Tribute to Polish Cold War Hero
Remarks by Central
Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden at the Polish Martial Law
December 11, 2008
afternoon everyone, and thank you all for coming. CIA is honored to
help pay tribute to a man whose bravery and sacrifice helped liberate
his nation: Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski.
We also are very proud
to host so many of his countrymen today. A warm welcome to all our
Polish friends, including Ambassador Kupiecki, and the producer and
director of War Games, Dariusz Jablonski. And I would like to extend a
very special welcome to Colonel Kuklinski’s grandson, Michael Remmer.
Not that long ago, Poles and Americans looked at each other across
an ideological divide. That we can come together today to honor a
mutual hero is an expression of the freer world in which we live, one
that Ryszard Kuklinski helped create.
His motivation to work
against an oppressive regime came from what he saw as a military
officer. Over time, the cruelty and contradictions at the heart of the
Soviet system became increasingly clear—and, eventually, impossible
for him to tolerate.
In 1968, Ryszard Kuklinski witnessed his
country, part of the Warsaw Pact, invade a supposed ally,
Czechoslovakia. As an intermediary between the commander of Polish
forces in Czechoslovakia and the military and political leadership in
Warsaw, he saw just how far the rulers of his country would go to
please Moscow, stooping to an act of treachery against a neighbor.
Later, Colonel Kuklinski was privy to details on the suppression
of the 1970 protests in northern Poland. He knew a regimental
commander who had been ordered to shoot striking workers. Kuklinski
lamented the hard truth that a “workers’ state” had resorted, for its
own survival, to killing the very people it claimed to champion.
The bloody aftermath of those protests gave him the resolve to
act. His access to strategic military plans only added to his
conviction. He knew how far the balance of forces in Europe was tilted
in the East Bloc’s favor. He saw that Warsaw Pact planning was
oriented completely toward offensive operations. And he understood
that Poland—its army and people—would be sacrificed by the Soviets in
the event of war.
As a senior officer in a police state,
Colonel Kuklinski chose an especially bold and dangerous path to work
against the Communist regime: He got in clandestine contact with the
West. This he did for nearly a decade, at very great personal risk and
with no expectation of material gain.
From the start, he viewed
his actions as being in the best tradition of Polish resistance. He
made his first approach to America in the German port of Wilhelmshaven
because, in May 1945, it was where the Polish First Armored Division
accepted the surrender of much of the German fleet. Colonel Kuklinski
hoped his own campaign would help lead to another victory, this time
against Soviet oppression.
His remarkable courage and
exceptional ability as a military officer gave US leaders matchless
insight into Warsaw Pact decision-making. His reports provided a deep
understanding of the principal national security challenge we faced,
and reduced the chance for miscalculation. In that sense, he saved
lives. That is what the very best intelligence does.
compare intelligence analysis to putting together a jigsaw puzzle
without a picture to go by, and with a lot of pieces missing. Colonel
Kuklinski didn’t just give us a piece or two—he gave us the picture
itself. His work is an outstanding example of the unique value of
Consider what came from this one man:
- The complete Soviet game plan for attacking NATO.
- Not an opinion of how it might play out, but a fully
- A systematic description of how the Warsaw Pact would mobilize
for war, which was absolutely critical for us in recognizing the
warning signs of an attack.
- The exact location of command-and-control bunkers, along with
details on their construction and communications systems. In the
event of war, surgical strikes on these facilities would eliminate
the need for a massive bombing campaign—much of which would have
been aimed at sites in Poland.
- And finally, information on some 200 weapon systems, as well
as the techniques used for evading US satellite surveillance.
Colonel Kuklinski would add to that distinguished record of
accomplishment in the chaotic 18 months between the worker uprisings
of July 1980 and the imposition of martial law in December 1981. He
offered a window into both Polish and Soviet deliberations during a
period marked by the rise of Solidarity, threats of a Warsaw Pact
invasion of Poland, and heightened tension between Washington and
In October 1980, Colonel Kuklinski was assigned to a
small group that would plan the Polish military’s role in establishing
martial law. Given the moral and ethical implications, he was
permitted the option to decline. As Ben Weiser writes, it was painful
for the Colonel to contemplate being part of a plan to suppress
Solidarity. They were his heroes—in Kuklinski’s words, “starting from
Walesa and ending with the last lady on the line yelling slogans.”
But he also realized that the assignment would give him the chance
to influence events and possibly prevent violence. And, of course, it
would put him in a position to report most accurately on what the
government was planning to do.
Colonel Kuklinski’s decision to
accept the post ensured that, throughout a period of terrible risk and
danger for the Polish people, Washington would understand what was
happening in their country. His reports were always precise and
objective, although it was impossible for him not to occasionally give
voice to his fervent patriotism. At one point, when asked if the Army
was preparing to resist a possible Soviet invasion, he responded, “I
am embarrassed to confirm that nothing is planned.”
imposition of martial law approached in late 1981, the security
services became aware that a high-level officer was providing
information to Washington. Colonel Kuklinski knew about the
investigation and held out as long as he could, but finally accepted
our offer to exfiltrate him and his beloved family to America. One of
the greatest heroes of the Cold War had fulfilled his mission.
Ryszard Kuklinski’s story transcends the field of foreign
intelligence. It is a lesson in individual courage, in selflessness on
behalf of a higher good.
Our men and women who worked with
Colonel Kuklinski saw him not as an asset, but as a revered colleague.
Ultimately, his loyalty rested with the free Poland that would
reemerge, thanks in no small part to his faith, skill, valor, and
An avid sailor, he knew how to navigate by the
stars. And in life, his actions were steered by fixed points of honor
that he devoutly observed. His North Star was Poland. But he also was
guided by principles shared by free men everywhere, throughout the
Colonel Kuklinski believed, as America’s founders did, that
governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
And that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to those
ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.
Despite the years of anxiety over the safety of his family and the
future of his country, Colonel Kuklinski ultimately had the
satisfaction of having acted according to his beliefs. As he wrote to
one of our officers, “I have boundless faith in the rightness of what
I am doing.”
We are glad that our dear colleague lived to see a
free Poland. We will always remember him as a hero and patriot. May
this symposium advance our nations’ awareness and understanding of his
extraordinary life and work.