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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shadow of Securitate Hangs Over Romania

BUCHAREST, Romania -- When Lucian Avramescu discovered he had two undercover agents working as journalists at his small news agency, he wondered why Romanian intelligence didn't save money by just taking out a subscription.

Then he found the "moles" were keeping track of more than just the doings at his office.

"They know everything about you," Avramescu quoted one of the agents as confessing a few months ago. "What company you keep, where you went on holiday and if your daughter passed her exams."

Avramescu, whose telephone was tapped during the communist era, eventually fired that spy and the other, "who was clearly much more interested in my personal dealings than journalism." He is unsure whether security forces have recruited new informants at his office.

Taking a leaf out of the book of the feared Securitate secret police - disbanded after communism fell in late 1989 - today's spies ferret out the political opinions, personal affairs and mundane details of anyone in a "sensitive" position.

They keep tabs on bank employees, journalists, foreigners, employees of aid groups, even worshippers at foreign churches, by befriending them, being a colleague or eavesdropping, according to people who have been targeted.

Regional officials have been instructed to monitor local rumors about the government, find out who spread them and how they were spread.

There are officially nine secret services in Romania, a country of 23 million with no foreign enemies and untouched by political instability. One-fifth of active intelligence officers for the Romanian Information Service are officially old hands from the disbanded Securitate.

Recently, criticism of heavy-handed spying broke out after a suspected intelligence officer was caught filming near a public gathering of ethnic Hungarians.

The Romanian Information Service denied it was filming the meeting, but an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity acknowledged: "We have to prevent any demonstration that could endanger the state - even at one where there are only four Kurds present."

In mid-July, President Emil Constantinescu was accused by a former Securitate colonel of having served as a double agent for the United States and Romania under communism. Constantinescu's office called the allegations libelous.

An estimated 125 million Securitate files remain locked up in the custody of the Romanian Information Service and are seen as potential sources of blackmail to discredit public figures.

Sorin Rosca Stanescu, a pro-government journalist whose own Securitate file was leaked to the press and foreign embassies several years ago, says Romania's post-communist governments have shied from reforming the security services. He says former Securitate officers, are running Romania's intelligence.

But some things have eased since the days when Romanians said Nicolae Ceausescu's Securitate knew everything but their dreams. People do not feel their telephones are tapped and most are no longer afraid of being tailed if they come into contact with a foreigner.

Parliament voted in June to allow citizens access to records the Securitate kept on them and to publish the files of people seeking office.

But the law also retained legal protection for former Securitate agents who are still active in intelligence work.