January 21, 2016

Radiation as a Weapon of Choice: Parallels in the Mysterious Deaths of Alexander Litvinenko in London and Vlad Georgescu in Munich in the Cold War

The final report of Sir Robert Owen’s official inquiry into the death in London of Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB officer and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was released on January 21, 2016. The report is over 300 pages long and available to download at https://www.litvinenkoinquiry.org.  In his closing statement, Sir Robert said, 

Alexander Litvinenko was born on 4 December 1962, a citizen of the Soviet Union. He died aged 44 on 23 November 2006 in University College Hospital London, by then a British citizen. 
Post-mortem examination revealed that his death had been caused by an ingestion of a fatal dose of the radioactive isotope polonium-210.
I have concluded that there is a strong probability that when Mr. Lugovoy poisoned Mr Litvinenko, he did so under the direction of the FSB, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation.
I have further concluded that Mr Kovtun was also acting under FSB direction … probably in the knowledge that that was the body for which he was acting.
I have further concluded that the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev, then head of the FSB, and also President Putin.
Vlad Georgescu
There are parallels and similarities in the Litvinenko murder in London with that of RFE/RL Romanian Broadcast Service Director Vlad Georgescu in Munich in 1988. Below we will look at the still unsolved death of Vlad Georgescu.

On November 30, 2001, at a ceremony honoring 50 years of RFE/RL broadcasts, Romanian President Ion Iliescu decorated RFE/RL President Thomas Dine and five veteran journalists of the Romanian Service with different orders. Iliescu said the ceremony represented "a sincere, though perhaps belated acknowledgment of the fact that Romania's history in the years of the totalitarian regime cannot be written without emphasizing the role played by the station on our lives under the conditions then prevailing." He added, that RFE/RL had been Romania's "window to the normal world outside," and a source of "adequate and pluralist information." 

President Iliescu also recalled the “darker side” of Romania and RFE/RL’s history:

  • the February 21, 1981 terrorist bomb attack on RFE/RL in Munich
  • physical attacks on other Romanian journalists working for RFE/RL
  • the still-unclarified circumstances surrounding the deaths of three directors of RFE/RL’s Romanian Service 
Iliescu said the authorities are fully collaborating with "competent international forums" to fully explain the circumstances of those incidents.

15 years later, there is still no explanation from Romania about the deaths of three directors of RFE/RL's Romanian Broadcast Department, including that of Vlad Georgescu.  

One Cold War question that remains to be conclusively answered is: Did Romania develop a secret radiation weapon that killed prominent members of RFE/RL's Romanian Broadcast Service?  

Vlad Georgescu was a prestigious historian and dissident, who had a long history of difficulties with the Romanian domestic intelligence service known as Securitate. Starting in 1974, Securitate harassed him for criticizing the Ceausescu regime. He was accused of treason in 1977 and was jailed for writing several anti-Ceausescu essays and passing them on to the US Embassy for publication abroad. Because of UR government interest in his case, Vlad was allowed to travel to Washington, where he asked for and received political asylum. Shortly afterwards, he became a contributor to RFE's broadcasts and two years later was appointed associate director of RFE's Romanian Service and then as Director based in Munich. Sometime along the way, Securitate gave him the code name “Bastard.” 

Nestor Ratesh, his eventual successor as Director of RFE/RL’s Romanian Service, has written: “The Securitate had no illusions about his directorship. Right from the beginning, it started to prepare the conditions for his complete neutralization. The phrase appears the first time in a four-page plan of action dated June 25, 1982. It meant liquidation.” Over the years, numerous informers were sent to Munich to investigate Vlad's living situation:

  • His physical and mental health, 
  • His relationships within and outside the radio, 
  • His family circumstances and marital relations, 
  • His daily routine, 
  • Where and how he was spending his free time and other such operational particulars.
  • Special attention was paid to his ground floor apartment, deemed to present security risks 
  • The exact position of each piece of furniture, principally Vlad's desk, was also of great interest, usually in conjunction with the windows and doors.
  • The informers would bring back detailed descriptions and sketches. 
  • Threatening telephone calls and letters, including menaces to his 8-years old son, came in frequently.

Ian Pacepa is a former General of Romanian IntelligenceExternal Service, DIE or CIE in English, who had defected to the United States. Pacepa claimed in his book Red Horizons that he had inside knowledge of activities of Romanian Intelligence Service against RFE/RL. These included bomb threats against RFE/RL, physical attacks and threats against Romanian Broadcast Department employees.
Vlad Georgescu aired his first review of the book on Saturday, November 14, 1987His sister-in-law, who lived in Romania, was due to visit Munich. She was called into the Romanian Intelligence Service ("Securitate") office on the Monday following the broadcast. The Securitate officer castigated Vlad for reviewing the book. He then told her that if Vlad allowed the book itself to be aired, he would be killed.
Vlad decided that the Romanian Service would begin reading from the book beginning with the week of January 5, 1988. 
On December 29, 1987, the New York Tribune newspaper published a long article entitled: "Book exposing PLO-Romanian intrigue and scandals said targeted by terrorists. The reporter said the FBI was investigating a possible terrorist plot designed to disrupt distribution of the Pacepa memoirs. He went on to write that there were at least three known death threats to those associated with the book, including RFE employees. “Agents of the PLO are principle suspects in the threats against the book publishers and Radio Free Europe,  government source says.”

The Romanian Service broadcast the first of four programs on January 4, 1988. Four more programs were broadcast that week, four programs were broadcast the following week, for a total of twelve programs. 
On January 25, 1988, Vlad Georgescu sent me the following note:

A previously unknown organization, called "Group In the Service of the Marshal" (Antonescu) in New York decided to sentence to death the ex-king Michael. The text and photographs were sent to him and to a member of the RFE/RL Romanian Research Section. More death sentences will follow, claims the leaflet, since "there are still many traitors running around. This was not the first time that similar threats were sent using the name of a rightist émigré organization. But, I had few doubts that the real address is in Bucharest."

The letter was postmarked in Paris. There were two color photographs of King Michael and his wife. There were identical, except that one had been painted to show a bullet hole in the King's head with blood dripping down over his face; the other had been painted over to show blood on the King's hand.  Michael had become King of Romania at age nineteen, after his father Carol II had abdicated during World War Two. In 1944, King Michael helped lead a coup against the pro—Nazi government. King Michael abdicated and fled Communist-ruled Romania in December 1947. While living in Switzerland, King Michael broadcast an annual Christmas message to Romania over Radio Free Europe.

Tuesday, January 26, 1988 was Nicolae Ceausescu's 70th birthday. He had been in power for twenty-three years. The Cult of Personality was in full force. Romania had only two hours of television per day. On this day, the two hours were devoted to adulation of the Ceausescus.  “Choirs of Factory workers and school children, in sunshine and bright costume, sang hymns of gratitude for his existence,” according to Charles T. Powers, a Los Angeles Times reporter. The Romanian state media published glowing notes of congratulations from foreign leaders, including Britain's Queen Elisabeth, King Baudoin of Belgium, King Juan Carlos of Spain, and King Carl of Sweden. The notes were frauds. Official protest followed the  fraudulent notes of congratulations.
In the summer of 1998, Vlad Georgescu was diagnosed as having a brain tumor. In July 1998, Vlad Georgescu went to the United States for an operation to remove it.  
On November 19, 1988, Vlad Georgescu died in Munich. The next day, RFE/RL President Gene Pell issued the following staff announcement:

It is with profound regret that I must report the death of Romanian Service Director Vlad Georgescu. Mr. Georgescu died last evening at Bogenhausen Hospital in Munich following a valiant fight against cancer. He was 51.

Vlad Georgescu was appointed Associate Director of the Romanian Service in 1982, and named Director the following year. He was a brilliant intellectual, a highly respected administrator, and a kind and gentle man.

He suffered much persecution, abuse, and imprisonment because of his unflinching belief in freedom and human rights, before he was finally allowed to leave Romania in 1979 after persistent protest and intervention by the United States Government and the Western academic community. He never ceased fighting for those principles or for his people and his country.

Romania has lost a stalwart patriot. RFE/RL has lost a dedicated servant of the cause of liberty. Most important, his wife Mary Luiza, and his son Tudor Vlad have lost a loving husband and father.

I know you will join me in sharing in their grief and in mourning the loss of a true friend and colleague.
In the middle of December 1988  , U.S. News and World Report magazine publiched an article on the death of Vlad Georgescu as “murder through radiation.”. 

In his book, “Red Horizon,” Pacepa wrote: “In the spring of 1970, Service K added radioactive substances provided by the KGB to its deadly arsenal. Ceausescu himself gave the procedure the code name “Radu,” … The radiation dosage was said to generate lethal forms of cancer.” (P. 148). 

An article by journalist Bill Gertz appeared in the Washington Times on December 27, 1988. He quoted Pacepa in an interview that he believed four Radio Free Europe officials were killed with a radiation device designed by Romania's Intelligence Service, DIE, with help from the Soviet KGB. He added that he warned U.S. Officials about the weapon during  debriefing sessions in the late 1970s. Gertz quoted Pacepa as saying, “I don't know anything for sure, because I was no longer in Romania when these events occurred. But I have no doubt this was not coincidental. I believe Ceausescu wanted these people killed with Radu.” 

According to Nestor Ratesh, “The intelligence file on Vlad Georgescu is huge, covering five volumes and over 1,600 pages. However, close to 300 pages are missing, including almost all that pertained to Vlad’s last year of life.” The truth concerning cause of the death of Vlad Georgescu will probably never be known. 

Photograph of Vlad Georgescu courtesy of RFE/RL

For those who understand Romanian, Vlad Georgesu's original November 14, 1987,editorial can be heard here: http://www.europalibera.org/content/article/1509366.html


January 16, 2016

Milliner Sally Victor and her "Freedom Hat" for Women

January 15th is “National Hat Day” in the United States; here is the story of the “Freedom Hat” and the Crusade for Freedom.

Sally Victor was born Sally Josephs in Scranton, Pennsylvania on February 23, 1905. She started working in Macy’s department store in New York as a “saleswoman“ in 1923, moved into the designing of hats, and finally successfully created her own millinery shop to design and manufacture hats.

From Time magazine, March 30, 1959:

Sally Victor, 54, is not only the biggest fashion hat maker (more than $500,000 a year) in the multimillion-dollar millinery business (1958 sales: $300 million), but she is a trend setter ... the only milliner to win the Coty award, fashion world "Oscar."

She designed hats for First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson. Queen Elisabeth II also wore hats designed by Sally Victor.

For the second Crusade for Freedom campaign that began in September 1951, she was asked by Crusade organizers to design, a “Freedom Hat” “to make their cause – and their need for money to carry it on – felt by the women of America.” 

Sally Victor reportedly was delighted and was quoted as saying, “It’s about time we did something to make people talk. And there’s nothing that makes a woman much more talkative than a new hat...”

The “Freedom Hat” was described in newspapers as:

The Hat is a tricorne, patterned after the famous jaunty cap of Paul Revere.
It is made of softest velour, in the same color of red we find in the American flag.
It is trimmed with gold braid and gold mesh Liberty bells.
It can be worn straight atop the head or tilted to the right, in the fashionable side-swept mode of 1952.
The “Freedom Hat” is as wearable as an old pair of slippers, as chic as a Dior suit, but is more than that. It’s official as a U.N. document.

The photograph of the “Freedom Hat” showed the 1951 Crusade for Freedom Poster behind a fashion model and had this caption: “Patterned after the chapeau worn by Paul Revere, this hat seems destined to be the most talked about hat in the world.” The article concluded, “The Crusade for Freedom hopes to make plenty of talk and maybe a little money from the hat.”

Sally Victor retired in 1968 and died in New York on May 14, 1977.

January 14, 2016

When First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Praised Radio Free Europe: July 4, 1996

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton is currently campaigning for the U.S. Presidency.  On July 4, 1996, as the nation's First Lady, she praised Radio Free Europe, during her remarks at RFE/RL first headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic. Below are excerpts of her remarks, in which she praised the Cold War accomplishments of  RFE: 

Thank you. Thank you President Havel. Ministers, Ambassador Walker, Ambassador Zantovsky, Ambassador Albright, Mr. Klose, distinguished guests, staff of the radios, and listeners across the Czech Republic, Central and Eastern Europe, and the new, independent states. 

It is an honor to have this opportunity to speak to you on the fourth of July 1996. I am especially pleased to be in the Czech Republic with the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, my friend, Madeleine Albright. Ambassador Albright is a daughter of Czechoslovakia whose family was uprooted by war and repression. In the United States she found a home, and the opportunity to rise as far as her God-given talents would take her. But never once did she forget her roots. We Americans are better for her service, and so are the people of Central Europe and around the world who believe in the cause of peace, liberty and justice. One of the ways men and women in this country and this region kept alive their faith in freedom before 1989 was through Radio Free Europe's broadcasts. 

Today I am speaking to you from the new headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. This itself is an emblem of the political, economic and social transformations that have taken place in Central Europe. 

Not so long ago, members of an old Soviet-style parliament filled this room. Today hundreds of journalists report the real news from within these walls. Not so long ago, this was a place where ideas were suppressed. Today, it is a place where ideas are given life and a voice that delivers them from the heart of this young democracy to the Baltics in the north, the Balkans in the south, and all the way east to the Pacific Ocean. 

Ask anyone who fought for liberty in Central Europe during the Cold War and they will tell you that Radio Free Europe was like a member of the family. I have heard of men and women who always placed their radios in front of a certain window, or on one side of the house, where the signal from Radio Free Europe came in the strongest. 

I have talked to men and women who, for years, arranged their daily schedules around Radio Free Europe's broadcasts. President Havel has said that he and other Czech dissidents relied on Radio Free Europe to share their ideas with their countrymen and women. Were it not for Radio Free Europe, he has said, he might have spent more years in prison. 

For four decades, Radio Free Europe unmasked the lies and deceit of dictatorship by broadcasting information about the world beyond the Iron Curtain and spreading a message of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. 

Now, Radio Free Europe has a new mission, but one no less urgent. It is helping to strengthen the foundations of democracy through news broadcasts, conferences about current affairs, and courses designed to promote an independent media in countries where a free press was silenced before. The United States continues to demonstrate its commitment to democracy by supporting Radio Free Europe's vital activities. 

The image is the official White House portrait of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton by Simme Knox.

January 11, 2016

Richard Belcredi, RIP

Richard Belcredi, former reporter of the U.S. station Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Czech ambassador to Switzerland in the 1990s, died in a hospital in Prostejov before Christmas at the age of 89, his nephew Ludvik Belcredi told the Czech News Agency, CTK:

In the past years, Richard Belcredi, from an old noble family, lived in Brodek near Prostejov in the chateau that was returned to the Belcredis within the post-1989 restitution.

He suffered from health troubles of late. A mass in commemoration was held in the Brodek u Prostejova church on January 2, 13:00. Belcredi's funeral will take place in Austria later.
Richard Belcredi was born in Brno-Lisen, where his family owned a chateau and land, in 1926. He emigrated in 1949, in the year following the communist seizure of power in Czechoslovakia.He worked in the Munich-based Radio Free Europe for 30 years. Later he worked for the Opus bonum group that organised famous seminars for emigrants in Franken.
Belcredi, together with another Czech emigrant, Pavel Tigrid, and other people, helped smuggle banned literature to communist countries. He was always opposed to communist totalitarianism.
President Havel and Belcredit
After the 1989 fall of the communist regime, Belcredi returned to Czecho-slovakia. In 1994, he accepted the post of ambassador to Switzerland, which he held for four years. In 1998, president Vaclav Havel bestowed a high state decoration, the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, on Belcredi for his outstanding contribution to democracy and human right

Leonid Vladimirovich Finkelstein, RIP

Leonid Vladimirovich Finkelstein, born in Ukraine in 1924, died on December 22, 2015, in England; he was 91 years old.

He used Leonid Vladimirov as his pen name in the West. 

While a student at Moscow’s Institute of Aviation, he was arrested and served five and a half years in prison and labor camps on a trumped-up charge. Released and pronounced not guilty after the death of Stalin, he became a science writer, publishing four books, and then a Moscow magazine editor. He was a departmental editor in Moscow of the scientific magazine "Knowledge is Power". He came to the West from the USSR in June 1966, when he applied for an received asylum in the UK. He worked as Chief Editor at Radio Liberty for 12 years until 1979. He also worked for 24 years for the BBC Russian Service. 

In October 2012, in the midst of the turmoil in the RFE/RL Moscow office, he wrote this letter to the then RFE/RL President Steve Korn:

I am Leonid Vladimirovich Finkelstein, 88, British, former RL Russian Service Editor-in-Chief. In 1979 I resigned, then joined the BBC Russian Service. In 2006 retired.

I watched the video of your meeting with the Russians in Moscow and appreciated your difficult position: to face an angry and rude crowd. At the end of the meeting , however, I came to the strange conclusion, to say the least. I understood that you simply do not know the ONLY mission of Radio Liberty.

In the presence of the Voice of America, launching another and expensive broadcaster to the Soviet Union in 1953 looked rather illogical. Former Director of Radio Liberty, Francis S. Ronalds, perfectly explained it in his article published in the “Foreign Affairs”. The US Congress, wrote Mr Ronalds, would not appropriate a penny for the radio which would repudiate socialism or teach Russians democracy. The only justification of the existence of RL was the fact that the Soviet Union possessed nuclear weapons . 

The unpredictable rulers of the USSR may lie to the Soviet population that the US has launched or is about to launch a nuclear strike – to justify their own attack (which actually was attempted later in placing nuclear missiles in Cuba). Therefore the ONLY mission of the RL was to tell the truth and to assure the Russians that no one would ever use nuclear weapon first against them.

In short, Radio Liberty had to contribute to prevention of nuclear war.

This ONLY mission remains unchanged today – especially when we hear loud sabre rattling from the still unpredictable Kremlin.

As you don’t know this, Sir, I must ask you to resign from your sensitive and important job.

Steven Korn did eventually resign his position.

December 28, 2015

Thank you for viewing

Since the beginning of this blog in November 2010 to December 2015, I have posted over 225 items, with over 250,000 page views. Here is the list of top ten countries:

United States
United Kingdom
Czech Republic

That being said, I have reduced the number of blog posts to the top 50 but will continue with new and updated posts in 2016. Also, I will continue to update the two Facebook pages on my books, for anyone interested. Both books are available for purchase on Amazon or directly from the publisher: McFarland & Co.

Thank you to all of you who have shown interest in this blog.

December 14, 2015

Green Waves: John Lennon, Beaming the Beatles to Poland and Hungary, Wigs in Warsaw, and Window on the World

The Beatles John Lennon died December 8, 1980. A little known Cold War story about him and the Beatles occurred in 1964, when "A recent hour-long Radio Free Europe broadcast to Poland featured interviews with the Beatles. On February 6, 1964, RFE in Munich sent the following telex message to RFE in New York:

Following information received from Poland about extraordinary popularity of the famous British team "Beatles", we are preparing special program of "Green Wave" on this subject. As you may know they will appear in Carnegie Hall on February 12th. Could you please ... send us extensive reportage on performance with as many sounds as possible. We would like to have sounds from the hall, recordings of the M.C., recording of one of their songs, interviews with listeners, press reactions and in interview with the Beatles. It is possible that the Beatles will also appear at Madison Square Garden. If so, we would like to have a reportage.

"Green Wave" (Zielona Fala) was the name of the music programs broadcast by RFE's Polish Broadcast Department. The program's name was later changed to "Black on White."

Some time later, journalist Tom A. Cullen, Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), wrote in his nationally syndicated article "Radio Free Europe at 14: Window of Words on World" that appeared in various U.S. newspapers, including the Washington Post, that appeared in May and June 1964:

The response was overwhelming.Young Poles wrote in demanding more. According to the latest reports, Beatle wigs are now the rage in Warsaw. But light entertainment such as the Beatles is only a small part of RFE's total output. The bulk of its programs are made up of straight news, political comment, cultural and religious talks.

The publicity photograph's caption read: "Beatle John Lennon gets some help with Polish from RFE editors Stanislaw Julicki and Joesph Ptaczek." The interview took place in London in a special train used for the filming of the Beatles movie "A Hard Day's Night." Stanislaw Julicki was the RFE broadcast name of Henryk Rozpedowski. 

Cullen concluded his article by quoting from a letter from a "Czech girl who is 22, I live in a small town. I was not allowed to go to university...Your broadcasts are my only window on the world.

In 1988, the "John Lennon Peace Club" (Mirovy Klub John Lennon --MJKL) was formed in Prague, Czechoslovakia to, "Work for world peace generally, human rights in Czechoslovakia specifically, and to encourage independent cultural activity.

The influence of John Lennon and his music in then Czechoslovakia in the Cold War also is demonstrated In Kampa Park, Prague, where there was a wall with various drawing and paintings paying tribute to John Lennon after his death. Persons from all over the world would pay tribute to him when visiting Prague by signing the wall, writing poems or copies of lyrics from Beatles' songs, lighting candles, and by placing flowers against the wall. It has been repainted over the years with new images of John Lennon and appeals for peace in the world. Here are some photographs I made about 15 years ago.

Hungary was another country to which RFE broadcast Beatles music. For example, during the 1968 Radio Free Europe Fund campaign in the United States, one radio announcement was a letter from Hungary to RFE's "Teenager Party" to be read by a "girl" with this text: 

I enjoy listening to the Monkees and the Stones, but the Beatles are still my favorites. Why don't you play more Beatle records? My Friends and I would like it. My code is 'He left me and he is now going out with another girl.' 

Code names were used in place of real names to protect those who sent letters to Radio Free Europe. The full collection of letters to RFE disc jockey Geza Ekecs (radio name Cseke Laszlo) consisting of 21 boxes are located in the Open Society Archives, in Budapest.