A Look Back … A Cold War Hero: Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski
“This passionate and courageous man helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot, providing the CIA with precious information upon which so many critical national security decisions rested. And he did so for the noblest of reason — to advance the sacred causes of liberty and peace in his homeland and throughout the world.”
February 11, 2004
Patriotism is a strong devotion to one’s country. People demonstrate their patriotism in many different ways. Some proudly fly their country’s flag outside their homes, others write a patriotic song or join the military.
Polish Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski was a patriot who showed his love for his country in a very courageous act. He risked his life and the safety of his family to protect Poland from the Soviets during the Cold War by spying for the United States. From 1972-1981, Kuklinski provided more than 40,000 pages of Polish and Warsaw Pact documents to the CIA. Some historians say that if war had broken out, the intelligence Kuklinski provided would have helped the United States win.
A True Patriot
Kuklinski was born in Warsaw, Poland, on June 13, 1930, to a working class family. After World War II, Kuklinski joined the Polish People’s Army. He had a very successful career and even helped with the preparations for the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
After the massacre of Polish workers in Gdańsk by Polish security forces in December 1970, Kuklinski began to question the legitimacy of communist rule and the USSR’s control over Poland. Kuklinski also began to fear for the future of his country when he realized the Warsaw Pact’s plans for warfare in Europe would lead to the use of nuclear weapons in Poland.
In August 1972, Kuklinski decided to take action to help his country. He wrote a letter to the United States Embassy in Bonn, Germany, offering to provide information about Soviet strategic plans. The letter eventually made its way to a CIA officer, who sent a cable to CIA headquarters recommending that the Agency try to make contact with Kuklinski. And so began Kuklinski’s double life as a spy.
GULL Produces Vital Information
Over the course of nine years, Kuklinski passed vital information regarding Soviet plans, Polish military plans, and Communist party plans, as well as Warsaw Pact intelligence, to the CIA through many covert drops. Kuklinski was given the codename GULL for his love of the sea. The CIA provided Kuklinski with materials for secret messages and a special camera to photograph documents.
Some of the more important information Kuklinski passed to the CIA included:
- Soviet plans to attack NATO
- Exact locations of command-and-control bunkers
- Techniques employed to foil spy satellite detection
- Plans for the imposition of martial law on Poland
Escape to America
During Kuklinski’s many years of spying, he lived in constant fear of being discovered and the consequences that might await him. In 1981, Kuklinski came close to being exposed as a spy for the United States. Kuklinski was summoned into a meeting with his superiors who revealed that there was a mole among them who had been leaking information to the Americans. Kuklinski managed to remain calm and joined in with his colleagues denouncing the treasonous act.
Soon after, Kuklinski contacted the CIA and asked them to extract him and his family from Poland. They were safely relocated to the United States in December 1981, shortly before martial law was imposed on Poland.
The Agency was grateful for what Kuklinski had accomplished. They viewed him as one of the most successful spies in the fight to end communism. In 1982, then Director of Central Intelligence William Casey wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan mentioning Kuklinski:
“In the last forty years, no one has done more damage to communism than that Pole.”
Casey even awarded Kuklinski with the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, which honors outstanding services, the results of which constitute a major contribution to the Agency’s mission. Kuklinski was the first foreign recipient of the medal.
At first Poland did not celebrate Kuklinski’s contributions toward fighting communism. In May 1984, Kuklinski was sentenced to death in absentia by a military court in Poland. After the fall of communism in 1989, the sentence was changed to 25 years. In 1995, the court dismissed Kuklinski’s sentence completely, declaring that he was acting under special circumstances and the higher need of his country. Kuklinski finally returned to Poland for a visit in the spring of 1998.
Kuklinski died from a stroke at the age of 73 in February 2004, in Tampa, Fla. He was buried in June 2004 in the honor row of the Powazki military cemetery in Warsaw, Poland. Kuklinski was given honorary citizenship of many Polish cities, including Kraków and Gdańsk. He was posthumously awarded the rank of general.
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