Books Monographs

US Intelligence and the Polish Crisis, 1980-1981

By Douglas J. MacEachin (2001)


In mid-November 1981, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig sent President Reagan a memorandum outlining the implications of what he described as a “peaceful revolution” underway in Poland under the leadership of Solidarity, the national trade union. The Secretary said that if what was taking place in Poland could be “consolidated,” it would be an historic event that would “confound” Moscow’s power over Eastern Europe and provide a boost for “Western values.” Barely a month later, on the evening of 12 December, this peaceful revolution came to a screeching halt when the Polish regime deployed its military and internal security forces to suppress Solidarity and impose martial law throughout the country.

Caught Off Guard

The US administration let it be known that it had been surprised and unprepared for this move. Probably the mildest public statement to this effect by a US official came from Secretary Haig himself. He noted that although the US government had received what he considered “a fair, acceptable level of intelligence” on what the Polish regime “might” do, Washington had been surprised by the Polish army’s willingness to carry it out. Most public accounts by other officials were harsher, stating that the US government had been caught off guard because of a lack of intelligence. One Defense Department official described the episode to the press as a “collective failure in intelligence gathering and assessment.”

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