He was intelligent, observant and incredibly hard-working. Despite the fact he was part of the underground resistance organisation “Sword and Plough” during the German occupation, which the communist military internal services knew about, he quickly advanced in the structures of the Polish People’s Army.
One of the most skilled, according to the Soviets
Kukliński ended up at the General Command of the Polish Army, became the liaison officer between the Polish command and the Soviet army, and got the recognition of the Soviet commanders. He was the most skilled Polish staff officer in their eyes.
The entirety of the NATO nuclear operation was to focus on the territory of the Polish People’s Republic, between the Oder and Vistula rivers.
In 1973, during military exercises of the Warsaw Pact in East Germany, Kukliński gained the trust of the USSR’s minister of defence, Denis Ustinov. He did so by doing well in the drills preparing for a nuclear attack of the Warsaw Pact countries on NATO member states. During that time, Kukliński had already been providing the Americans the most valuable, top secret military files.
Why did an intelligent man, an officer of the Polish People’s Army, praised by Soviet generals, wage a one-man war against the system which was at the height of its power during the rules of Brezhnev?
A difficult choice?
Colonel Kukliński knew and understood the “war doctrine of the Warsaw Pact” (a document known to a very small group of people). Operational tasks of the Polish People’s Army, under the Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact, assumed the use of Polish troops in the first line in an event of an armed conflict. NATO, knowing the Soviet Army’s potential, understood that after repelling the first echelon of Warsaw Pact troops, the second, Soviet advance would be impossible to defend against. In such a case, the West would respond with a nuclear strike, which would cause the divisions of the first echelon to suffer the loss of up to 50% of its personnel. The entirety of the NATO nuclear operation was to focus on the territory of the Polish People’s Republic, between the Oder and Vistula rivers.
What was then the choice facing the Polish officer, raised in a spirit of independence, who learned and understood the consequences of the planned events? Would the Soviet generals, also the ones in Polish uniforms, be capable of protecting the Polish nation from the impending doom, desired by many hard-headed Moscow commanders?
Many aspects of Jack Strong’s story are still shrouded in secrecy. This is also true regarding the evacuation of the Kukliński family from the Polish People’s Republic.
In 1986, U.S. president Ronald Reagan and secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, met in Reykjavik to try and initiate a thaw in bilateral relations. The latter, initially hesitant towards the negotiations, changed his mind when he saw the documents confirming NATO’s knowledge on the locations of the most important Soviet command shelters in case of an outbreak of the Third World War. Then, Gorbachev realised he needed to take care of his own safety and joined the talks with more openness. The documents, which forced the Soviets to begin negotiations on the eradication of nuclear arsenals, had been provided to the Americans by Jack Strong — the soldier of the Republic of Poland, Col. Ryszard Kukliński.
Martial law plans
Kukliński also provided the Americans with the communist’s plans for introducing martial law in the Polish People’s Republic, meaning the armed pacification of the political opposition. The trail found by the counterintelligence services of the Polish People’s Republic in the Vatican would inevitably lead them to Col. Kukliński. The race for his life had begun. The CIA prepared a plan for the evacuation of Kukliński, but it did not include his family. Nevertheless, Kukliński and his wife Joanna, whom he told about his double-life, decided that the Americans needed to try and get the entire family out, including their two sons: Bogdan and Waldemar.
Many aspects of Jack Strong’s story are still shrouded in secrecy. This is also true regarding the evacuation of the Kukliński family from the Polish People’s Republic. The colonel himself gave two versions of the escape. According to one of them, the family was smuggled into an American military base in West Berlin, hidden inside sealed crates with diplomatic correspondence. The second version paints the evacuation as a large operation, involving dozens of people. In a special CIA apartment in Warsaw, Kukliński was to adopt the identity of an English gentleman. Wearing make-up and a disguise, he managed to fly away to London. He reconnected with his family in West Germany, as his wife and sons were taken there with American diplomatic passports.
Ryszard Kukliński passed away on June 19, 2004. Thanks to, among others, the then president of Warsaw, Lech Kaczyński, the urn with Kukliński’s ashes was buried at the Powązki Military Cemetery, at the Alley of Merit.