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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Names, Same Games For Old Spies

LONDON - I didn't know his real name, but I called him Ion. He used to sit in the hotel lobby in Bucharest, a comically conspicuous figure in tinted spectacles and a cheap overcoat. When I walked outside, he would peer at me and rise from his seat.


In Prague his name was Alois, and he had the same look of glum resentment on his face. In Warsaw he was called Boleslaw, in East Berlin he was Walter, and in Budapest he was Zoltan. He dressed and behaved in much the same way wherever he worked, except that in Moscow he often wore a funny woollen hat marked with the word "Ski".


Where are you now, Ion, Alois, Boleslaw and all your tens of thousands of colleagues? Where are the files on your fellow citizens that you amassed so assiduously over more than 40 years? and if the files have been destroyed or put under lock and key, what are you doing with the secrets in your heads, your knowledge of the moral weaknesses of the people around you?


Call me suspicious, but I think that in the former communist countries of central and Eastern Europe, a lot of you still have jobs. You have renamed the Securitate the Romanian Information Service and the KGB the Russian Intelligence Service, but you're still there in the same offices with the same equipment and the same mental outlook. The major exception is Walter. German unification was a real nuisance for you. The grisly apparatus of Stasi surveillance and intimidation of which you were part was brought into the open and dismantled. Still, some say you may have put your talents at the disposal of Russia's security services. They would be especially interested in you if you knew how to steal economic or scientific secrets.


In any event, you must be kicking yourself for having allowed the East German opposition groups to get their hands on your archives - all 200 kilometers of them. Now we know about the mean and nasty methods you employed to make people's lives a misery. In contrast, Ion, Alois, Boleslaw and Zoltan had time in 1989 and 1990 to shred the most sensitive files or falsify their contents. and in Bratislava, the nationalist Slovak government has won the everlasting gratitude of thousands of spooks and informers by calling a halt to investigations of the past.


Cleaning up the moral environment of the old communist half of Europe is a task every bit as important as restoring the economy or constructing democracy. Indeed, the region will never be truly transformed unless this task is undertaken. People need to be assured that hidden networks of agents are not continuing to monitor them and are not manipulating the reforms for their own benefit. Otherwise, Ion will be back in the hotel lobby one day - probably in the same cheap overcoat.