Subsequently, he worked with the American Central Intelligence Agency in various operations against the former Eastern Bloc. The CIA described his cooperation as "an important and unique contribution to the United States".
Ion Mihai Pacepa's father (born in 1893) grew up in Alba Iulia, the capital of the principality of Transylvania, which at that time was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, where he worked in his own father's small factory producing pots and cutlery for the kitchen. On 1 December 1918, Transylvania was united with Romania, and in 1920 Pacepa's father moved to Bucharest, where he spent all his working life at the Romanian representative of the American car company General Motors.
Born in Bucharest in 1928, Ion Mihai Pacepa studied industrial chemistry at the Politehnica University of Bucharest between 1947 and 1951, but just months before graduation he was drafted by the Securitate, and got his engineering degree only four years later. He was assigned to the Directorate of Counter-sabotage of the Securitate. In 1955 he was transferred to the Directorate of Foreign Intelligence.
In 1957 Pacepa was appointed head of the Romanian intelligence station in Frankfurt, West Germany, where he served two years. In October 1959, Minister of the Interior Alexandru Drăghici appointed him as head of Romania's brand new industrial espionage department, called S&T (short for Ştiinţă şi Tehnologie, meaning "science and technology" in Romanian) of Directorate I, being the head of Romanian industrial espionage, which he managed until his defection in 1978. He was involved with the establishment of Romania's automobile industry, and with the development of its microelectronic, polymer, and antibiotic industries.
Between 1972 and 1978 Pacepa was also President Nicolae Ceauşescu's adviser for industrial and technological development and the deputy chief of the Romanian foreign intelligence service.
Pacepa defected during July 1978 by walking into the American Embassy in Bonn while in Germany, where he had been sent by Ceauşescu with a message to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. He was flown secretly to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., in a United States military airplane.
In a letter to his daughter, Dana, published in the French newspaper Le Monde in 1980 and broadcast over and over by Radio Free Europe, Pacepa explained the reason for defecting: "In 1978 I got the order to organize the killing of Noël 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."
Noël Bernard died in 1981 of cancer, after being allegedly irradiated by the Securitate.
Pacepa's defection destroyed the intelligence network of communist Romania, and through the revelations of Ceausescu's activity, it affected the latter's international credibility and respectability. An article published by The American Spectator in 1988 summed up the devastation caused by Pacepa's "spectacular" defection: "His passage from East to West was a historic event, for so carefully had he prepared, and so thorough was his knowledge of the structure, the methods, the objectives, and the operations of Ceausescu’s secret service, that within three years the entire organization had been eliminated. Not a single top official was left, not a single major operation was still running. Ceauşescu had a nervous breakdown, and gave orders for Pacepa’s assassination. At least two squads of murderers have come to the United States to try to find him, and just recently one of Pacepa’s former agents—a man who had performed minor miracles in stealing Western technology in Europe at Romanian behest—spent several months on the East Coast, trying to track down the general. Happily, they have not found him."
During September 1978, Pacepa received two death sentences from Communist Romania, and Ceauşescu decreed a bounty of $2 million US dollars for his death. Yasser Arafat and Muammar al-Gaddafi set one more million dollars reward each. During the 1980s, Romania’s political police enlisted Carlos the Jackal to assassinate Pacepa in America in exchange for one million dollars. Documents found in the Romanian intelligence archives show that the Securitate had given Carlos a whole arsenal to use in "Operation 363" for assassinating Pacepa in the United States. Included were 37 kg. plastic explosive EPP/88, 7 submachine guns, one Walther PP pistol serial # 249460 with 1306 bullets, 8 Stechkin pistols with 1049 bullets, and 5 hand grenades UZRG-M.
Carlos was unable to find Pacepa, but on 21 February 1980, he bombed a part of Radio Free Europe's headquarters in Munich, which was broadcasting news of Pacepa's defection. Five Romanian diplomats in West Germany, who had helped Carlos the Jackal in this operation, were expelled from the country.
On 7 July 1999, Romania’s Supreme Court Decision No. 41/1999 cancelled Pacepa’s death sentences and ordered that his properties, confiscated by Ceauşescu's orders, be returned to him. Romania's government refused to comply. In December 2004, the new government of Romania restored Pacepa’s rank of general.
According to Michael Ledeen in 2016, the two death sentences remain in effect and Pacepa "has lived in secret" since his defection.
Pacepa is a columnist for the Internet conservative blog site PJ Media. He also occasionally writes articles for The Wall Street Journal and various American conservative publications, such as National Review Online, The Washington Times, the online newspaper FrontPage Magazine and the WorldNet Daily.
During 1987, Pacepa published a book, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief. A Romanian translation of Red Horizons printed in the U.S. was infiltrated into the Communist Romania, and a Mao-style pocketbook of Red Horizons was illegally printed in Communist Hungary (now a valuable collector item). In 1988 Red Horizons was serialized on Radio Free Europe, arousing "huge interest among Romanians". According to Radio Romania, "the streets of Romania's towns were empty" during the RFE serialization of Red Horizons. On 25 December 1989, during the last part of the Romanian Revolution, Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena, were sentenced to death at the end of a trial where most of the accusations came almost word-for-word out of Red Horizons. (A second edition, published in March 1990, contained the transcript of Ceauşescu's trial, which was based on facts presented in Red Horizons.)
On 1 January 1990, the book began being serialized in the new official Romanian newspaper Adevărul (The Truth), which on that day replaced the Communist Scînteia (The Spark). In its lead, Adevărul explained that the book's serialization by Radio Free Europe had “played an incontestable role” in overthrowing Ceauşescu" according to the text on the back cover of the book’s second edition, published during 1990). Red Horizons was subsequently republished in 27 countries, and it was made into a documentary movie by the Hungarian TV. In 2010, The Washington Post recommended that Red Horizons be included on the list of books that should be read in schools, next to Whittaker Chambers's Witness. In 2011, Red Horizons was re-published as an e-book by Google, and its hard copies were still in book stores in 2012.
During 1993, Pacepa published The Kremlin's Legacy, in which he tried to wean his native country away from its continued dependency on a Communist-style police state. During 1999, he authored the trilogy The Black Book of the Securitate, which has become a bestseller in Romania.
In a 2006 article, Pacepa describes a conversation he had with Nicolae Ceauşescu, who told him about "ten international leaders the Kremlin killed or tried to kill": László Rajk and Imre Nagy from Hungary; Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu and Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej from Romania; Rudolf Slánský and Jan Masaryk from Czechoslovakia; Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran; Palmiro Togliatti from Italy; US President John F. Kennedy; and CCP Chairman Mao Zedong. Pacepa provides some additional details, such as an alleged plot to kill Mao Zedong with the help of Lin Biao organized by the KGB.
Pacepa said that "among the leaders of Moscow's satellite intelligence services there was unanimous agreement that the KGB had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy", and that KGB fingerprints are all over Lee Harvey Oswald and his killer Jack Ruby.
In 2007, Ivan R. Dee published Pacepa's book Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination in which he asserts that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the assassination of Kennedy, then changed his mind but was unable to stop Oswald. The work was said to rely heavily on the work of the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and Edward Jay Epstein.
In a review of Pacepa's book published in Human Events, Michael Ledeen, former adviser for terrorism to President Reagan, writes: "A new book from General Ion Mihai Pacepa is cause for celebration, because he is among a tiny handful of people who know a lot about the intelligence services of the Soviet Empire, and because he writes about it with rare lucidity, always with an eye to helping us understand our world. His first book, 'Red Horizons,'is indubitably the most brilliant portrait of a Communist regime I've ever read. 'Programmed to Kill' is equally fascinating. Pacepa painstakingly takes us through the documentary evidence, including invaluable material on Soviet bloc cyphers that throws new light on Oswald's letters to KGB officers in Washington and Mexico City. … No novelist could have written a more exciting story, made all the more compelling because of Pacepa's first-hand involvement in the Russians' efforts to hide their Oswald connection."
Publishers Weekly stated "those inclined to suspect a conspiracy was behind JFK's murder will likely remain unpersuaded by Pacepa's circumstantial, speculative case" and that Programmed to Kill offered "no convincing Soviet motive for the assassination." According to author Joseph Goulden in The Washington Times, Pacepa's belated account "rests rather flimsily on circumstantial evidence and supposition." In H-Net Reviews, Stan Weeber called Programmed to Kill "a superb new paradigmatic work on the death of President Kennedy" and "a 'must read' for everyone interested in the assassination of President Kennedy."
In a 2006 article written during the Second Lebanon War, Pacepa says the Soviet Union spread anti-Semitic propaganda across the Middle East to increase hatred for the Jews, and by extension Israel and America. Pacepa writes that Soviet propagandists described America as a "Jewish fiefdom" and spread the idea that Israel planned to make the Islamic Middle East into a "Jewish colony." Furthermore, he describes Soviet Union's alleged role in propagating and funding terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Pacepa alleged that the Soviet Union tried to discredit the Papacy. In a 2007 article, he stated: "In my other life, when I was at the center of Moscow's foreign-intelligence wars, I myself was caught up in a deliberate Kremlin effort to smear the Vatican, by portraying Pope Pius XII as a coldhearted Nazi sympathizer."
In 2012, Pacepa revealed he was writing a book called Disinformation that gives details of the Seat 12 plot and the Soviet "science" of framing. It is co-authored by Pius XII expert and professor of law at the University of Mississippi, Ronald J. Rychlak. In an interview, Pacepa claimed that the original idea to blacken the Pontiff's reputation came from Joseph Stalin in 1945, who wanted the Church out of the Ukraine. On 3 June 1945, his Radio Moscow proclaimed that Pius XII had been “Hitler’s Pope.” But the insinuation fell flat as it came the day after Pius XII had condemned the “satanic spectre of Nazism” on Vatican Radio. Moreover, Pius was being lauded for his wartime efforts to protect religious minorities by, among others, President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill (who described him as “the greatest man of our time”), and Albert Einstein. Stalin’s disinformation efforts were rejected by that contemporary generation “that had lived through the real history and knew who Pope Pius XII really was,” Pacepa explained. He said the KGB tried again, promoting Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play The Deputy. As that generation "had not lived through that history and did not know better, [this] time it worked.”
In 2013, Pacepa published Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism co-authored with law professor Ronald J. Rychlak, who studies the history of religion.
Pacepa supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In opposition, large anti-war demonstrations were held in cities across the world. Pacepa contends that these protests were contrived and anti-American, which Russia assisted. Pacepa wrote during October 2003 that it was "perfectly obvious to me" that the Russian GRU agency helped Saddam Hussein to destroy, hide, or transfer his chemical weapons prior to the American invasion of Iraq during 2003. To this end, he claims that an operation for the removal of chemical weapons ("Operation Sarindar") was prepared by the Soviet Union for Libya, and that such a plan existed and was implemented in Iraq.
Subsequently, the Iraq Survey Group did not find any significant holdings of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that were present in the country decades earlier. It issued its findings in the Duelfer report during September 2004.Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, 1987. ISBN 0-89526-570-2
Red Horizons: the 2nd Book. The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu's Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption, 1990. ISBN 0-89526-746-2
The Kremlin Legacy, 1993
Cartea neagră a Securităţii, Editura Omega, Bucharest, 1999. ISBN 973-98745-4-1
Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination, 2007. ISBN 978-1-56663-761-9
Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism, 2013. ISBN 978-1-93648-860-5
The KGB’s Man, 2003
Khaddafi's "Conversion", 2003
Ex-spy fingers Russians on WMD, 2003
From Russia With Terror, 1 March 2004
No Peter the Great, 20 September 2004
Putin's Duality, 5 August 2005
Left-Wing Monster: Ceausescu, 10 February 2006
Who Is Raúl Castro? A tyrant only a brother could love., 10 August 2006
Russian Footprints, 24 August 2006
Tyrants and the Bomb, 17 October 2006
The Kremlin’s Killing Ways, 28 November 2006
Propaganda Redux , 7 August 2007
What I Learned as a Car Czar, 2 June 2009
The Secret Roots of Liberation Theology, 25 April 2015