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Terrorist and Espionage Activities

Bulgaria's involvement in international terrorism began in the early twentieth century when it provided sanctuary and a base of operations to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) for terrorist activities against Yugoslavia and Greece. In the 1920s and 1930s, IMRO became a virtual state within a state in southwestern Bulgaria, also known as Pirin Macedonia.

From the beginning of the first communist regime, the State Security service was involved in conventional intelligence collection, illegal technology transfer, and covert actions abroad. The more recent notoriety of the State Security began in 1978 when it was accused of murdering prominent émigré Georgi Markov in London. Once a protégé of Zhivkov, Markov had fled Bulgaria in 1969 and was frequently critical of his former mentor in Bulgarian language broadcasts for the British Broadcasting Corporation. He was stabbed with a poison-tipped umbrella in London, assumedly by a Bulgarian agent. During the same period, at least two similar assassination attempts were made on émigrés, and a number of Bulgarian dissidents received threatening letters. In 1991 President Zheliu Zhelev agreed to open a full investigation of the Markov murder, using State Security files.

Other incidents of State Security activity abroad received international attention. The Bulgarian Embassy in Egypt was closed in 1978 after authorities found evidence of a plot to incite the Egyptian population to overthrow President Anwar al Sadat. In the 1980s, Bulgaria engaged in retaliatory expulsions of Italian and Turkish diplomats on charges of espionage at a time when relations with both countries were strained. The most infamous incident was the State Security's alleged involvement in the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981. In that case, the attacker, a Turkish radical, claimed that the Bulgarian and Soviet intelligence agencies had masterminded his plan in order to eliminate the Polish pope's political influence in Eastern Europe. Three Bulgarians identified as a coconspirators were acquitted in 1986, but the incident caused the United States Department of State to place Bulgaria on its list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

A leader of the Red Brigades, an Italian terrorist group that kidnapped a U.S. Army general in 1981, later implicated Bulgaria in the kidnap plot. The terrorist asserted that the aim of Bulgarian intelligence was to destabilize Italy and gain information about NATO. The terrorists were ostensibly offered training, arms, and logistical assistance in this operation. A Bulgarian diplomat was expelled from Japan for spying on the Japanese biotechnology and genetic engineering industry in 1983. In 1990 the UDF asserted that it possessed documents detailing the connections between the ousted Zhivkov regime and international terrorists as well as the operation of terrorist training centers in Bulgaria. In 1991 the government of Prime Minister Dimitur Popov pledged to disclose additional information on intelligence activities under Zhivkov.

During the Turkish assimilation campaign of 1984-85, the DS, People's Militia, Red Berets, and the army were reported as using violence against ethnic Turks who resisted adopting Bulgarian names in place of their Turkish ones. As many as several hundred ethnic Turks may have been killed by secret police during this campaign. Additional hundreds of Turks were forcibly resettled, arrested, or imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with the assimilation measures. Bulgarian authorities blamed ethnic Turks for a bombing campaign in which thirty Bulgarians were killed in public places in 1984 and 1985. Although guilt was never established, the terrorist acts aroused ethnic feeling that supported the Bulgarization campaign. As the 1990s began, the Bulgarian civilian government had asserted control over all internal security agencies, inspiring the hope that a more open society would result.

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English-language sources on Bulgarian national security, the armed forces, and law and order are relatively few. Stephen Ashley's 1989 article in The Warsaw Pact and the Balkans, edited by Jonathan Eyal, is the best treatment of the BPA and Bulgarian security. F. Stephen Larrabee's article "Long Memories and Short Fuses" sets a context for understanding the security environment in which the country found itself as the Warsaw Pact disbanded and traditional conflicts reemerged in the Balkans. A 1982 book by Ivan Volgyes, The Political Reliability of the Warsaw Pact Armies, remains a good overview of BPA force structure and personnel. Michael M. Boll's The Soviet-Bulgarian Alliance on Bulgarian security policies is useful but dated. Official Bulgarian data supplied for the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and The Military Balance provide detail on the organization, structure, strength, and disposition of ground forces and air and air defense forces. Milan Vego covers the naval forces in "Special Focus: The Bulgarian Navy" in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. Given increasingly open coverage of national security issues in primary sources, translations of the Bulgarian press by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and Joint Publications Research Service provide information on current developments. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of June 1992

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Bulgaria Table of Contents