Atomic spy – how a Pole helped the US defeat the Soviet Union
In 1964, not long after the Cuban Crisis, Ryszard Kukliński, a lieutenant colonel of the People’s Army of Poland, began his service in the General Staff. He established contacts with officers of the Northern Army Group of the Red Army, Western military districts of the USSR and the National People’s Army of the GDR. They concerned operational plans for the war against NATO. These were Soviet plans as well as tasks assigned by the Soviet General Staff for the army of the People’s Republic of Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. This is how Kuklinski recalled his first tasks within the framework of cooperation in the Warsaw Pact: “As part of the “Winter 1964” exercise, the Soviet minister Andrei Greczko wanted to show Polish generals the weapons and the supply of nuclear missiles to our army. We were to prepare the organization of such exercises and operational facilities, while their execution was to be the sole task of the Soviet troops. It was, after all, shortly after the Cuban Crisis, when the world stopped breathing because we found ourselves on the brink of nuclear war. And now I was to plan something similar on Polish soil.”
It was the year of 1964 that was the beginning of Kuklinski’s actions that inspired him to start a mission with the Americans. Due to the “high intellectual capacity” of Kuklinski, he was delegated to develop exercise plans that were to be the starting point for the Warsaw Pact offensive and a possible NATO counteroffensive, which would turn out to be tragic for Poland.
“Knowing what was going to happen when the war started was terrifying and was a problem for those who had it. After all, for years I had stuck symbols of the mushroom cloud on large staff maps. It was my unique assignment. I couldn’t help but think what those mushrooms meant. I still had to draw long braids on these maps, which marked the zones of radioactive contamination, which were to block the Soviet Army’s path to the heart of Europe.”
Meanwhile, the new Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, was consolidating the Warsaw Pact and strengthening his forces in Europe. The disproportion and superiority of the Eastern bloc’s army over the North Atlantic Alliance grew. The Prague Spring turned out to be a surprising accident at work. The aggression of the Warsaw Pact army, including units of the Polish People’s Republic, to suppress the freedom aspirations of the Czechs and Slovaks, was the second motive in Kuklinski’s further activities.
“In 1968, shortly after returning from Vietnam, I was sent to the headquarters of Marshal Jakubowski in Legnica to prepare exercises for Polish troops as part of joint exercises of the Warsaw Pact forces. I went there knowing it was not about exercise, but about the invasion of Czechoslovakia. On staff maps, units of the Czechoslovak army were marked in blue, traditionally intended for the enemy. (…) I was hoping that I would be able to deliver a warning from Warsaw. But I found no possibility there either. A system of certain communication with the West needs to be developed in the event of the Soviet “pre-strike” scenario materializing.”
In the summer of 1972, Kuklinski decides to act. He organizes a cruise on a spy yacht Legia from Gdynia to Ostend. Officially, a group of officers on board was to obtain information supplementing the Warsaw Pact attack on Western countries. In fact, Kuklinski secretly entered into cooperation with the CIA on August 18. His mission lasted 9 years! At that time, he handed over about 40 thousand pages of Soviet documents.
The CIA, after the initial verification and analysis of the materials received from the Pole, was absolutely aware of the historical importance of what had happened. The operation of collaborating with him was codenamed “Gull” (“The Seagull”). Kuklinski himself received the significant operating pseudonym – Jack Strong. Only those who were on the so-called the “Bigot” list could receive information from him. These were successive CIA directors, as well as US presidents, vice presidents, Pentagon heads, security advisers to the president, and secretaries of the Department of State. Only they and subsequent US ambassadors in Warsaw knew who the agent with the pseudonym Jack Strong really is.
Among the super-secret materials, Kuklinski gave:
- details of the T-72 tank
- five-year strategic plans for the Warsaw Pact from 1971 to 1986, including detailed tasks and orders;
- electronic warfare manual
- data on Soviet units stationed in the Polish People’s Republic, East Germany and Czechoslovakia;
- variants of tactical nuclear strikes
- locations of the most important command points of the Soviet Army
- information about what the USSR is not planning, thanks to which the USA avoided various provocations
- variants of plans for an attack by the Soviet Army and UW troops on NATO countries
- detailed operational maps
After many years, this is what he said after about the materials:
“I cannot say that I handed over to the Americans the complete Soviet war plans, but I certainly did hand over a serious part of them. I provided the Americans with technical information about modern Soviet weapons. There is a misunderstanding here: you can easily say that it was impossible, because the plans for the modern T-72 tank are a documentation with a size of a wagon. Of course, the Americans did not get such documentation from me. But I knew about the plans to arm all the armies of the Warsaw Pact, I knew the entire arms race program seven years earlier. Thanks to my information, the West knew what tank was in production.”
In the face of exposure and threats from the KGB and Polish military counterintelligence, the Americans made a dramatic decision. On the night of November 7-8, they conducted a daring action in Warsaw. Even before the evacuation, Kuklinski managed to “visit” the Soviet embassy in Al. Ujazdowskie during the banquet on the anniversary of the October Revolution.
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev’s summit was held in Reykjavik on October 11 and 12, 1986. Among the topics, there was a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads and their carriers. ” I’ve seen maps, with your SS-20 missiles reaching maybe not the UK, but France, West Germany and Central Europe. And they are on mobile launchers.” – the 40th president of the USA said to the Russian. These were maps of the aggression of the Warsaw Pact with the use of the Polish People’s Army to the West, which were handed over to the CIA by Ryszard Kuklinski. Reagan forced the Russians to change their negotiating position and make concessions in the Cold War, and ultimately to collapse the Evil Empire. However, most importantly for Poland, the American president directly used the information from Ryszard Kuklinski to win the negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev. General Ryszard Kuklinski contributed to increasing world security. Ultimately, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In a report to Reagan, CIA director William Casey wrote: “Nobody in the world has harmed communism like this Pole.” In recognition of his merits, the Pole received a personal medal from the CIA.
The maps that President Reagan spoke about, and the CIA medal can be seen at the Cold War Museum in Warsaw.
Director of the General Kuklinski Cold War Museum