Has Ryszard Kuklinski saved us from World War III?
By Jolanta Jablonska-Gruca
Translated into English by Eliza Sarnacka - Mahoney.
I met Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski
for the first time 3 years ago, in April 1998. He was on his visit to
Poland, the first in 17 years. Until then, he had been haunted by a death
sentence issued by the PRL (People's Republic of Poland) military court.
During that visit Colonel Kuklinski visited many places and participated in
many events organized in his honor, including those in Krakow, Katowice,
Zakopane, Trojmiasto and Warsaw. I saw him in Warsaw, but at that time I did
not have a chance to talk to him personally. It was not until last year,
coincidentally, on the anniversary of the imposing martial law in Poland on
December 13,1981, that we finally had a conversation.
We met in the American home of my friends Marta and Wojciech Kolaczkowscy,
and there we talked at length. I will remember this as an extraordinary
experience. Mr. Kuklinski is an extraordinary person. The sacrifices he made
and personal courage he exhibited are incomparable. Very few people in the
world are are faced with those kind of choices and become real heroes.
Unfortunately, the average Pole still does not comprehend what Colonel
Kuklinski did for Poland, Europe and maybe for the entire world. During the
PRL era, Poles were society was heavily indoctrinated and never realized
that during the cold war, and especially during different phases of the
escalating crisis, there was a real danger of looming over their heads. Had
it occurred, it would have the most profound consequences in Poland's
thousand-year history a nuclear war. Few knew how very real a WW III
scenario was, let alone any details of it. An invaders' war - for such was
the name the Soviets had given it - was to fulfill one of the most menacing
dreams encrypted in the Marxist ideology - to make communism a winner on a
Colonel Kuklinski was the person who revealed those plans to the West. He
was responsible for making it known that Soviets had envisioned a quick
takeover of the European NATO member states and planned to use Polish
territory as a marching ground for more than 3 million Soviet soldiers, a
million tanks and 3,200 military trains transporting weapons and explosives,
all aimed at Western Europe.
According to the Soviet plans, two of the three Polish armies were to cross
Germany to invade Holland, Belgium and France. The remaining third was to
attack and conquer Denmark. Colonel Kuklinski realized that being
outnumbered in the arsenal of conventional weapons, the West would have no
choice but to resort to nuclear warheads. In his decision to expose Soviet
strategic plans to the West, he believed he was giving NATO a chance to
answer Soviet attacks without a nuclear offensive on Polish communication
Today, it has been confirmed that Soviet generals lied when they argued they
had only planned a conventional war in Europe. Documents confirming the
USSR's readiness to go into a nuclear war have been found in the East
Germany's archives. The Soviets had planned to launch about 60 nuclear
weapons, each of them 10 times as powerful as the one the U.S. had dropped
Experts have no doubt that Colonel Kuklinski has twice saved Poland from a
Soviet invasion. In December 1980 and then from March 1981 onward, Poland
played a host to the Warsaw Pact military exercises named "Sojuz 81." At the
time when social unrest in Poland peaked (November 1980) and when half a
million Warsaw Pact's soldiers waited ready for action at the Polish border,
a brief order from Moscow could have easily turned these exercises into a
military intervention. Secret strategic planning documents also revealed
that late in 1981 there were 15 Soviet division together with two German and
two Czechoslovakian ones, ready to enter Poland. The invasion was scheduled
for December 8. Moscow was getting ready to gain political control and to
crush "Solidarity" by means of extensive arrests, quick trials and death
sentences for the movement's leaders.
Quickly, the information was passed on and just few days before the planned
military action it landed on the desk of professor Zbigniew Brzezinski,
national security advisor to then-President Jimmy Carter. Brzezinski, who
had been an avid advocate for Poland's independence, advised President
Carter to take a decisive step. On December 3, President Carter sent
Brezhnev a message demanding that Poland be given a chance to independently
solve its problems. Carter also warned that in case military force were used
against Poland, the U.S. would have to consider serious sanctions, including
a more severe blockade on Cuba and increased arms shipments to China in case
of an upsurge of Russian-Chinese conflict. Finally, the president informed
the Soviet leader of an end to the politics of meltdown.
The result was immediate. The Soviets relinquished their plans to invade
Poland, even though they were not ready to totally surrender to the pressure
of foreign diplomacy .
Brezhnev advised the PZPR (Polish United Workers' Party) to elect General
Jaruzelski as Prime Minister and to use the Polish army to stifle
"Solidarity". It is obvious that without Colonel Kuklinski's report, the US
would not have been able to react so quickly, nor would Brezhnev, in
addition to President's Carter ultimatum, receive a letter from the Pope
John Paul II urging him to leave Poland alone. Around the Vatican there was
a rumor that the Pope was ready to go back to Poland if that would stop the
A Decision to Cooperate with the US
Kuklinski began working at the Warsaw General Headquarters for the Strategic
Defense Planning in 1964 and was always highly regarded for his
intelligence. His responsibilities included preparing and reviewing plans of
military exercises. With time, however, as he became more and more exposed
to the secret Soviet military strategies, he became more aware and horrified
by the possibility of a war. He realized that the only thing powerful enough
to successfully curtail the Soviets' aggressive thinking was pressure from
the most powerful country in the world - the U.S. An idea to cooperate with
America had been born.
His first contact with US intelligence was initiated sometime in 1970, two
years after the infamous Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. Kuklinski
had witnessed how Polish soldiers participated in that aggressive attack,
contrary of the patriotic interest of the Polish nation, and to him that was
enough proof that the Polish army had finally lost any independence it might
have had. It was nothing more than a part of Moscow's combative scheming
against the world.
It should be underlined that during Kuklinski's many years of cooperation
with the U.S. he never signed any official contract (though it is standard
for this type of cooperation), nor did he ever receive any compensation for
his work. This fact has been officially proven by many sources, including
Kuklinski's sworn enemy -- the PRL's military court, and Richard T. Davies,
an American ambassador in Warsaw.
It it also important to remember that it was not the CIA that sought
Kuklinski out. He chose to turn to the CIA, considering such action the only
way to stop the most macabre war scenarios from happening.
"I myself decided to take that risk," said Kuklinski. "I put in jeopardy
everything I had: my family, my career. And yes, I realized how highly
dangerous it was to be a spy in communist Poland."
Since then his everyday life was to resemble a walk in a minefield. There
was no way of knowing which of his next steps might be his last. Anything he
did had to be done in utter silence and solitude, never forgetting the risk
Kuklinski quickly climbed the career ladder. As his rank improved, so did
the scope of information he passed on to the CIA. For a long time, nobody
suspected him of leading a double life. No one knew that he carried a mini
camera in his pocket and that every day, after his colleagues had gone home,
he remained in his office, analyzing and copying important documents. During
his ten years of cooperating with the U.S., he delivered more than 35,000
pages of classified information on a wide range of So3iet military
strategies. They included valuable data on how the Soviets and the Warsaw
Pact armies would attack the European NATO states, how the Soviets had
positioned their nuclear weapons, and where the nuclear arsenals together
with underground command quarters, had been located. Kuklinski even managed
to hand down information about the three most secret spots for the Soviets'
command bureaus, in case it really came down to World War III.
In the summer of 1981 Kuklinski realized that disaster was approaching.
Social unrest among the Polish people peaked while the conflict between the
more and more powerful and better-organized Solidarity movement and the PRL
government escalated. But just then in September 1981 during a secret
meeting with the PRL Secretary of Internal Affairs Kiszczak, Kuklinski heard
frightful news. Kreml's secret agents operating in Poland had found out that
someone was leaking classified documents. They confirmed that accounts of
any PZPR session found their way into the hands of "Solidarity" and the West
within just several hours after they had ended. Kiszczak underlined that the
Moscow Politburo was absolutely furious and there would be a detailed
investigation in the Warsaw General Headquarters.
For Kuklinski that meant his secret activity had been detected and he could
be uncovered at any moment. He contacted his American courier and the U.S.
arranged for his immediate evacuation. In the middle of the night on
November 7, American intelligence forces in Warsaw organized taking
Kuklinski, his wife and two sons out of Poland. Four days later they landed
in the U.S. Almost exactly a month later, on December 13, Gen. Jaruzelski
imposed martial law in Poland and used Poland's Special Forces to crush
The Colonel's wife did not learn about her husband's double identity until
the actual evacuation. She was in a state of shock, but she endured
everything bravely. Later, however, she did pay a price - she developed
health problems. I have talked to her, and to me, she also is a hero. In
spite of her dramatic, turbulent life, she kept her inner strength and is a
person with a kind, warm heart.
As I have mentioned, I met Colonel Kuklinski on the anniversary of the
December 13th tragedy. I wanted to know what he thought about that time now,
when he could reflect on it from a timely perspective. I also asked him why,
after he had been evacuated, nobody warned "Solidarity" of a pending martial
law and repression. He must be aware of the fact that for a decade now, this
has been of great interest to enemies and friends alike. Left without a
clear answer, it stands as a backlash not only against him, but also
President Reagan and the U.S.
Kuklinski answered calmly. "Had I based my actions on emotions only and
ruled out common sense, then indeed one should have forewarned "Solidarity"
and the Polish society of the danger. But I am convinced that at that point
it was impossible to alter the decision about martial law."
He is convinced that revealing all the details of the Soviet and Polish
governments' plans would have only sped up their execution. Had that
happened, one could try to imagine a possible "Solidarity's" response. Most
likely it would have come in the form of a general occupational strike
undertaken in all major factories across the country. The government would
then have sent troops and force would have been used to end the strikes. But
what would have happened had the Polish army failed in stifling the strikes
or the Polish soldiers refused to follow their orders? It is difficult not
to assume that the command would have been handed over to the Soviet,
Czechoslovakian and German divisions stationed in Poland and at its borders.
And then? Well, perhaps a massacre on the scale that happened in Hungry in
1956, in which over 20,000 people were killed?
As it turned out, Poland managed to avoid a similar gruesome finale, partly
because of Cardinal Wyszynski's address to the nation. "I had to control my
emotions," explained Kuklinski. "It was because the information about the
martial law did not reach a wide public that Poland has managed to avoid the
Talking to the colonel and seeing his tranquil eyes, slight smile and calm
behavior, I felt an overwhelming sincerity in what he was saying. His words
bore no pretense and his body did not try to assume a pose of someone
exceptional. It was almost hard to believe I was talking to a hero. But that
made me realize even more what a modest and amiable person he was.
Colonel Kuklinski also gave me details on why President Reagan had not
spread the news of the pending martial law, even though he had been well
informed of it. As it became evident later, Reagan chose a solution far more
becoming than just a "warning" to the Solidarity leaders.
Reagan understood that Poland had become the weakest link of the communist
chain and that the rest of the communist leaders were running out of ideas
on how to fight Polish opposition. Having been introduced to the Soviets'
most secret plans - due to Colonel Kuklinski's work -- he decided he would
use this knowledge to keep his enemy in the check position. When he met
Gorbachev in Reykjavik in 1985, he told him the U.S. was well aware of the
Soviet military plans, including their scheme to start nuclear war, but also
that Moscow did not have much chance to gain economically on the U.S. in
terms of "Star Wars" technology. He also warned the Soviets of so called
"horizontal confrontation." Nobody knew exactly what that meant, but that,
of course, was one of the biggest reasons why Reagan's game proved to be so
successful in the long run.
The question one can't keep from asking is: Did the disclosure of the
Soviets' plans to the U.S. by Colonel Kuklinski stopped nuclear war from
happening? Many political specialists and historians have already said yes.
More answers are likely to come from a soon-to-be-published book by an
American publicist Benjamin Weizer. According to Kuklinski, who worked with
Mr. Weizer on the book, the accounts presented there are fully trustworthy
and should cast light on many events surrounding the Cold War era. Judging
from our interview, Kuklinski is also hopeful that the book would put an end
to many unjust judgments about his work and life.
No one has done more damage to communism than this Pole...
In 1984, the Polish Military Court deranked Kuklinski, confiscated all his
property and issued him an absentee death sentence. The trial did not happen
earlier because there were plans to capture the Kuklinski and make the trial
truly spectacular. Because the kidnapping attempts failed, the trial itself
was made into a secret affair with no information released to the media or
the general public. Kuklinski's major charge was that he had broken his
soldier's oath. One ponders, however - has he really? He would have, if both
Poland and the Polish Army were independent beings free of outer influences.
But of course they were not. They were Soviet subsidiaries headed by a
government that allowed Moscow such privileges as picking candidates for the
positions of the Polish Prime Minister, The Minister of Defense and the
PZPR's First Secretary. It is wrong then to try to make an equation between
what was patriotic and what was simply servile. If Kuklinski did ever
betray, he betrayed the servile PZPR that participated in the Soviet plans
to conquer the West. He never betrayed the ideal of Poland's independence.
Jozef Szaniawski, author of the book "Colonel Kuklinski - in Interviews,
Opinions and Documents" wrote: "The sentence imposed on Kuklinski was one of
the most shameful in the history of Polish judiciary.
The Polish government punished a Pole for disclosing not Polish but Soviet
secrets, for working against an emporium hostile to Poland. Disputed
documents were even written in Russian, yet in spite of all that, the judges
who wore Polish Army uniforms sentenced Ryszard Kuklinski to death."
Documents proving Kuklinski's innocence are still being kept secret, even
though he has said many times he had nothing to be afraid of, and he would
like the truth to be revealed.
In his letter to President Ronald Reagan, the director of the CIA, William
Casey wrote: "In the last forty years, no one has done more damage to
communism than that Pole."
Casey even awarded Kuklinski with a special medal. There were only eight
such medals given out during the agency's nearly century long history, and
Kuklinski was the first foreign recipient of such honor. The CIA said of
Kuklinski: "For nine years, in the face of greatest personal danger, Colonel
Kuklinski has continued to pass on documentation of extraordinary importance
regarding Soviet military forces and plans, as well as the plans made by the
rest of the Warsaw Pact. In doing that, he has greatly contributed to the
upholding of the world's peace, especially when crisis struck."
He has done so much for Poland
After coming to the U.S., a new era began in Kuklinski's life. He was
nominated as a defense analyst and a professor teaching seminars to
high-ranking NATO officers. For security reasons, his family had their names
changed, received a classified telephone number and a house in an unrevealed
location. But governmental protection did not mean they were out of danger.
Kuklinski knew that Moscow would never forgive him for his actions. So over
the years his family has continued changing addresses and only a small group
of close friends know the name they use.
For the first five years he had to live with a "no-countrymen" status. Then
his family re-ceived American passports. Kuklinski said that the day he
received that passport was a day of relief, but also bitterness. His work
has been recognized and rewarded, but to get to that point he had to lose
his native country. Back then there were no signs present to give him hope
he would ever be able to return to Poland or regain his lost Polish
citizenship. He valued being an American citizen, but in his heart he would
always remain a Pole.
American soil did not spare him tragedy. In 1994, his younger son Bogdan
became lost on the Florida coast during a diving trip. Kuklinski suspected
that his son had been captured by the Cubans and that they would like him in
return for his son. Bogdan's body was never recovered, the tragedy has
remained unexplained. Just half a year after Bogdan's disappearance,
Kuklinski's other son, Waldemar, was hit by a car. The driver fled the
scene, leaving no fingerprints inside the vehicle.
When will the archives open?
During my conversation with Colonel Kuklinski, I also spoke of the necessity
to give competent researchers on the Cold War access to various archives.
Since Poland is now a NATO member state, it shouldn't have any more secrets
about the Warsaw Pact era. Moreover, it is this precise "secrecy" that makes
the average Pole still misinformed about Ryszard Kuklinski and his
contribution to Europe's and the world's peace, much as it makes a
considerable part of the Polish society still exhibit a communist mentality.
One must not rule out that those archives may contain documents damaging to
General Jaruzelski and his circle. Jaruzelski had always seemed too loyal to
Moscow, his servility at its best when he agreed to completely subordinate
the Polish Army to the Soviet. As a leader, Jaruzelski should have realized
that in case of WW III Poland would be the first to take blows from
retaliating NATO forces. He should have, but instead he blindly followed
Moscow's orders, ready to sacrifice even his own nation.
There surely is a peculiar paradox in the discussion about Colonel
Kuklinski's work that is now going on in Poland. Ex-communists and all who
do not know enough facts call, the man who tried to prevent World War III, a
traitor. On the other hand, conformists and real traitors who have caused
Poland numerous misfortunes get on with their lives, enjoying freedom and
relatively good names. It seems that the work that has to be done in order
to straighten out the facts and to present the truth as it should be is
going to be enormous. But it will be worth every effort, for the matter
concerning Colonel Kuklinski is not just about giving him back his name, but
about restoring a system of values which is based in truth.