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Director's Tribute to Polish Cold War Hero

Remarks by Central Intelligence Agency Director
Michael Hayden at the Polish Martial Law Symposium

(as prepared for delivery)

December 11, 2008

Good 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 decisionmaking. 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.

We often 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 human intelligence.

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 documented account.

  • 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 Moscow.

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.”

As the 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 integrity.

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 ages.

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.

Historical Document
Posted: Dec 11, 2008 12:07 PM
Last Updated: Mar 11, 2009 11:26 AM