Former Bulgarian intelligence officer Gen. Todor Boyadzhiev presented recently his new book, “A Spy’s Confession – Part 3”, in which he reveals a number of spy stories such as the foiled terrorist plot against the US Embassy in Sofia. Photo: TV grab from Bulgaria On Air TV
An “ensemble cast" from international terrorist groups came together to carry out a terrorist attack with a RPG launcher against the US Embassy in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia in 1991 as a warning against the United States before the launch of the land Desert Storm operation against Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein (essentially the second stage of the First Gulf War or the First Iraq War), a former Bulgarian intelligence chief has revealed in an interview.
The terrorist attack against the US Embassy in Sofia, which was ultimately foiled, had been planned for February 9, 1991, Gen. Todor Boyadzhiev, a former intelligence officer and former Chief Secretary of Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry has told news site Dnes.dir.bg, discussing an upcoming book, his third, in which he reveals actual “spy stories".
The First Gulf War, also known as the Persian Gulf War, or the First Iraq War (vis-à-vis the Second Iraq War in 2003) was waged between August 2, 1990, and April 11, 1991, including the aerial actions which started on January 17, 1991, and the so called “100-Hour War", i.e. the land combats from February 24-28, 1991.
Boyadzhiev points out that the terrorist attack against the US diplomatic quarters in the Bulgarian capital was prevented thanks to the cooperation of a number of international intelligence services, but also because Bulgaria’s own intelligence services were still rather “strong" at the time – less than two years after the end of the communist regime in the country (1944/48 – 1989). He contrasts that with the intelligence services of today’s Bulgaria seeing them as inherently “weaker".
The intelligence organization of Bulgaria’s communist regime – the former DS (“State Security") – was an umbrella organization including the foreign intelligence, the counter-intelligence, and the secret police. All in all, it is notorious for partaking in massive political repressions, outrightly criminal acts, and even international terrorist plots, mostly at the directions of the KGB of the former Soviet Union.
In 1990-1991, however, the former “People’s Republic of Bulgaria" had begun its complex restructuring, after on November 10, 1989, the day after the Berlin Wall was destroyed, the regime of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov was brought down through what essentially was a palace coup plotted by a wing of the Bulgarian Communist Party.
Bulgaria emerged from under the former control of the Soviet Union, and started to build new relationship with the United States, not unlike the other countries from Central and Eastern Europe. Today’s Republic of Bulgaria, a pluralistic democracy established after the end of the communist regime in 1989, became a member of NATO in 2004, and of the European Union in 2007, restoring the country’s status as a Western nation.
Former intelligence officer Boyadzhiev reveals that the intelligence information about a plotted terrorist attack against the US Embassy in Sofia was received by the Bulgarian foreign intelligence at the end of December 1990.
“I cannot say how exactly that happened but someone was in the right place at the right time, and got the information. The intelligence services committed their agents [to tackling it] right away, and things started to become clear piece by piece, and rather quickly at that," Boyadzhiev explains.
In his words, Bulgaria’s intelligence immediately notified the other relevant international intelligence service, including ones with which the Bulgarian services had not had active communication channels prior to that.
“As a result, literally in no time, representatives of the CIA, Mosad, and the Japanese, French, and British intelligence services turned up in Bulgaria," the former Bulgarian intelligence officer says.
“If I am not mistaken, this was the first time after the fall of the Berlin Wall that such international cooperation occurred within days before a potential threat," he adds.
Using tapping devices, contacts, and a wide range of other methods, the Bulgarian and international spies were able to find out that the terrorists planning the attack against the US Embassy in Sofia were expecting the delivery of a RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) through the border with the former Yugoslavia at the town of Dragoman, west of Sofia.
The cover of Boyadzhiev’s new book, “A Spy’s Confession – Part 3”. Photo: Ciela Publishing
The RPG launcher was to be used to carry out the attack against the US Embassy which back then occupied a building in the very downtown of the Bulgarian capital, close to the buildings of the Bulgarian Presidency and Bulgarian National Bank.
(At the end of 2004, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the US Embassy in Sofia relocated to a new and seemingly more secure compound (said to be the largest US Embassy in the Balkans) in the city’s Losenets Quarter.)
“[The terrorists] found a convenient condo on a building’s top floor with a visual to the US Embassy, it was distant but close enough so they can shoot the RPG at the Embassy. That was their plan, not to plant a bomb or to use a suicide bomber," Boyadzhiev emphasizes.
He also dispels persistent rumors that back then the international terrorist grouping also planned to blow up other sites in Sofia such as the former Kempinski Hotel (known as the Japanese Hotel because of its Japanese architect, the world-famous Kisho Kurokawa), the former Sheraton Sofia (now the Sofia Hotel Balkan), or the Interpred Business Center (housing the World Trade Center in Sofia).
The reason for that is that the plotted terrorist attack in question was not directed against Bulgaria but against the United States, and its plan for a land operation against the Iraqi forces in Kuwait.
The former intelligence officer also reveals who the terrorists in question were. They did not come from a single entity but from an array of terrorist organizations with “anti-imperialist" agenda.
“The most interesting thing about this grouping was that all the plotters were members of completely different terrorist organizations which had never acted together before, and did not have a joint financial center," Boyadzhiev explains.
He sees this fact as evidence for the existence of a “terrorist international", with the term “international" being used to denote a loose or tight global movement such as the “Communist International".
“This says that there is, as I call it, a “black international of terrorism", i.e. that they had come together, and their goal was to demonstrate to the Americans that if the latter were to start something in Iraq, they would face consequences. This [terrorist attack plot] happened right before the Desert Storm operation which the USA had planned at the time," he elaborates, seemingly referring to the land combat operation to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
“In this entire plot, there was no Iraqi participation, which was the first logical thought. It turned out that one of the plotters was from “New Jewel", a far-left movement from the Philippines which had never done anything internationally, and the leader of the group was from the far-left “Japanese Red Army" known for several terrorist attacks in Japan. They are anti-imperialists, waging a war against international imperialism," Boyadzhiev says.
“Precisely the Japanese man was the engine, the brains of the grouping. One of his telephone conversations was detected, which revealed that he was awaiting a messenger, a Colombian to fund the plot. So drug money from Latin America was also involved. The grouping also included two Palestinians and one Arab man," he adds.
Boyadzhiev also explains why the ad hoc “terrorist international" chose Bulgaria’s capital Sofia as the place where to strike the US by bombing one of its embassies.
“[They chose Bulgaria] because we were a “soft" target, as our colleagues from Mosad said back then. As a tourist country, we were more open, we had no travel bans, and let’s not forget that the year was 1990. Bulgaria was not a target of international terrorism. Now things have changed, we have experienced the 2012 Burgas Bus Bombing," the former intelligence officer adds, referring to the terrorist attack at Sarafovo Airport in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas which killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver, and has been blamed on a Hezbollah wing.
“[The terrorists] were looking for the place where it would be the easiest for them to carry out their plot. The Japanese man had apparently visited Bulgaria beforehand, and that’s how they picked Sofia. There was no anti-Bulgarian element [in the plot]," Boyadzhiev adds.
The building on the Saborna Street in downtown Sofia which used to house the US Embassy until 2004. It was the target of the foiled 1991 terrorist attack plot. File photo
An old newspaper photo showing the former US Embassy building in downtown Sofia from another angle. File photo
The new compound of the US Embassy in Sofia was inaugurated in December 2004. The Vitosha Mountain is in the background. Photo: US State Department
The former intelligence officer says that he was not aware at the time that the US intelligence had taken the then US Ambassador to Bulgaria, Hugh Kenneth Hill, and his family away from Bulgaria right after the information about the plotted terrorist attack had emerged.
“Formally, we knew that he was on a business trip to Washington, D.C. However, the Americans had decided that it was very plausible that the attack might target not just the US Embassy building but also specific persons, especially the Ambassador himself," Boyadzhiev adds.
“The second highest-ranking [US diplomatic officer in Sofia] was Bill Montgomery who stayed and coordinated everything. In an attempt to fully nix the threat, he was trying very stubbornly to forth the view, or, to put it mildly, to impose on the then Bulgarian Interior Minister Hristo Danov the view that the [terrorist] group should be arrested," he elaborates.
“However, at a meeting in the office of the then Foreign Minister Viktor Valkov, in which I also took part because I coordinated the international cooperation on the case, Danov responded flatly that if we arrest the terrorist without any evidence – the group had not received the RPG yet – then they would have to be released in 24 hours," Boyadzhiev reveals.
What is more, the arrests of the foreign citizens would cause consular reactions, “a lot of noise", and the possibility that the terrorists might do something unexpected.
“We assured [the US diplomat] that since we kept them under watch, we were ready to arrest them if they moved to undertake aggressive actions. Two or three months later the US Secretary of State [James Baker] visited Bulgaria and offered apologies, saying that Montgomery had not acted upon the directions of the State Department, and the Bulgarian officials had done the right thing," the former intelligence officer reveals.
He further discloses how the Bulgarian and the international spies handle the terrorist group once they revealed the terrorist attack plot. He commented on rumors that the intelligence services just warned the terrorists, and so they gave up and left Bulgaria.
“We didn’t just scare them off, and let them go to the dogs, as some Internet trolls will say. Everything was coordinated with the foreign intelligence services. It was decided that it will be operationally useful to catch these persons’ contacts in each one’s respective organization, to track them, and, if there had been a network, to expose it. The arrests of several people is the last thing you do even you have the necessary evidence. The main goal is to gather as much information as possible in order to deal a fatal blow," Boyadzhiev concludes his revelation about the foiled 1991 terrorist attack plot against the US Embassy in Sofia.
The story is told in Gen. Todor Boyadzhiev’s new book, “A Spy’s Confession – Part 3".
Boyadzhiev (born in 1939) is a graduate of Sofia Technical University. He worked as an intelligence officers for 26 years, during Bulgaria’s communist period, from 1964 until 1990, spending 13 years in the so called scientific and technical intelligence, and 13 years in the foreign intelligence. In 1990, after the end of the communist regime, he became the first person to hold the newly introduced position of a chief secretary of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, a rank second only to the Minister of Interior.