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 global scale.

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 targets.

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 on Hiroshima.

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 Soviet attack.

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 re-garded 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 involved.

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 Solidarity.

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.

Martial law

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 worst."

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 judgements 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.



more info