jr., his deputy, George Curtis Moore, and Belgian charge d'affaires Guy Eid. In May 1973, during a private dinner with Ceausescu, Arafat excitedly bragged about his Khartoum operation. "Be careful," Ion Gheorghe Maurer, a Western-educated lawyer who had just retired as Romanian prime minister, told him. "No matter how high up you are, you can still be convicted for killing and stealing."
"Who, me? I never had anything to do with that operation," Arafat said, winking mischievously.
In January 1978, the PLO representative in London was assassinated at his office. Soon after that, convincing pieces of evidence started to come to light showing that the crime was committed by the infamous terrorist Abu Nidal, who had recently broken with Arafat and built his own organization. "That wasn't a Nidal operation. It was ours," Ali Hassan Salameh, Arafat's liaison officer for Romania, told me. Even Ceausescu's adviser to Arafat, who was well familiar with his craftiness, was taken by surprise. "Why kill your own people?" Col. Constantin Olcescu asked.
"We want to mount some spectacular operations against the PLO, making it look as if they had been organized by Palestinian extremist groups that accuse the chairman of becoming too conciliatory and moderate," Salameh explained. According to him, Arafat even asked the PLO Executive Committee to sentence Nidal to death for assassinating the PLO representative in London.
Arafat has made a political career by pretending that he has not been involved in his own terrorist acts. But evidence against him grows by the day. James Welsh, a former intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency, has told U.S. journalists that the NSA had secretly intercepted the radio communications between Yasser Arafat and Abu Jihad during the PLO operation against the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, including Arafat's order to kill Ambassador Noel. The conversation was allegedly recorded by Mike Hargreaves, an NSA officer stationed in Cyprus, and the transcripts were kept in a file code-named "Fedayeen." For more than 30 years the U.S. government has considered Arafat a key to achieving peace in the Middle East. But for more than 20 years, Washington also believed that Ceausescu was the only communist ruler who could open a breech in the Iron Curtain. During the Cold War era, two American presidents went to Bucharest to pay him tribute. In November 1989, when the Romanian Communist Party re-elected Ceausescu, he was congratulated by the United States. Three weeks later, he was accused of genocide and executed, dying as a symbol of communist tyranny.
It is high time the U.S. end the Arafat fetish as well. President Bush's current war on international terrorism provides an excellent opportunity.
Mr. Pacepa was the highest ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. He is author of "Red Horizons" (1987), a memoir. [Noot van Gershom: dit boek werd vertaald in het Nederlands onder de titel "Het duivelsrijk van Ceaucescu". Pacepa was directeur van de DIE (Roemeens equivalent van de CIA of de Mossad), d.w.z. de buitenlandse inlichtingendienst. De beruchte Securitate was de binnenlandse dienst.]