Kengor Writes . . .
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of The Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania. These essays are republished from The Institute for Faith and Freedom, an online publication of Grove City College, and The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004); The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007), and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).
Death of a Defector: Ion Mihai Pacepa, R.I.P.
Editor’s note: This essay first appeared in The American Spectator.
On February 14, 2021, the world quietly lost one of the most intriguing, enduring figures of the Cold War. He was Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking Soviet Bloc official ever to defect to the United States.
Throughout the 1970s, Pacepa arguably had been the top official in Communist Romania, behind only the insane and vicious dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. He served Ceausescu in numerous capacities, including as intelligence chief and liaison between the brutal Securitate and the KGB. He knew where bodies were buried.
After yet another request by Romanian goons to bloody his hands, Pacepa had had enough. One day in the summer of 1978, he slipped into the U.S. embassy in West Berlin while on routine business for the Romanian madman who was his boss. He said he wanted to defect. He was hustled out in a late-night flight to the United States — a country he came to love.
“It was noon when the U.S. military plane bringing me to freedom landed at the U.S. presidential airport inside Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C.,” he later told our mutual friend David Kupelian.
“It was a glorious, sunny day outside. . . . I had an overwhelming desire to dance around in a jig all by myself. I was a free man! I was in America! The joy of finally becoming part of this magnanimous land of liberty, where nothing was impossible, was surpassed only by the joy of simply being alive.”
“On that memorable day of July 28, 1978, when I became a free man, I fell to my knees and I prayed out loud for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. It took me a while. It was not easy to find the right words to express my great joy and thanks to the good Lord. In the end, all that I asked for was forgiveness for my past, freedom for my daughter, and strength for my new life.”
Forgiveness and freedom. And yet, Pacepa was never totally free. He was a wanted man, hunted by the Romanian government.
Once in the United States, Pacepa lived in undisclosed locations, dodging a $2 million bounty placed on his head by his homeland. Communists officials were enraged when Pacepa in 1987 published (via Regnery) his shocking memoir of the Ceausescu era: Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae & Elena Ceausescu’s Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption. (The book was reviewed with highest praise by Michael Ledeen in the April 1988 issue of The American Spectator.) Hit squads were dispatched to assassinate him. They never found him. And ironically, Pacepa’s grisly account of Nicolae and his equally cruel and crazy wife, Elena, would be used as evidence for their conviction and execution by a firing squad of Romanian citizens on Christmas Day 1989.
Pacepa long outlived the Ceausescu menace. Now, over four decades after the brutal regime began targeting him, Pacepa’s life has ended. He died at the age of 92, a victim of COVID-19.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Pacepa directly, given that he was always in hiding, though we emailed frequently for years. He went by the name “Mike,” the Anglicized version of “Mihai.” He had at least two aliases that would pop up sometimes when I got emails from him. His email address was cryptic, starting with an upper-case letter and followed by seven numbers and then “@aol.com.” I’m tempted to share the email address here publicly, but doing so would offer no great value. Besides, I never had permission from him to share his email address publicly.
I often got his emails in response to my articles. of which he was an avid reader. He and I even co-authored a piece, “Obama’s Sword and Shield,” for The American Spectator in May 2013.
I believe Pacepa first reached out to me in 2010, when I published my Cold War tome, Dupes. Pacepa was cited a number of times, particularly for his disturbing insights into how easily Communist officials were able to manipulate gullible progressives in the West. That was a subject that troubled and perplexed Pacepa; it fascinated him, but also nagged at him. He had seen it from the Truman years through Vietnam and still into the 21st century.
“They were like putty in our hands,” said Pacepa of the ability of Western liberals to be duped by Communists, from the “strong leftist movements [in Western Europe] that we secretly financed” to the vast amounts of disinformation cooked up and spoon-fed to Western liberals, who gobbled it up.
Consider Vietnam: “During the Vietnam War,” said Pacepa:
“. . . we spread vitriolic stories around the world, pretending that America’s presidents sent Genghis Khan-style barbarian soldiers to Vietnam who raped at random, taped electrical wires to human genitals, cut off limbs, blew up bodies, and razed entire villages. Those weren’t facts. They were our tales.” (Recall a young John Kerry’s 1971 testimony.) They were lies. Nonetheless, said Pacepa, millions of Americans “ended up being convinced their own president, not Communism, was the enemy.”
According to Pacepa, it was the odious Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB, who conceived this dezinformatsiya campaign — that is, disinformation campaign — against the United States. The Soviets devoted exorbitant spending to that cause. “Vietnam,” Andropov told Pacepa, had been “our most significant success.”
Pacepa read my book and was very pleased to see that I had focused upon what he judged one of the most significant, but underreported and least understood, phenomena of our times: the cynical but remarkable power of disinformation.
In fact, it turned out that he was writing a book on precisely that subject and by that very name: Disinformation. He and co-author Ron Rychlak published the book in 2013 through WND Press, and they asked me to write the foreword (former CIA director James Woolsey wrote the introduction). It was a landmark book that everyone ought to read. It will indelibly impact the way you view history and current affairs.
That groundbreaking book exposed the KGB disinformation schemes against figures like Pope Pius XII (the smearing of Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope” was begun as a mass Soviet disinformation campaign launched by a Radio Moscow broadcast in 1945) and Cardinals Stepinac and Mindszenty and Wyszyński, as well as the duplicity of groups like the World Peace Council and World Council of Churches. The material on the Soviet promulgation of the insidious Protocols of the Elders of Zion conspiracy is an awakening. The authors chronicled Andropov’s anti-Zionism campaign, support of Islamic terrorism, and promotion of virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism among Middle East Arabs. By 1978, the Soviet bloc planted some 4,000 agents of influence in the Islamic world armed with hundreds of thousands of copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (and military weapons). Militant atheistic Communism sought a handmaiden in militant jihadist Islam, with extremist Muslims exploited by Soviet manipulators. They promulgated not only acts of terrorism but egregious acts of “diplomacy” like the infamous UN Resolution 3379 declaring Zionism a form of racism.
Pacepa revealed how many vicious myths created by Communists have been unwittingly adopted by mainstream historians and journalists. He said the very handbook on Soviet/Communist dezinformatsiya opened with this in capital letters: “IF YOU ARE GOOD AT DISINFORMATION, YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING.”
Pacepa would see these patterns in modern American “journalism,” though it wasn’t always clear if duped American journalists were wittingly or unwittingly spreading disinformation (or “fake news,” to use a modern term). Often, they simply believed what they wanted to believe — just as the Kremlin knew they would.
Beyond Disinformation, Pacepa wrote a number of fascinating works, including a remarkable 2007 book on the Kennedy assassination, titled Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination. Pacepa believed that the Soviets were involved in early steps leading toward or helping to precipitate the assassination. He argued that Oswald had been recruited by the KGB when he first entered the Soviet Union. Over the next two years, however, several things complicated the picture. By 1962, once Oswald was settled in Texas, Khrushchev (allegedly) changed his mind about killing Kennedy. Consequently, claims Pacepa, “the KGB tried to turn Oswald off.” It was too late.
For the record, this theory of Soviet involvement is disputed by Kennedy assassination investigators and by the Warren Commission, but this much we do know: Moscow did its damnedest to direct eyes of suspicion elsewhere. The Kremlin blamed the Kennedy shooting on (as Pacepa put it) “racists, the Ku Klux Klan, and Birchists.” Pacepa confirmed that the KGB had a thorough, ongoing disinformation campaign to blame the Kennedy assassination on domestic elements in the United States. He reported that on November 26, 1963, Soviet General Aleksandr Sakharovsky landed unannounced in Bucharest and met with Pacepa and other high-level members of Romanian intelligence and leadership. This was his first stop in a “blitz” tour of KGB “sister” services in the Communist Bloc. “From him,” recalled Pacepa:
“We in the DIE [Romanian intelligence] learned that the KGB had already launched a worldwide disinformation operation aimed at diverting public attention away from Moscow in respect to the Kennedy assassination, and at framing the CIA as the culprit.”
Nikita Khrushchev himself, said Sakharovsky, wanted it made clear to the sister services that “this was by far our first and most important task.” They circulated rumors that “the CIA was responsible for the crime” and that Lyndon Johnson and the “military-industrial complex” had been involved.
The effort would be called Operation Dragon. It became, said Pacepa, one of the most successful disinformation operations in contemporary history. Pacepa pointed to Hollywood film director Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie, “JFK,” which blamed the Kennedy assassination on a cabal that included the CIA, Lyndon Johnson, and the military-industrial complex. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards.
There are so many intriguing items like this from this intriguing figure that was Ion Mihai Pacepa. I could go on and on. One more item of interest to readers here:
The scourge that is Liberation Theology has rotten roots. Those roots go back not only to twisted Jesuit theologians in Latin America in the 1970s but, according to Pacepa, to the KGB. Pacepa went so far as to claim that Liberation Theology was created by the KGB. “The movement was born in the KGB,” stated Pacepa unequivocally, “and it had a KGB-invented name: ‘Liberation Theology.’” He said that “the birth of Liberation Theology” came from a 1960 “super-secret Party-State Dezinformatsiya [Disinformation] Program” approved by Aleksandr Shelepin, then chairman of the KGB, and by Politburo member Aleksey Kirichenko, who coordinated the Communist Party’s international policies. The program “demanded that the KGB take secret control of the World Council of Churches,” which was based in Geneva, and use it “as cover for converting Liberation Theology into a South American revolutionary tool.”
Again, I could go on. The late Lt. Gen. Pacepa knew a lot.
Ion Mihai Pacepa died on February 14. Fittingly, he passed away at an undisclosed hospital in an undisclosed location somewhere in the United States. There was no official announcement.
The loss of Mike Pacepa is a loss for many, especially his beloved wife and family. It is also a loss for history and contemporary understanding of certain events. He shared with us gems of information and even disinformation. Perhaps most helpful of all, he warned us not only about what to believe but what not to believe.
Warping the Credit for Trump’s Operation Warp Speed
Editor’s Note: This essay first appeared in The American Spectator.
“I think the [Trump] administration deserves some credit getting this off the ground with Operation Warp Speed,” conceded then-President-elect Joe Biden in late December when he and his wife Jill received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden’s notable concession to Trump didn’t get the attention from his media partisans that it should have. That’s no surprise. They revile Donald Trump; they made it their mission to run him out of office and they shape their “journalism” accordingly.
As for Biden, the concession was gracious, but he should say more. A lot more.
In fact, it would be a great gesture of unity — the very unity that President Biden says he seeks, and a gesture of goodwill and decency that Trump advocates would remember appreciatively — if Biden paused to more deliberately thank and recognize Trump’s efforts. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s going to do that, and the terribly biased liberal media certainly will not be stepping up with any awards for the dreaded MAGA man.
That’s a shame. It’s yet more rancorous, toxic, bitter partisanship, by a media that claims to be objective. It’s not right. It fails to recognize a truly historic accomplishment by Trump and the biomedical community.
We are now full-throttle into the mass distribution of vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic. And let there be no doubt: the swiftness of the development and delivery of these vaccines is a remarkable achievement. I want to underscore the point by revisiting what I wrote about in several columns in The American Spectator last spring, most notably placing President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed into historical context — looking particularly at the polio vaccine that was pioneered by Dr. Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Considering that comparison really helps us to understand what a big deal Operation Warp Speed has been.
Polio terrified people of that era; it was known as “infantile paralysis.” What people right now should realize, given the incredible speed of the COVID vaccine development — in retrospect, “warp speed” was spot-on language — is how long it took for the polio vaccine to develop. That vaccine, too, like those today, involved the government getting behind private research efforts that needed mass infusions of public sector dollars.
Salk’s polio vaccine was announced to the world in April 1955. But the push by the federal government began many years earlier, namely in January 1938 when a tenacious Irish lawyer named Basil O’Connor became President Franklin Roosevelt’s point man to wage war on the disease, including through the creation of the March of Dimes. (For the record, in 1935 two polio vaccines were announced by two separate research teams, one led by Maurice Brodie and another by John Kolmer. Both vaccines were announced at a major conference of the American Public Health Association in November 1935, but both were quickly shelved because vaccinated children had died in clinical trials.) In 1949, O’Connor went further still, upping the ante by pouring yet more research dollars into the search for a vaccine. Though the medical community was skeptical, an ambitious 30-something named Dr. Jonas E. Salk was not.
Salk had some major critics, including a fellow researcher, Albert Sabin. The debate was centered on (among other differences) a live versus a heat-killed vaccine. Sabin was harshly critical of Salk. Sabin’s own (oral) vaccine was not released until 1961, years after Salk’s vaccine was distributed.
In sum, it took many years (decades, in fact) to develop the polio vaccine. Even once federal money was pumped into the Salk effort, things got worse; with 1952 saw the worst outbreak of polio yet: over 3,000 Americans died of polio that year, and another 21,000-plus were left with some form of crippling paralysis. By contrast, the development of the current COVID vaccines took less than a year — in some cases, from about March to November. The rapidity of the development of these vaccines is extraordinary and unprecedented.
To be sure, there are many reasons why COVID vaccines could be developed so much more quickly than the polio vaccines. Consider the example last spring regarding the University of Pittsburgh’s COVID vaccine effort: researchers at Pitt had already mapped out the RNA sequencing for COVID. “We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014,” said Pitt’s lead researcher Dr. Andrea Gambotto last year. “We knew exactly where to fight this new virus.” When the genetic sequencing for the COVID-19 virus was identified last January, they “were able to plug into” their existing framework “and rapidly produce a vaccine,” testing in mice.
Even then, whatever head start the COVID vaccines had over the polio vaccines, and whatever the superiority of modern technology, the breathtaking speed is a stunning biomedical accomplishment.
None of this should be a political issue, of course, but that’s precisely what it became, including the stubbornness that begrudges President Trump any credit for this extraordinary success. Throughout 2020, Trump’s Operation Warp Speed met doubt and ridicule, the naysayers and doomsayers. Go back and watch the presidential debates with Joe Biden, where Trump emphatically took issue with his own advisers, who suggested that the release of the vaccine could not be possible within the optimistic time frame that Donald Trump was shooting for — as Joe Biden rolled his eyes and smirked at Trump like he was a knuckle-drugging idiot and a shameless liar.
At the second and final presidential debate on October 22, moderator Kristen Welker asked President Trump if he could “guarantee” there would be a COVID vaccine within the coming weeks. “I can’t guarantee that, but it will be by end of the year,” said Trump with a rather bold prediction, effectively guaranteeing a vaccine within the coming weeks, and no doubt to howls by liberals. “It will be distributed very quickly,” he said. He pointed to the progress of the three leading developers of a vaccine — Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer — reporting to the national viewing audience that they “are doing very well.”
Biden was not just incredulous, but snidely dismissive of that statement. Biden told Welker that Trump had “no clear plan” for the “dark winter” ahead, and said of Trump’s optimism about a vaccine before the end of 2020: “He has no clear plan and there’s no prospect that there’s going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year.”
Less than eight weeks later, Joe Biden wasn’t rolling his eyes anymore. He was rolling up his sleeves in Wilmington, Delaware, for his first dose of vaccine.
And if that didn’t frustrate Donald Trump, you can bet this did:
Very shortly after that second debate, the first of the vaccine developers announced it had a vaccine — an announcement that curiously came one week after the November 3 election. This huge news was the double-bold headline at CNN the morning of November 9, with CNN reports aglow at the news — one week too late to help Donald Trump’s reelection bid. You can be sure that the smiles at CNN were not merely about the vaccine; they grinned ear to ear at the announcement coming conveniently too late to help Trump politically.
Yes, yes, I know, I know — this or that “fact-check thingy” on the web claims that Trump and his Operation Warp Speed had nothing to do with this or that development of this or that vaccine. I’ve read them. Most are outrageously petty, using weasel words like “full credit” or “partial credit” or nitpicking to deprive Operation Warp Speed of any credit at all, with some focusing on details of one vaccine produced by one pharmaceutical company but ignoring details of others. If you want to navigate your way through them, then go for it. (For the record, PolitiFact did a pretty fair job in its evaluation.) It’s an infuriating exercise that immediately raises one’s B.S.-detectors. But those not poisoned by ideological bias and political hatred know in their hearts that Donald Trump deserves some major credit here.
As my readers know, I have never been a pom-pom boy for Donald Trump, but I have a strong sense of justice and injustice. And it’s terribly unjust not to give this man due credit for this incredible accomplishment of the biomedical community. Anthony Fauci said from the outset that our only way out of this pandemic was a vaccine. Donald Trump delivered on that.
Operation Warp Speed worked. Give the reviled Orange Man his due.
Pagans for Biden
Editor’s note: This essay was first published in Crisis Magazine.
Impeccable authorities on all-things-religious, such as The New York Times, are swooning over “perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century.” That would be President Joe Biden.
That obviously unproven statement is patent political propaganda. Of course, it’s a statement impossible to know, let alone claim, least of all as this president has barely been president. In fact, the bizarre piece was published by the Times on January 23, 2021, three days after Joe Biden’s inauguration — at which cumulative point Biden, judged the Times, had remarkably already eclipsed in religiosity Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. No doubt all of them combined.
The title of the Times’ piece was still more revealing of the newspaper’s intentions: “In Biden’s Catholic Faith, an Ascendant Liberal Christianity.”
Well, there you go. That’s the goal. The liberal media, even the adamantly non-religious and even anti-religious liberal media, will cheerlead such an alleged ascendancy. All of a sudden, secular liberals have gotten religion. Throw wide open the doors to faith in the public square. Here’s a kind of Catholic faith that non-Catholic liberals can embrace and even promote. No separation of church and state here. They’re all in.
“Gimme that old-time religion!” shouts the hallelujah chorus at the Times.
I’ve been asked about that literally indefensible Times pronouncement for Biden many times, as I am someone who wrote spiritual biographies of presidents and even would-be presidents (Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton), and numerous articles on the wider subject of faith and the presidency all the way back to George Washington. Is the Times’ assessment justified? My answer: There is, of course — of course, of course, of course — absolutely no way whatsoever even a scintilla of enough information to make that statement about Joe Biden.
But for the likes of The New York Times and its gullible readers, accustomed to being given what they want to be given, such facts are irrelevant. The objective of the Times isn’t to accurately assess Biden’s faith but to promote Biden. I don’t even know if Joe Biden goes to Mass weekly, let alone, say, regularly receives the sacraments in a consistent way that, one might reckon, would make Biden “religiously observant,” let alone “the most religiously observant.”
But again, to liberal media sources, those facts don’t matter. I still marvel at the astonishing piece by Heidi Schlumpf, executive editor of the partisan, left-wing National Catholic Reporter contending that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is nothing less than “the future of the Catholic Church.” This was one of the most confounding head-scratchers I’ve ever read in any publication.
Truth be told, we don’t even know to what extent Ocasio-Cortez is a practicing or professing Catholic. One of the only somewhat, kind-of, sort-of, semi-self-acknowledgments we have of AOC’s faith is a short and poorly written piece she or a staffer whipped up on criminal justice reform for the America Magazine — The Jesuit Review of Faith and Culture in June 2018. We do, however, have one Catholic-related pronouncement by AOC. Recall that last summer she referred to the statue of St. Damien of Molokai inside the Capitol building as a symbol of “white supremacist culture.”
So, I honestly don’t know if AOC is Catholic, even if the National Catholic Reporter insists that she is, well, nothing short of the future of Catholicism — just as I honestly don’t know the extent that Joe Biden is an observant Catholic. And neither does The New York Times.
But I’m repeating myself.
With all of that said, I’d like to emphasize here a key demonstrable fact about Biden and religiosity that has been missed in all the craziness regarding the November 2020 vote, namely: One fact not pointed out by Biden’s progressive protectors in the media has been his strong appeal to the non-religious.
Biden’s open, enthusiastic supporters have been groups ranging from Pagans for Biden to various atheist organizations and “humanist” organizations to literal witches for Biden. As to the latter, they joined together en masse to literally cast a spell upon Donald Trump to assist a Biden victory.
The data is indisputable regarding the pagan element for Biden. The largest pre-election survey breaking down voters by religious and non-religious affiliation, done by Pew Research Center in early October (surveying 10,543 registered voters) and analyzed by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, found Biden carrying atheists by a staggering 88 percent to 7 percent and agnostics by 79 percent to 15 percent, both outpacing Trump’s largest group of religious support, evangelicals, who backed Trump 78 percent to 17 percent.
Those figures were consistent with how voters cast their ballots in November. One of the better breakdowns was posted by Gallup, which analyzed the two largest surveys of religious voters in November 2020, one by Edison Research and the other by AP VoteCast. The AP VoteCast survey showed that 81 percent of white evangelical Protestant voters went for Trump vs. 18 percent who voted for Biden. The Edison exit polls estimated that 76 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump vs. 24 percent for Biden.
And what about Catholic voters? It has been difficult to figure out precisely how Catholics voted in November 2020. If you’ve read sources saying that Biden won the Catholic vote and yet others saying that Trump did, well, that’s because the sources differ — though not by much. Again, here’s the analysis posted by Gallup:
The Edison exit polls estimate that 52 percent of all Catholic voters went for Biden this year, and 47 percent for Trump. The Edison exit polls in 2016 showed a 46 percent Catholic vote for Clinton, and 50 percent for Trump.
The AP VoteCast estimates of the national Catholic vote this year show an almost even split: 49 percent of Catholics voted for Biden and 50 percent for Trump.
How different are these voting patterns among Catholics compared with previous elections? Available data show that Kennedy received roughly 80 percent of the Catholic vote in 1960 (estimates vary). By 2004, when Kerry was the Catholic nominee for the Democratic Party, Catholics went for Bush (52 percent) over Kerry (47 percent).
But how did the non-religious (or non-Christian) vote in 2020? As Gallup notes, the roughly one-fourth of all voters who were white evangelical Christians, and voted overwhelmingly for Trump, were offset by voters who were “nones” — that is, those with no formal religious identity — some 65 percent of whom voted for Biden, thus “providing him a key component of his winning coalition.” Moreover, noted Gallup, “almost all non-Christian groups (those who identify with a religion that is not Christian) voted strongly for Biden.”
Atheists lined up behind Joe Biden, along with pagans, agnostics, humanists, and witches — and The New York Times.
That’s where we are. And it’s The New York Times crowd that’s hell-bent on framing anyone who voted for Donald Trump as some sort of “white Christian nationalist” (or supremacist), in contrast to the sunny Christianity of Joe Biden, the “most religiously observant” president in a half century. As secular liberals push this line, they’ll do damage to faithful Catholics who struggle to explain to their friends the cultural-sexual-moral radicalism of a Catholic president who, on issues from abortion, to marriage, to gender, flagrantly goes against the longtime teachings of his Roman Catholic faith. *