The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 81

Luciano Mangiafico, an FSO from 1970 to 1991, is the author of two books,
American Immigrants
(Praeger, 1988) and
Italy’s Most Wanted
(Potomac Books, 2007).
He has contributed articles to
The Foreign Service Journal
and the literary journal
Open Letters Monthly
, among other periodicals.
Spy vs. Spy, Romanian Style
ell before 1977, when I
was assigned to Bucharest
to head the embassy’s
consular section, I was
already well aware that Securitate, the
state security service, kept close tabs on all
foreigners, both at work and home. They
also used a medical clinic across the street
from the embassy to observe our visitors
and intercept communications.
When I arrived, our ambassador was
Harry G. Barnes Jr., a Foreign Service
legend who was famous for having had
a shoe bugged by Romanian intelligence
while he was deputy chief of mission in
Bucharest years before. The Bureau of
Diplomatic Security subsequently exhib-
ited the shoe during Washington security
briefings to illustrate the lengths to which
hostile powers would go to obtain intel-
As Barnes later recounted, “Dick Davis
(his ambassador at the time) wrote back
to State: ‘Don’t you think you ought to
reimburse Harry for the price of new
shoes?’ The department’s response was,
‘We will replace the one shoe.’ He finally
persuaded them to pay for a pair.”
In Romania, consular services often
involved human rights issues. For
instance, in 1979 German Chancellor
Helmut Schmidt signed an agreement
with Romanian President Nicolae Ceaus-
escu that granted about $368 million in
trade credits in exchange for the yearly
emigration of some 10,000 to 13,000 ethnic
Germans. Deviously, however, the Roma-
nians refused to issue them exit visas to
West Germany, but instead indicated the
United States as their destination.
At first, we issued them tourist visas,
assured that German officials would get
them off the plane in Frankfurt. Alas, a
couple of them ended up in New York
and the Immigration and Naturalization
Service raised Cain about it, so the depart-
ment told us to stop doing that.
Fortunately, State left us a loophole by
saying nothing about issuing other kinds
of visas. So we switched to transit visas, as
if the bearers were traveling to Frankfurt
via New York. In cooperation with West
German officials, who closely monitored
the whereabouts of the “transit passen-
gers,” that stratagemworked.
To help Romanians who were ineligible
for U.S. refugee status travel to other coun-
tries, we came up (in cooperation with
Canadian diplomats) with a crazy solution
that worked for months, until Romanian
security finally caught on. We had rubber
stamps made in Vienna that read:
American Embassy Bucharest
This is
a visa
It is
valid for entry
to the United States
After we stamped their passports, we
advised the bearers to take the afternoon
train to Belgrade so that they would arrive
at the border crossing point into Yugo-
slavia in the middle of the night. Frontier
guards who were not fluent in English and
sleep-deprived tended to miss seeing the
word “not” since it was in much smaller
type, or did not understand the signifi-
cance of that disclaimer.
Either way, they usually assumed the
bearer was bound for the United States (or
Canada, which employed the same trick
for its visas). Instead, the refugees then
made their way to the refugee camp at
Traiskirchen, near Vienna.
I also played postman for Constantin
Rauta, a Romanian intelligence officer
who had defected to the United States
while on an advance trip for the 1974
visit of Pres. Ceausescu to Washington,
D.C. Rauta had left behind his young wife
and child, so I regularly delivered mail
from him to them, and collected letters
she wanted sent to him. She was finally
allowed to leave Romania late in 1979,
nearly six years after her husband had
The guidance of my superiors and
colleagues, the trust and camaraderie
we developed, and the experience I
gained during my two years in Bucha-
rest all proved invaluable to me, both
from a personal and a professional
We came up with a crazy solution
that worked for months, until Securitate
finally caught on.
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