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Who Was Kuklinski?

 

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, a quiet, unassuming officer in the Polish Army was quickly rising in the ranks. Russia succeeded in beating back the Nazis during World War II, declaring victory in Poland and Eastern Europe. The Polish people, relieved to be rid of Hitler’s monstrous machine, tried to adjust to life under Communism. Yet the Polish people never really relinquished their freedom. Ryszard Kuklinski mirrored the Polish heart. Three things meant everything to him and all Poles, above anything else in life – a deep, unwavering devotion to family, the Church and Poland.

Small in stature, with sandy colored, wavy hair and gentle blue eyes, his laid back, easy going manner and boyish humor hid a sharp intelligence with a keen eye for meticulous detail, as well as a tough constitution and tireless work ethic. These skills did not go unnoticed among the Soviets. However, he learned hard lessons quickly. For example, making an off color joke about communism among the wrong crowd immediately drew suspicion about his loyalty and he was stripped of his high rank. He had to be re-indoctrinated and start over, and it took years to regain his former rank. Another lesson was found in Vietnam, where he was part of an “observation team”. Kuklinski heard about the Americans – nothing good. Yet he saw something different – respect. He noticed the devotion between officer, all military personnel and leader, that none of the fallen, alive or dead, would ever be left behind. They risked all for each other. Love and kindness combined with strength, even during war – he never forgot.

Kuklinski found himself privy to extremely high level information that he was constantly asked to review, rewrite and direct. He commanded troops, composed war games, was trusted to help create the new war machine – the one that he soon realized would decimate his beloved Poland.

Kuklinski realized that the Soviet Union had big plans, and Poland was a mere pawn on their global chessboard. He discovered concrete evidence that the Russians were planning a massive invasion of Western Europe, except for one thing, a wrench in the plans…. there were the Americans. The Russians knew the United States could go nuclear if need be, to stop them, and to the Soviets, ground zero was Poland. They would fight it out there, using Polish military and all its country’s resources, then move on to Germany, Holland, Belgium and France.

It was then that Kuklinski decided to contact what he thought was American military personnel. He knew the United States was Poland’s only hope of survival. In fact, who he really contacted, was the CIA.

Thus began his clandestine journey for 10 long, terrifying years. His wife and family never suspected a thing. They supported his long work hours, his “new” photography hobby – late hours in his dark room with the music cranked, days and weeks away, constant tension, and fatigue. His wife was his rock. How do you adjust to life looking over your shoulder for years, fearing for your family, your life? For Kuklinski, there was no alternative and he persevered. Once, so engrossed in thought, he walked out of his office with a briefcase full of classified documents and film and ran into a concrete pillar, knocking himself out for a minute. When he came to, he was surrounded by passersby, trying to help him up and holding his briefcase! Although bloody and dizzy, he waived off help and grabbed back his briefcase, barely conscious, stumbling home.

Another time, extremely weak and barely able to function, from weeks of a severe bout of the flu, he continued gathering and photographing key documents, despite his family and colleagues suggestions to rest. Their devotion to each other as a family never wavered. They never questioned his behavior. Kuklinski also never asked for compensation for his perilous efforts. He made it clear; he had no desire to ever leave his beloved Poland, only as a last resort to save his family.

From 1971 to the eve of martial law in Poland in 1981, Kuklinski supplied every detail, thousands of documents and other material to the United States, of the plan to use Polish territory with three million Soviet soldiers, a million tanks and 3,200 military trains transporting weapons and explosives, for the invasion of Western Europe.

Ex-filtration plans had been set up from the beginning. He developed a few deep, personal relationships with several agents involved in the mission, and when the time came where the invasion plans were beginning to be put into play and martial law was declared, he came clean with his family and they made a decision, leaving family, who had no knowledge of the events unfolding, friends, property, their dog. Within 48 hours of his confession, in a long, harrowing, perilous journey, they made it out of Poland to the United States. The United States, using diplomatic means, but prepared for the worst, confronted the Soviets and succeeded in stopping their plans.

Kuklinski and his family were given new identities and living accommodations, and he continued to advise the highest levels of our government. His desire to return to Poland, if only for a visit, came decades later. He was considered an outlaw, a traitor. He also suffered tremendous back to back tragedy. His eldest son went missing off the coast of Florida some years later, and his body was never found. He thought Cuba and the Soviets were involved. Then only six months later, his younger son was killed in a hit and run “accident”. When they found the car, there were no fingerprints inside the vehicle.

Ryszard Kuklinski received the highest award offered by the CIA. He did regain his family honor, and returned to Poland for a visit, and was stunned by the tremendous outpouring of love and honor from the Polish people. The charges of treason were dropped. Some say he stopped the beginning of World War III. As a Polish American, I never knew until recently about the communist invasion plans of the 1980’s or of this amazingly, brave, selfless soul. I was forever changed and humbled reading his story called, A Secret Life by Benjamin Weiser, and never prouder to be Polish.

I also doubt that this is the end of this story, the end of the fight for freedom and liberty. Poland held onto the belief freedom would someday return, and they have never taken it for granted, a powerful lesson in today’s uncertain world. Please watch this moving tribute to Col. Kuklinski: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGKFM0Q_8f8

There are 26 comments.

  1. Member

    Thank you FS Cat.

    What a great story. What a great Pol. What a great American. I say American because I think Mr. Kuklinski captures the American spirit.

    • #1
    • September 13, 2017 at 6:58 pm
    • 5 likes
  2. Coolidge

    That is an amazing (and very scary) story. I remember when I was in college the Soviets massing on the Polish border. Tensions were very high. That was 1980. Some friends and I were in my room when someone rushed in very upset saying “You’ll never guess what happened”. We all said in unison: Russia invaded Poland. And she said, “No, John Lennon was shot”.

    • #2
    • September 13, 2017 at 7:01 pm
    • 9 likes
  3. Reagan

    Front Seat Cat: I also doubt that this is the end of this story, the end of the fight for freedom and liberty

    Thank you for sharing this, FSC. I’m always amazed and then humbled by accounts of this kind of courage borne of the determination to fight evil.

    • #3
    • September 13, 2017 at 7:07 pm
    • 6 likes
  4. Member

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    That is an amazing (and very scary) story. I remember when I was in college the Soviets massing on the Polish border. Tensions were very high. That was 1980. Some friends and I were in my room when someone rushed in very upset saying “You’ll never guess what happened”. We all said in unison: Russia invaded Poland. And she said, “No, John Lennon was shot”.

    That’s funny.

    • #4
    • September 13, 2017 at 7:13 pm
    • 2 likes
  5. Member

    Great post, thank you. I’ll look for the book A Secret Life. During the time period between 1971 and 1981 in a conversation between my dad and I he indicated that there was some real concern that the Russians were going to move against Western Europe. He said the time had passed, and the danger was over. He mentioned a specific year, that I can’t remember, and the time of year that the attack would have occurred. I really cannot say much more than that, other than he was a former Naval Intelligence Officer, and there were some things he was privy to as a civilian with high level security clearances. He has since passed away and there were probably many things he was aware of that he never talked about.

    • #5
    • September 13, 2017 at 8:21 pm
    • 7 likes
  6. Member

    An inspiring story. God bless him and his family.

    • #6
    • September 13, 2017 at 8:22 pm
    • 2 likes
  7. Member

    I added it to my kindle collection. Thanks.

    • #7
    • September 13, 2017 at 8:25 pm
    • 1 like
  8. Member

    This is inspirational. Thank you.

    • #8
    • September 13, 2017 at 8:42 pm
    • 2 likes
  9. Member

    Fantastic story. Thanks for posting.

    • #9
    • September 14, 2017 at 6:21 am
    • 2 likes
  10. Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    Great post, thank you. I’ll look for the book A Secret Life. During the time period between 1971 and 1981 in a conversation between my dad and I he indicated that there was some real concern that the Russians were going to move against Western Europe. He said the time had passed, and the danger was over. He mentioned a specific year, that I can’t remember, and the time of year that the attack would have occurred. I really cannot say much more than that, other than he was a former Naval Intelligence Officer, and there were some things he was privy to as a civilian with high level security clearances. He has since passed away and there were probably many things he was aware of that he never talked about.

    It’s hard to believe isn’t it? I was also surprised to read that, in an almost Providence way, President Carter chose hawkish Zbigniew Brzezinski as his national security advisor and was a key player in this story. He demanded all charges dropped against Kuklinki in Poland. His personal diary is quoted in the book. Thank you for sharing that story about your dad – you must have been shocked.

    • #10
    • September 14, 2017 at 7:01 am
    • 7 likes
  11. Contributor

    Thanks, FSC. I love reading hero stories; they are so inspirational, as well as humbling. We need more men of courage just like him.

    • #11
    • September 14, 2017 at 7:45 am
    • 3 likes
  12. Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Thanks, FSC. I love reading hero stories; they are so inspirational, as well as humbling. We need more men of courage just like him.

    Agree. Another heart-thumping part of the story was when they made the decision to leave, they could tell no one – family, friends – his wife had to leave her elderly mother – their dog, property, all of it left behind, going to a strange land – how many could do that? I wonder and think about even today, those working behind the scenes for freedom that no one hears about, they are willing to give everything to keep us free and safe.

    • #12
    • September 14, 2017 at 8:17 am
    • 4 likes
  13. Member

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    Great post, thank you. I’ll look for the book A Secret Life. During the time period between 1971 and 1981 in a conversation between my dad and I he indicated that there was some real concern that the Russians were going to move against Western Europe. He said the time had passed, and the danger was over. He mentioned a specific year, that I can’t remember, and the time of year that the attack would have occurred. I really cannot say much more than that, other than he was a former Naval Intelligence Officer, and there were some things he was privy to as a civilian with high level security clearances. He has since passed away and there were probably many things he was aware of that he never talked about.

    It’s hard to believe isn’t it? I was also surprised to read that, in an almost Providence way, President Carter chose hawkish Zbigniew Brzezinski as his national security advisor and was a key player in this story. He demanded all charges dropped against Kuklinki in Poland. His personal diary is quoted in the book. Thank you for sharing that story about your dad – you must have been shocked.

    By the way I posted a brief obituary for Zbigniew Brezezinski on Ricochet. Click on the link if you wish to read it.

    • #13
    • September 14, 2017 at 8:33 am
    • 1 like
  14. Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    Thank you @dougwatt – for the link above – here’s today’s news ironically:

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-zapad-2017-military-exercise-belarus-nato-europe-crimea-ukraine-putin/

    • #14
    • September 14, 2017 at 9:44 am
    • 2 likes
  15. Inactive

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post, and for the opportunity to rectify the fact that I was completely unaware of this man’s actions. On a side note: why are real moral heroes like Kuklinski and Vasili Arkhipov largely unknown, when fake “superheroes” dominate popular culture?

    • #15
    • September 14, 2017 at 2:02 pm
    • 7 likes
  16. Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post, and for the opportunity to rectify the fact that I was completely unaware of this man’s actions. On a side note: why are real moral heroes like Kuklinski and Vasili Arkhipov largely unknown, when fake “superheroes” dominate popular culture?

    Very good question – I never heard of him either, and don’t recall the threat from the Russians during that period being that extensive – of course I was young and oblivious – I guess it was handled behind the scenes, but this book illustrates how fast things can change, and how much one person can do. You are right – today’s heroes are fictitious – I guess they aren’t in the celebrity spotlight – just quietly doing their jobs – like the Cajun Navy during Irma.

    • #16
    • September 14, 2017 at 2:10 pm
    • 2 likes
  17. Member

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    Great post, thank you. I’ll look for the book A Secret Life. During the time period between 1971 and 1981 in a conversation between my dad and I he indicated that there was some real concern that the Russians were going to move against Western Europe. He said the time had passed, and the danger was over. He mentioned a specific year, that I can’t remember, and the time of year that the attack would have occurred. I really cannot say much more than that, other than he was a former Naval Intelligence Officer, and there were some things he was privy to as a civilian with high level security clearances. He has since passed away and there were probably many things he was aware of that he never talked about.

    It was a very interesting and gripping read. I couldn’t recall the title when there was a post a week or so about Poland and wanted to recommend it then. It’s a very good spy story. It could easily pass for a novel. His ex-filtration from Poland was riveting.

    • #17
    • September 14, 2017 at 2:46 pm
    • 1 like
  18. Inactive

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Very good question – I never heard of him either, and don’t recall the threat from the Russians during that period being that extensive – of course I was young and oblivious – I guess it was handled behind the scenes, but this book illustrates how fast things can change, and how much one person can do. You are right – today’s heroes are fictitious – I guess they aren’t in the celebrity spotlight – just quietly doing their jobs – like the Cajun Navy during Irma.

    My principal memory of that period, apart from the Falkands (I’m English) was the threat of nuclear war, which has so quickly been forgotten. I had, at that age, a pretty vivid imagination, and I was quite well informed about the consequences of a strategic nuclear attack (there were books about it written for children), which has had a lasting effect on me, and which informs my thoughts and actions today — like on Iran, or unilateral disarmament (bad!). And the more I learn about Cold War history the more I realise that it was closer than I had realised… though as I say, my imagination was vivid. So it’s important to recognise these guys from behind the Iron Curtain who prevented catastrophe, like the not-to-be-found 10 honest men in Sodom and Gomorrah. (Is there an emoji for a salute? Anyway, I salute them.)

    • #18
    • September 14, 2017 at 2:50 pm
    • 6 likes
  19. Thatcher

    Great post!

    • #19
    • September 14, 2017 at 3:32 pm
    • 6 likes
  20. Member

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post, and for the opportunity to rectify the fact that I was completely unaware of this man’s actions. On a side note: why are real moral heroes like Kuklinski and Vasili Arkhipov largely unknown, when fake “superheroes” dominate popular culture?

    Because people, including conservatives, watch television.

    • #20
    • September 14, 2017 at 6:32 pm
    • 2 likes
  21. Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    This is a more detailed story and worth watching if time permits, but the book is the best way to gain a sense of the magnitude of this amazing person and the events surrounding him. Once you get past the Get Smart style intro, it’s very interesting:

    • #21
    • September 15, 2017 at 7:23 am
    • 1 like
  22. Member

    Thank you, @Front Seat Cat, for the excellent post.

    The 2014 film Jack Strong also tells the story very well.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2785288/

    • #22
    • October 9, 2017 at 12:18 pm
    • 3 likes
  23. Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    jzdro (View Comment):
    Thank you, @Front Seat Cat, for the excellent post.

    The 2014 film Jack Strong also tells the story very well.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2785288/

    Thank you – I will check out this movie. I am so amazed by his courage!

    • #23
    • October 9, 2017 at 6:13 pm
    • 1 like
  24. Inactive

    Having now read the book (thanks for the recommendation, @frontseatcat) and also having seen the film, I can say that whilst the film is quite good fun, it really only tells a very superficial and partly fictionalized version of the story. A lot of important stuff is left out, people and events are moved around or altered, and in short it has all the problems of film adaptations that try to tell a complex story in a couple of hours or so.

    It would be a lot better even if it could have been stretched out to a six hour miniseries — a treatment the story thoroughly deserves. I’m minded of the massive difference in quality and faithfulness to the story between the original 1979 seven-part, six-hour BBC mini-series of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the recent (and extremely silly) two hour film version. Fortunately, however, there are no explosions in Jack Strong.

    • #24
    • October 9, 2017 at 10:14 pm
    • 1 like
  25. Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    Having now read the book (thanks for the recommendation, @frontseatcat) and also having seen the film, I can say that whilst the film is quite good fun, it really only tells a very superficial and partly fictionalized version of the story. A lot of important stuff is left out, people and events are moved around or altered, and in short it has all the problems of film adaptations that try to tell a complex story in a couple of hours or so.

    It would be a lot better even if it could have been stretched out to a six hour miniseries — a treatment the story thoroughly deserves. I’m minded of the massive difference in quality and faithfulness to the story between the original 1979 seven-part, six-hour BBC mini-series of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the recent (and extremely silly) two hour film version. Fortunately, however, there are no explosions in Jack Strong.

    I found the story even more compelling told by the people that were there in the on line story in my comment 21 – you put names with faces – thanks for the observation -PS – I just now watched the trailer for Jack Strong – it looks good and I would love to see it. History repeats and just observing the Soviet behavior back then while making their plans is telling – What do you think of the recent outpouring of prayers all around the Polish borders just recently for protection?

    • #25
    • October 15, 2017 at 12:36 pm
    • 3 likes
  26. Inactive

    I hadn’t heard about the Polish border prayers — extraordinary. It’s tremendously heartening, and shows how religion is so important in binding a people together. However, religion doesn’t bind Europe together anymore and they have no chance of being legally able to defend their borders whilst in the EU. They will find this out in the long term, as we did in Britain. Their only hope is to leave the EU. So in that sense I hope their prayers are answered.

    • #26
    • October 23, 2017 at 6:47 am
    • 4 likes