“Carlos the Jackal” and Radio Free Europe

From the not-too-distant past, here’s a story that details radio’s power to influence, inform and even provoke.


Nicolae Ceausescu

Nicolae Ceausescu

In 1978 Romania had been living under the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu for 13 long years. All aspects of

Gen. Ion Pacepa

Gen. Ion Pacepa

media were controlled by the government, leaving Romanians with one porthole to the world outside their borders – Radio Free Europe.

In July of that year, General Ion M. Pacepa, chief of Romania’s intelligence service (Securitate), defected to the US, creating a media sensation of his own in both East and West. In a letter of explanation to his daughter two years later, Pacepa would write:

In 1978 I got the order to organize the killing of Noel Bernard, the director of Radio Free Europe’s Romanian program who had infuriated Ceausescu with his commentaries. It was late July when I got this order, and when I ultimately had to decide between being a good father and being a political criminal. Knowing you, Dana, I was firmly convinced that you would prefer no father to one who was an assassin.

Ceausescu then hired famed terrorist “Carlos the Jackal” to travel to the US and kill General Pacepa (who was by then living under a

"Carlos the Jackal"

“Carlos the Jackal”

new identity) and made available 37 kilograms of plastic explosives, 7 sub-machine guns, one Walther PP pistol, 8 Stechkin pistols and 5 hand grenades.

Unable to find Pacepa, “Carlos” bombed Radio Free Europe’s studio in Munich in 1981.

According to Pacepa, “he (Ceausescu) hated Radio Free Europe most of all.” He would soon have reason to hate RFE

RFE's Noel Bernard. Died of brain cancer.

RFE’s Noel Bernard. Died of brain cancer.

even more.

Noel Bernard died under mysterious circumstances in 1981.

Now safely in the US, General Pacepa published “Red Horizons” in 1987, a book about his experiences in Securitate. The book revealed the inner workings of the Romanian security force that kept the populace under control, in the dark and very much isolated from the world at large.

With the book unavailable in Romania, Radio Free Europe, under its new Romanian Service director Vlad

RFE's Vlad Georgescu. Died of brain cancer.

RFE’s Vlad Georgescu. Died of brain cancer.

Georgescu decided to read the book over the air in a series of broadcasts aimed into Romania from transmitters near Munich. When Ceausescu learned of this he sent Georgescu’s sister-in-law to the US to tell Georgescu that he would be killed if he continues with the readings.

A total of 12 broadcasts were made, after which Georgescu told his listeners: “If they kill me for serializing Pacepa’s book, I’ll die with a clear conscience that I did my duty as a journalist.”

These broadcasts began in 1988 and it would later be reported that “the streets of Romanian towns were empty” during Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts of “Red Horizons”.


  • Radio Free Europe’s Vlad Georgescu died in November 1988 from the same illness as his predecessor, Noel Bernard – brain cancer, due, it is widely believed, to have been caused by radiation poisoning.
  • General Pacepa continues to live in the US and writes for several conservative publications. His book “Red Horizons” is available here.
  • In 1989, Dana Pacepa was able to emigrate to the US, joining her father after 11 years. This is an interesting story in itself and can be read about here.
  • Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were overthrown and executed on Christmas Day 1989.
  • “Carlos the Jackal” is serving a life sentence in a French prison.
  • Radio Free Europe continues to broadcast (in 28 languages) on AM, FM and shortwave frequencies, though as a mere shadow of its former self.


Released in 2007, Cold Waves (Cold War + Radio Waves) by Romanian film director Alexandru Solomon, documents the history of Radio Free Europe’s Romanian service and the impact it had on Romanian society.

An interesting write-up of the film can be read here and the trailer is here:




  15 comments for ““Carlos the Jackal” and Radio Free Europe

  1. Holger Schurig
    August 4, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    > with only one porthole to the world outside their borders – Radio Free Europe

    That is entirely untrue, at least the “only” part.

    There has been a multitude of radio programs on short wave (and even some on medium wave). Ever heard of BBC? Or the Deutsche Welle. The latter had a romanian program. But also the german program was understand by many Rumanians, they had a huge minority of ex-Germans, the so called Banater Schwaben (since 20 years they are probably all in Germany now …)

    Holger, DH3HS

    • August 4, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      That description came from a book written by a former employee of RFE. Perhaps he was biased…but perhaps the fact that RFE’s Romanian Service employees were targeted – and hit – by the Ceaușescu regime and its studio bombed on his orders speaks to the effectiveness of RFE over that of other broadcasters you mention.

      Here is a synopsis of which stations Romanians tuned in to during the period mentioned in the blog post (from “Cold War Broadcasting” by Johnson and Parta):

      Stations listened to, by %

      • August 6, 2013 at 1:28 am

        Hi John,

        I am sorry but the last chart seems totally bogus to me.
        How can you have precise statistics on an activity which is supposed to be secret? People listening to those western radios were not claiming it in the street.
        From what i know, here, the BBC vietnamese service has always had more listeners because it exists for a longer time than the other services. Even the current government recognizes the value of the BBC informations service and local news quote them very often… but times have changed.


        • August 6, 2013 at 8:08 am

          Yan, I don’t think the stats are “precise” but rather estimates. The book has an entire chapter on methodology to determine number of listeners and on the anticipated accuracy over the years as methods change due to immigration to the West from various countries and, perhaps most accurately, documentation from Western and former Soviet-bloc countries that details which stations were jammed, how often and on how many frequencies.

          The stats – estimates – are derived from this and other information.

          BTW, I’m not defending the books (I used three) or the methods mentioned ;-)

          Cold War Radio: The Dangerous History of American Broadcasting in Europe, 1950-1989

          Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescus’ Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption

          Cold War Broadcasting: Impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe- a Collection of Studies and Documents

          • August 6, 2013 at 6:41 pm

            Hi John,

            Yes I know you’re not defending the book, and I am not “attacking you” either. We’re just talking…

            Explaining the methodology does not make the sources more accurate.
            If the data were coming from “official” numbers from the security agencies, it’s even worse. Those agencies have a tendency to craft numbers so they can justify their existence and their budgets.
            Throwing numbers in a meeting or a report is a mandatory thing so your assertions seem more credible.
            Here we still to the same, the only difference is that nobody cares! That’s too long to recount here but I’ve seen fabulous press articles or reports with totally distorted numbers.


          • August 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm

            “but I’ve seen fabulous press articles or reports with totally distorted numbers”

            Yes, haven’t we all. And my blog is read in over 4000 countries!

        • Jerome Brabec
          February 2, 2014 at 12:47 pm

          I don’t know how accurate this chart might be because, as you say, people would not just have admitted of listening to those Radio stations. That would have been a certain prison sentence to say the least.
          What I can say for sure is that Romanians were listening more to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America than to BBC and Deutche Welle.

          • February 2, 2014 at 1:20 pm

            Thanks for the detailed comments, Jerome – interesting stuff. You seem to have ‘insider information’!

  2. Jerry Terres
    August 5, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    “radiation poisoning” does that mean they got microwaves beamed at their heads?

    • August 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      That method has been considered by various covert agencies but I think it’s ionizing radiation that’s suspected in the cases mentioned here.

    • Jerome Brabec
      February 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      The poisoning was done in Romania as follows:
      The victim was receiving a summons to the Inspectoratul Militiei Capitalei (The Headquarters of the Municipal Police in Bucharest) and instructed to ask to speak with “Colonel Radu”. (“Radu” is a common Romanian last name, just like “Smith” in the US).
      The victim is then escorted to a “waiting room” where he would spend the next hour in waiting on a chair. Later, he would be informed by a low rank Police personnel that “sorry, Colonel Radu is not in for the day and we have to reschedule your appointment”.
      The victim is then escorted outside the headquarters building and left free in the street with “sincere apologies for his lost time”.
      In a few days the victim will complain of headaches and subsequently he will die of “unknown illness”.
      This type of liquidation of some unwanted individuals was not the norm. Only “sensitive” type of individuals were liquidated this way.
      For the normal citizens, there were more up-front and brutal ways of dealing with, including, arrest without probable cause, daily beatings, torture, lend sentences in political labor camps, or direct death sentences and fast execution.

  3. Jan Perry Esten
    November 7, 2013 at 12:18 am

    The estimates of the number of listeners to RFE, BBC, etc. are enhanced by talking to refugees from the target countries. My Dad was a RFE employee for 24 years, the final 8 or so years as the Director of Engineering and Services in Munich. During the long cold war period refugees would be interviewed by RFE for information on the effectiveness of the different broadcast services. This information could be integrated across the countries. At the time, the effectiveness of the RFE broadcasts to the 5 target countries could be considered incredible in spite of the communists employing jamming, intimidation, and arrests. The atmosphere changed when jamming was ceased, I think late in the 80’s.

    I can’t comment on the question of radiation poisoning because I don’t have the information, but it would seem that if there were covert activities to target RFE offices, there would be a mass effect on the personnel. I was saddened when I heard of Noel Bernard’s death. There were hero’s among the RFE staff in Germany, Portugal, New York and the field news bureaus. Noel was one in a unique group of members who deeply believed in the importance of their work.

    • November 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks for your interesting comments, Jan. You may be interested in “Cold War Radio” by Richard Cummings. He maintains a blog here:

      Despite several previous comments from others I continue to believe that RFE played the major role in influencing people and governments in the target areas. Everything I read on the topic supports that opinion as do the efforts against RFE by security services in Romania, Bulgaria and elsewhere – efforts that were not put into effect against the BBC, Deutsche Welle and numerous other “standard” broadcasters that were not deemed as significant in their ability to influence opinions and attitudes of those countries.

  4. Jerome Brabec
    February 2, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Carlos the jackal was brought to Sinaia, I believe in 1980 or 1981.
    He spent time at the 4th Company Securitate, just uphill from Furnica Restaurant, on the road to Cota 1400, west of Sinaia.
    The 4th Co. Securitate was part of the 1st Battalion Securitate – headquartered at Unitatea Militara 0609 Securitate (Special Guards) in a small village called “Rosu”, and located near the Romanian’s Capital – Bucharest. At the same location there was also UM-613 – with the mission of providing security for the foreign embassies, Radio and Television buildings, “Palatul Telefoanelor”, si “Casa Scinteii” in Bucharest.
    The 4th Company’s main mission was Peles Castle and Economat’s security.
    UM-0781 located on Lenin Blvd. in Port of Constanta had in its area of responsibility Ceausescu’s residence in Neptun, the oil rafinery at Capul Midia-Navodari, the Inspectoratul Judetean al Ministerului de Interne – Constanta, and the civilian harbor to the Back Sea.
    The second mission was the special training of groups of Arab “students”, USLA members, and some Romanians and foreign individuals selected for special assignments.
    The instructors were NOT part of the Romanian Ministry of Interior, but French Foreign Legionnaires from the 2nd Regiment Etrangere de Parachutistes, and training was conducted in French language.
    No Romanian Ministry of Interior personnel without a special clearance was allowed to interact with this training, regardless of rank of function. In charge with this training was “Lieutenant Trandafir”, who was not a lieutenant and not a rose either.

  5. Jerome Brabec
    February 2, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    What I forgot to mention in regard to the radiation of subjects in Romania was that “Colonel Radu” was the inside code name for “radiation”.
    It was known among the Ministry of Interior personnel that when a citizen would show up at the Headquarters and ask unknowingly to “speak with Colonel Radu”, he would be then taken to a small radiation room where he would be subjected to low intensity waves of Plutonium, if I am not mistaken.
    The quantity and intensity of the radiation were calculated to only take effect and kill the subject days after the fact, so that to preserve deniability (not that it made any difference, anyway). Just to keep the appearances.

    For who did not get the comment with the “Lieutenant Trandafir”, I forgot to mention that “trandafir” is the Romanian word for “rose” – the flower.
    In fact, this Romanian Ministery of Interior officer that was known among the other cadre as “Lieutenant Trandafir” was at the time not a lieutenant at all, but way higher on the food chain of the Fifth Directorate, but also one of the most psychotic maniacs I have ever met. He also had a lot of authority for a lieutenant. I know that because of the following fact. The desk phones at the time did not have multiple lines as today. You could pick up a phone and see that somebody else was talking on the same line already from an other office. One time Lieutenant Trandafir picked up the phone on his desk to make a phone call and just happened that the Major-General base commander was already on the line. Lieutenant Trandafir said: “General, hand up the phone at once!”. The general must’ve hand up, because then Lieutenant Trandafir started dialing a number on the rotary dial.

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