One of the enduring questions that we will probably never know the answer to is: what was the extent of the CIA’s involvement in the 1989 Revolution?
Effectively, there are three theories as to how the FSN formed:
- It was a CIA plot.
- It was a KGB plot.
- Ion Iliescu was the right scumbag at the right place at the right time.
Again, short of a deathbed confession or Wikileaks dump, we’ll never know for sure, but one piece of evidence against the “CIA did it” theory is the curious case of Harold James Nicholson.
Ceausescu was executed on December 25, 1989, and by June 1990, Iliescu and his thugs had successfully crushed democracy in Romania forever. And somewhere in that period, a CIA officer named Harold James Nicholson working in Tokyo, Japan was rewarded with a promotion: station chief in Bucharest.
Now, you’d think that if the CIA had a delicate operation that was “handling” Iliescu and the FSN, they wouldn’t bring in a brand new station chief right during the middle of it. Of course, the CIA is run by total idiots, so you never know. But I do think it’s highly unlikely.
Nicholson only stayed in Romania until 1992. He then got demoted and sent to Malaysia where he did what he loved best: getting drunk and talking to Russians (something he’d been doing since 1982). And the public would probably never have heard of him except that he went completely bonkers once he got to Malaysia.
Believe it or not, he read about the arrest of Aldrich Ames in 1994 and decided, “Wow, I’m smarter then he was, so I’m sure I can spy for the Russians and never get caught.” And for a few years, he did get away with it, thanks to “extraordinary slackness” of the CIA’s procedures to prevent such spying from occurring.
Nicholson was arrested in 1996, but that wasn’t the end of the story. This egomaniac just couldn’t let go of “the life” and so he decided to recruit his own son to work for the Russians too. Honestly, it’s a rather sad and tragic story, but it goes to show just how incompetent the CIA nearly always is.
Did this organization really set up and direct the 1989 Revolution in Romania? If so, why did they think that bringing in Nicholson (a guy who spoke zero Romanian) in 1990 was the right thing to do? And was this drunken egomaniac really capable of handling the slippery world of internal Romanian politics?
Sadly, I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. But I do know that there are several external indicators of the United States “flying blind” in the chaotic transition period of the early 1990s when it came to what was going on in Romania, mostly from diplomatic personnel and others scrambling to deal with the unexpected new reality of Eastern European countries pivoting away from Communism.
There was also some frantic communication (on the record) between the USA and the Soviet Union about how to respond to Romania’s revolution and whether United Nations Security Council resolutions were needed/appropriate, leaving me with a strong feeling of “there was no plan in place” in relation to the 1989 Revolution.
My gut feeling is that yes, of course, the CIA had “reached out” to Iliescu and other members of the (future) FSN at some point prior to the Revolution, but I honestly don’t think this was the primary factor that drove the events of December 1989. Of course, I could be wrong!
All we do know for sure is that Harold James Nicholson, the one-time station chief in Romania, is the highest ranking CIA official ever convicted of spying.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!