How the American Embassy in Warsaw Was Spied on by the Polish Special Services

  In Winter of 1985 Robert Maxwell sold an Israeli-doctored version of PROMIS to General Wojciech Jaruzelski the then top ruler of Communist Poland. It was supposed to be used against the Solidarity Trade Union (illegal from December 1981) and the democratic opposition in Poland. But it also might be used to trace people and money passing through the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw.

The communist regime in Poland was extremely sensitive about any links of the Polish opposition to the CIA, the Warsaw Station in particular. The successful exfiltration from Poland of Colonel Ryszard J. Kuklinski – the top CIA spy in the Polish Army General Staff (1972 – 1981) – in November 1981 – put all the Special Services on a high alert. Their hunt for virtual spies, both Polish citizens and American diplomats, lasted until the end of communism in 1989/1990. After the regime change (June, 1989), most of the officers in the SB (security police, counter-intelligence of the Ministry of Interior) and the WSW (military police, counter-intelligence) still remained in place. Some of them survived all purges and work until this day. There’s also an evidence that a Soviet-doctored version of PROMIS was offered to Poland at the end of the 1980s and that it was used to spy on the U.S. Embassy and on the Department of State at least until 1986, when the software was removed from the State’s computers.

Before PROMIS was first sold to the SB/WSW in 1985, other techniques of the invigilation were used against the American Embassy and against the CIA Warsaw Station in particular. The tapping of the telephones, listening to radio signals, bugging of the Embassy compound and of the living quarters of the diplomatic staff and of their vehicles were usual practices. All movements of the Embassy staff were observed and their cars were usually followed. In spite of these tight invigilation measures, the CIA staff successfully exchanged information with many Polish sources. Their technique was simple: chalk signals, dead drops, car exchanges, people to people exchanges, quick information gathering at official functions, coctails, parties, during visits at Polish institutions and media outlets. I can tell much more about this because I was actually doing this for years – right before the nose of the SB and the WSW, and even using some of them as my information sources. That game lasted from at least 1975 until my arrest in March 1987.

The opposition (SB, WSW) had also their “scoops”. Several members of the CIA diplomatic staff in Poland had been caught red-handed during the exchanges or personal contacts, then declared “persona non grata” and expulsed. I am quite sure that the application of PROMIS after 1985 helped them to trace contacts and to penetrate the Embassy, as well as to control a part of the Embassy’s exchange with the State Department.

But this was possible only from 1985 onto (more or less) 1996.

I will ignore the period before 1980, as it had nothing to do with PROMIS. But the first half of the 1980s was important, because some people from the U.S. diplomatic staff posted in Poland came back to serve their second term here after 1985, or they might be traced by PROMIS in their State’s offices or at other overseas assignements.

I recall several incidents that gave me some proof that the communist special services were quite well informed about the U.S. Embassy staff’s activities and contacts. Looking into my notes, I find that one of them could be the Ambassador WILLIAM E. SHAUFELE,Jr., who served in Poland from March 1978 to the 11th of September 1980. At that time I had frequent working contacts with U.S. diplomats, such as: Counsellor (Press & Culture) JAMES E. BRADSHAW, First Secretary (Press) JOHN SCOTT WILLIAMS and other. On the 8th of September 1980 (before leaving Poland), Ambassador Schaufele passed to me by an Embassy courrier an invitation from the State Department to cover the presidential elections in November. When I began to process the execution of this 1-month reporting work in the U.S.A., the SB got mad and soon they blocked my service passport. As they had no obvious proof of my “spy” activity to arrest me, they organized a provocation against the U.S. Embassy: the then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs – Professor Marian Dobrosielski (who was also an SB collaborator) sent a diplomatic note to Ambassador Schaufele, “protesting” against the “intelligence exchange” in the Embassy done by a known journalist – Mr. Mariusz Dastych. My name was used by the SB (without my knowledge or consent) as a counter-intelligence target. But I got the news about the provocation from my CIA Station contact and I lodged a protest in the MFA and I informed the U.S. Embassy staff, who also lodged a protest in the Ministry. The SB scheme failed completely. But I was called to the Ministry of Interior to sign a document that I declared to stop all contacts with the U.S.Embassy in Warsaw. I signed the document on October 1, 1980 and… I simply continued my contacts, with certain precautions. At the same time, I wrote a sharp protest to the then Deputy Minister of Interior – General Miroslaw Milewski (a well known pro-Soviet hardliner). The protest was futile. But the SB didn’t bother to block my passport for a trip to the Soviet Union. In November, instead to the United States, I went to Moscow to meet Professor Georgi Arbattov, the top Soviet specialist on the U.S. and his staff. Then, after Ronald Reagan’s victory, I wrote a column in one of the Polish weekly magazines (“Plomienie”), reprinted in the USSR, prasing President-elect Ronald Reagan. My column was also distributed by the State Department and bounced back in Poland. I had been invited to the U.S. Embassy and introduced to new Press Attache – Mr. STEPHEN MARK DUBROW. We worked together to help the Solidarity Trade Union and to organize scholarships for Polish journalists to visit or study in the U.S.A. I also received an invitation to study at Berkeley, but I could never use it.

My visit to Moscow in November 1980 provided me with some opportunity to collect information about aggressive Soviet plans against Poland. The military exercises of the Warsaw Pact, scheduled for the 8th of December were aimed at taking over the power in Poland by the Soviet and other Warsaw Pact military forces; fortunatelly they were called off after a strong protest by President Jimmy Carter – who had been informed about the situation by the CIA.( The source of the information was “Gull”, Col. Ryszard Kuklinski).

In Spring of 1981, I used a series of articles about the CIA (“The CIA Against Poland”), distributed by the KAR news agency and published all over Poland and in other “socialist” countries, to inform the CIA about what the SB knew about my previous recruitment by the CIA in Saigon, in 1973. This was a warning to the Warsaw Station that the SB observed my activity and might organize a trap for U.S. diplomats. As I had sources in the SB, KGB, GRU and other communist intelligence services (including the STASI and the Chinese) – I could not work openly with any U.S. diplomats in Warsaw without doing a harm to them, specially after the exfiltration of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski from Poland to the U.S.A., in November of 1981 [I was interrogated about him by the SB but I had never met him and I knew nothing of his activities].

After the publication of this series of articles, an SB officer called me up and told me about the reaction in the U.S. Embassy. That was a real proof to me that the SB either had informants within the Embassy compound or had placed listening devices there. My friend in the Embassy – MR. DUBROW called me up at my newspaper office and told me [knowing that our conversation was being tapped] : “The Security Officer of the Embassy told me to break all contacts with you, and he also warned you not to visit any U.S. institution in this part of the World”. It was a very clear message to me that I couldn’t do any more information exchanges with the diplomats of the Warsaw Station or other Stations in the communist countries. I had to concentrate on other activities and find new ways of passing on information to the U.S. (I used other channels, including one through Japan).

As the situation in Poland deteriorated throughout the whole year (1981), my work focused on the Soviet threat, on the communist intelligence services penetrating Poland and on the domestic hard-liners and their contacts and plots with these communist secret services. That was a piece of fascinating work: carried out in Poland, the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

In Fall of 1981, I was already well informed of the inevitability of the martial law in Poland, and I had contacts with Polish, Soviet, East German, Hungarian, Chinese and other military officers and spies. At the end of November 1981, all that was clear to me but the DATE of the military takeover. After December 13, 1981 – the date of the coup – I had to cut off all my Western diplomatic contacts until late Spring of 1982. To my surprise, the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw quietly resumed the contacts with me in April of 1982, and I have been introduced to a new Press Attaché: Mr. PAUL R. SMITH, with whom I worked until my arrest in March 1987. At that time, from October 1980 to February 1983, the U.S. Ambassador to Poland was a career diplomat: Mr. FRANCIS J. MEEHAN.

In the period from Spring 1982 to Spring 1987, I worked on journalist posts in Poland, the USSR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and all my efforts to use official or private invitations to the countries outside the Soviet Block were turned down by the SB. But new operation schemes worked well: I had a good job in the Polish media, another one in the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) and one more as a national secretary of the Journalist Foreign Affairs Club. I had a permanent access to the Government Information Center and to the press conferences of the then Spokesman of the Government – M., Jerzy Urban. That gave me lots of diplomatic and political contacts. During that period of work, I was also able to warn the U.S. Embassy about communist provocations and communist informers. But I had no idea about any new invigilation techniques (like the PROMIS software), used by the Polish civilian (SB) and military (WSW) counter-intelligence against the U.S. and other diplomatic missions of the West.

In the first half of the 1980s, the communist counter-intelligence didn’t target me directly as they had plenty of work following the illegals of the Solidarity. But after 1985, when I had worked out an access to the top Polish and foreign politicians (including some close aides of General Jaruzelski, Janos Kadar and Mikhail Gorbachev) as well as to many Western politicians visiting Poland, the situation changed and I was put under intensive observation and invigilation. Two aborted attempts to kill me were also organized, in Poland and in Hungary.

Was PROMIS used also to catch me?

Now, knowing about the application of at least two doctored versions of PROMIS by Polish secret services to their counter-intelligence and intelligence operations in the 1980s and 1990s, I can corroborate that this software could also be used to trace my contacts with foreign diplomats and foreign intelligence people. I recall some examples of the invigilation in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia – after 1984. Each time I went out of Poland, Polish special services were also following me, using the local services of the countries hosting me. As I used to visit U.S. Embasies and other diplomatic posts while abroad, PROMIS could facilitate to them the tracing of my contacts in the particular communist countries.

But what I really could learn about the results of these invigilation efforts, was after my arrest (in March, 1987) and during the 8 months of the intensive interrogation, carried out at the Rakowiecka Prison by a group of the SB officers. During the interrogation, I became sure that they (the SB) had some access to the foreign missions of the United States and Japan in Poland and in other communist countries. While they never proved to me any direct intelligence activity, they had collected “operational” material which was sufficient to put me to jail for 11 years, charged with the “spying for the CIA and the Japanese intelligence” and with the “acting against the alliances of Communist Poland” [against the Warsaw Pact states, the USSR in particular]. In the 1950s or 1960s I could have been simply executed for all that. But at the end of the 1980s, the communist services tried to eliminate me from the active life by more subtle methods: with the help of the country’s Penal Code.

The secret evidence material, gathered against me in the late 1980s, must still hold water and its sources must be protected, because all my attempts to review the case after 1990 and to bring it back to the court for cassasion, or to re-open the inquiry into my “spy” case have been rejected by the Polish Supreme Military Court and by the Chief Millitary Prosecutor’s Office. In spite of the almost 15 years passing since the regime change in 1989, my case and many other communist “spy cases” are still considered unaccessible and “top secret”.

I wonder: how many people had been caught and convicted after 1985 in Poland, due to the application of PROMIS by the secret services, both these communist and these post-communist? What other damage had been done by their use of the PROMIS to the security of our allies and to NATO?

If we could discover even a tiny part of the truth, we could do a good service to Poland, to democracy and to the international security.

April , 2004

David Dastych

see also: