A Super-Spy 11/05/2009

The story about the most famous Polish spy working for the USA during communist times.

“No one has done so much damage to communism during the past 40 years as this Polish colonel“– William Casey, the former president of CIA is believed to have said t about him. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński was one of the most trusted men in General Jaruzelski’s entourage when he decided to escape with his entire family to the United States in 1981.

Kukliński himself claimed he offered his help to the Americans in August 1972. He was the valuable source of information for next 10 years. He informed the Americans about the most carefully guarded secrets of Warsaw Pact. Kukliński passed them 35 thousand pages of documents. He helped the CIA learn about plans to introduce martial law in Poland, Soviet plans to take over military supervision of all the Eastern Bloc’s armies in case of the conflict against NATO, strategic plans regarding the use of nuclear weapons, technical details concerning the most advanced defense systems introduced in the armies of Warsaw Pact countries.

Nowadays Kukliński is far from anonymous, but in the 80’s, when he fled from Poland, the communist authorities tried to conceal the whole issue. Perhaps because the Kukliński case was potentially embarrassing to the Polish Army and to the communist regime. Finally, in 1984, Jaruzelski pushed the military chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court to sentence Kukliński to death in absentia and confiscate his property. The property was seized, sold at a bargain-basement price to a communist notable, and then resold for a substantial profit.

The switch to democracy in Poland in 1989 surprisingly hasn’t washed away treason accusations. Because of the amnesty, his sentence was decreased and changed to 25 years of prison. For seven years, a clique of generals, all Communist-era holdovers, did their best to block Kukliński’s legal exoneration. Having lost that battle, they formed a strange alliance with ex-Solidarity activists opposed to Kukliński.

In a bizarre twist, Lech Wałęsa, ex-Solidarity leader and Polish president at that time, refused to pardon the colonel. He claimed he had been told on good authority that Kuklinski was actually a double agent working for the KGB, who had been sent to the United States to plant disinformation with the CIA. Wałęsa’s decision to go public with it suggests his intent to discredit the colonel, perhaps as a way of impeding the lionization process that was certain to follow his arrival. He was finally cleansed of the charges in 1997. His civil rights and military rank were restored. The final verdict declared that he had "acted out of higher necessity".

Thus, the controversy is not about Kuklinski’s role as a spy but whether his motives were patriotic or treasonous. Doubts in the evaluation of Kukliński’s action arose among the leftist milieu. Kukliński always stressed that, in his opinion, there was a real chance to avoid both Soviet invasion and martial law. Many still claim that the general Jaruzelski’s introduction of martial law can be seen as lesser evil, and helped avoid the "greater catastrophe", which he claims was a Soviet invasion being prepared.

However, Marshal Viktor Kulikov, former supreme commander of Warsaw Pact forces and Moscow’s proconsul in Warsaw, denied that the Soviet Union had intended or even threatened to intervene.

Unfortunately, the average Pole still does not comprehend what Colonel Kukliński did for Poland and Europe. During the communist era, Polish society was strongly indoctrinated and didn’t realize that during the cold war, there was a real danger growing over their heads. Hardly anybody was aware how very possible a World War III scenario was. Had it occurred, it would have had disastrous consequences for huge number of people. It was close to fulfill the first aim in one of the most menacing ideologies – Marxism. One of its priorities would be to make communism the winner on a global scale.

Kukliński paid a terrible price for his heroism. He lost both his sons in 1994. Despite the unclear circumstances, many point to the KGB as the source of these deaths. The colonel refused to give interviews for Polish papers until the exoneration was complete. In his last years of life, Kukliński became sad and depressed. Like many other Polish heroes, he felt misunderstood and forgotten. He died in 2004.