372. Memorandum From Acting Director of Central Intelligence McMahon to President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Secretary of State Shultz, Secretary of Defense Weinburger, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • Sensitive Information on Bulgarian State Security Reaction to Allegations of Bulgarian Involvement in the Attempt to Assassinate the Pope
This memorandum is extremely sensitive. [less than 9 lines not declassified].
Summary: [less than 1 line not declassified] the “Antonov affair” and the alleged Bulgarian connection to the attempted assassination of the Pope, the Bulgarian intelligence services did not conceive, fund, or carry out the attempt on the Pope’s life. Bulgarian State Security (DS) and the KGB are absolutely convinced that the allegations are a CIA-inspired provocation, and the whole affair has created a strain between the Soviets and the Bulgarians. The DS was in contact with Mehmet Ali Agca during his stay in Sofia in early 1981, but Agca was using false [Page 1190] papers and the DS did not know his true identity. As a result of the scandal, the DS has tightened up its regulations concerning contacts with known criminals, drug addicts, and the like. End summary.
Bulgarian State Security (DS) and the KGB are absolutely convinced that the Antonov affair is a CIA-inspired provocation, and the KGB is very upset that the DS has become involved in this unsavory mess. In mid-December 1982, Bulgarian head of state Todor Zhivkov met with Ivan Savchenko, the three-star general who is the chief KGB adviser to the DS, and with the Bulgarian Minister of Interior. The meeting was held because Soviet Party chief Yuriy Andropov had sent a personal inquiry to Zhivkov asking for an explanation. Savchenko apparently was furious and derided the DS for becoming embroiled in continuing scandal. Zhivkov, who was embarrassed, immediately requested, and received, a full briefing on the matter.
In early January 1983, Grigor Shopov, First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and responsible for DS activities, called a meeting of senior DS officers. Those present were told about the meeting between Zhivkov and Savchenko. Shopov said that the KGB had serious doubts about DS professionalism, and told the assembled officers that they must eliminate the kinds of errors that had been committed in the past. The DS had recruited foreigners with criminal records, drug addicts, and persons with sexual or mental problems. Shopov pointed out that these people could be used by “others” against Bulgaria, and the DS should stay away from them.
Speaking specifically about Agca, Shopov wondered out loud why the DS had not been able, despite all the assets at its disposal, to learn Agca’s identity. After all, he was being sought worldwide, lived in Sofia for two months with a false passport, and was known to all his Turkish contacts as a killer. Shopov also wondered how a DS operations officer could establish repeated contact with Agca yet not run traces on him or collect information on him from the DS agent network among the Turks in Sofia. [Comment: For further information on Agca, see paragraph 10 below.]2
Shopov continued his speech by instructing that the entire DS agent apparatus be tasked to determine the exact nature of Western intelligence operations designed to discredit Bulgaria and the “entire world socialist system.” He ordered DS officers to use all available means worldwide to convince both foreigners and Bulgarians of Bulgaria’s innocence, and to stop all rumors implicating Bulgaria in the assassination attempt. Officers were to stress that “as a socialist country, [Page 1191] Bulgaria cannot and did not have anything to do with the attempted assassination of the Pope.”
The tone of Shopov’s speech was serious and somber. DS officers were particularly struck by two points in his speech: his statements about Agca and his instructions to find out about the campaign by Western intelligence services against Bulgaria. DS officers view these points as clear indications that Bulgaria had nothing to do with the attempt on the Pope’s life. Until the speech took place, DS officers had been discussing among themselves whether or not the DS could have been involved in the attempt. Some officers thought that it was possible. After the speech, most DS officers believed that there was no Bulgarian involvement, [1 line not declassified].
In accordance with Shopov’s instruction, DS assets, particularly those returning from trips to the West, were debriefed extensively. All of those who had been in the West reported that their Western contacts were of the opinion that Bulgaria has been directly involved in assistance to terrorists such as Agca, and may also have been involved in the attempt on the Pope’s life. Some of them indicated that the scandal is having a negative effect on Bulgaria’s trade and cultural relations with the West. At the same time, the DS obtained reporting from its internal network of agents that dissidents were saying that Bulgaria had been “used” by the Soviets against the Pope and now was receiving worldwide negative publicity, when in fact the Soviets were the real culprits.
The DS adopted tighter measures for dealing with foreigners as a result of the Shopov meeting. Aggressive pursuit and quick recruitments have been prohibited. Also, steps have been taken to prevent Turks and Arabs and any “suspicious” persons from registering in the leading Sofia hotels. DS officers have indicated that this measure was carried out to the letter and even legitimate Turkish businessmen were not permitted to register. In addition, about fifty “privileged” Turks and Arabs who had been living in large hotels in Sofia and assisting the DS in drug and arms trafficking, as well as in propaganda and intelligence work in their native countries, were moved to private villas on the outskirts of Sofia.
When Agca visited Bulgaria in 1980, he entered the country in alias, documented as a Syrian, Iranian or Iraqi [less than 1 line not declassified] Agca spoke Turkish, from which the DS officer in contact with him assumed he was a member of the Turkish or Kurdish minority in his [falsely documented]3 native country. The DS obtained information [Page 1192] that Agca was making contacts with Bulgarian “underworld figures” in Sofia. Therefore, a DS operations officer approached Agca at his hotel in Sofia and had many meetings with him; however, the DS officer never actually recruited him. Also, the DS officer never ran traces on Agca, and never got official permission for his contacts with him [less than 2 lines not declassified].
[less than 1 line not declassified] does not know when the DS first learned that the person who had attempted to assassinate the Pope was the same individual that one of their officers had been in contact with in Sofia. [less than 1 line not declassified] this came to DS knowledge when photographs of Agca appeared in the press. [less than 1 line not declassified] in August or September 1982 [less than 1 line not declassified] a DS officer had been officially reprimanded and demoted from captain to lieutenant. The reason was not given. After the December 1982 speech by Shopov, [less than 1 line not declassified] this officer was the one who had been in contact with Agca, and that he had been demoted because of his negligent handling of the matter.
[less than 1 line not declassified] the DS would have shared with the KGB any information obtained on Agca, and details of its activities against him. The DS routinely provides the KGB with information on each of its external and internal operations, contacts, agents and other activities. Just because the DS is running an operation strictly inside Bulgaria does not exempt it from having to keep the KGB fully informed of the operation. Any information passed would be passed in Sofia. The information would be provided to the KGB advisers there, who probably would forward the information, at least in summary form, to Moscow.
Following is information on the three Bulgarians implicated by the Italians for involvement in the attempt on the Pope’s life:
Sergey Ivanov Antonov is a Bulgarian military intelligence service (RUMNO) officer, probably holding the rank of senior lieutenant. While stationed in Rome, Antonov was handling agents, and has information not only about his agent work, but also concerning Bulgarian intelligence involvement in drug and weapons smuggling. [less than 1 line not declassified] Antonov is under considerable mental stress and that the Italians are using drugs and various psychological techniques to break down his resistance. Also, Antonov’s relationship with his wife was strained for several months before his arrest. The Bulgarians are concerned that, if the Italians learned this, it could be another negative factor. What worries the Bulgarians most is that Antonov will begin to talk about his intelligence activities, and will identify RUMNO and DS officers in other countries. [less than 1 line not declassified] the DS is not concerned that Antonov can reveal anything about contacts between himself and Agca because the two had never met. [less than 3 lines not [Page 1193] declassified] Antonov “had never met Ali Agca” and that it was hard to understand what the Italians were making such a fuss about.
Todor Stoyanov Ayvazov is a RUMNO major who works mainly on Turkish operations. He is respected, and regarded as a capable officer.
Zhelyu Kolev Vasilev is a DS officer, probably with the rank of captain. He has a counterintelligence background and is not popular with his colleagues.
Both the DS and RUMNO have for years been very active and successful in running operations inside Italy. The Bulgarians have long considered Italy to be a relatively benign operational environment. The DS and the KGB cooperate closely in Rome against NATO targets. Because of the high level of Bulgarian intelligence activity in Italy, [less than 1 line not declassified] the DS has “a lot to lose” if the Italians are able to “break” Antonov and obtain details on his and his colleagues’ operations.
[less than 1 line not declassified] does not know of any concrete preparations for retaliation against the Italians. However, the Italian desk of the DS has been working overtime to collect incriminating data on an Italian diplomat in Sofia [less than 1 line not declassified] which could be used if necessary. The espionage trial of the two Italian nationals being held in Sofia has been suspended in order to have these individuals available for a possible prisoner exchange in return for Antonov. [less than 1 line not declassified] the photographs which the two took in Bulgaria are definitely not tourist shots; they are pictures of military objects and installations. The two Italians could be sentenced to fifteen to twenty years in prison, although the woman probably will get a reduced sentence because she is cooperating with the Bulgarian investigators.
[less than 2 lines not declassified] the “Antonov affair” and the alleged Bulgarian connection to the attempted assassination of the Pope, the Bulgarian intelligence services did not conceive, fund, or carry out the attempt on the Pope’s life. [less than 1 line not declassified] about the Shopov meeting described above, and asked if that might have been a scenario staged to whitewash the DS. [less than 1 line not declassified] top echelon officers attended the meeting, and that only accurate details would be discussed in such a forum. Had there been any real DS involvement, Shopov could have admitted it and instructed that measures be taken to correct the errors.
From the purely political/ideological point of view, it does not seem likely [less than 1 line not declassified] that the Soviet or Bulgarian Communist Parties or intelligence services would have attempted to stage a clumsy attack against the Pope when the basic politics of both parties in recent years has been to seek accommodation with their [Page 1194] respective churches. [less than 1 line not declassified] the Soviets would have looked for political solutions for a political problem and that elimination of the Pope does not fit into the pattern of Soviet political thinking. The Soviets definitely have the ability to carry out executions abroad but they have not recently used that ability. [less than 1 line not declassified] this restraint is the result of an awareness that such murders do not in the long run further Soviet, or communist, political objectives.
John N. McMahon
  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96 D 262, 1983 Super Sensitive, April 1–17. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. A notation in the bottom right-hand corner of the memorandum in an unknown hand indicates that it was received in the Department of State on April 8 at 3:30 p.m.
  2. Brackets are in the original.
  3. Brackets are in the original.