Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Spies
Ryszard Kukliński was an active spy during the Cold War, in fact he was actually a Polish Colonel who gained secret information and passed it to the Americans without knowledge of the Polish authorities.
The interesting thing about Ryszard Kukliński is that today Polish opinion is divided on whether he is a hero or traitor to his motherland.
Ryszard Kukliński Youth
Ryszard Kukliński was born in to a socialist, working class family in the Polish capital Warsaw in 1930. Unfortunately Ryszard Kukliński lost his family in his teenage years as his father died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for being a Polish resistance fighter during World War Two.
When Ryszard Kukliński came of age he joined the Polish People’s Army, effectively following in the footsteps of his father by defending his country. This was at the end of World War Two.
Ryszard Kukliński the Solider and Spy
From the moment Ryszard Kukliński joined the Polish People’s Army he enjoyed a great career. The longer he stayed in the Polish People’s Army the more his stature grew. In fact by the late 1960’s he was involved in the planning and instigation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The views of Ryszard Kukliński changed however after the invasion of Czechoslovakia happened as it deeply affected him. In 1971 he decided to contact the American CIA via the US embassy in Bonn and arrange a meeting. This meeting led Kukliński into a path of espionage that saw him become a spy for the Americans between 1971 and 1981.
During the ten years that Kukliński was passing information to the CIA gave over thirty five thousand documents detailing everything from military hardware such as armoured vehicles and missiles to strategic plans on the use of nuclear weapons and the use of martial law in Poland.
With the idea of martial law in Poland being put into practise at the end of 1981 the CIA took Ryszard Kukliński and his family out of Poland for their own protection. By 1984 the Polish knew what had happened to their colonel and they sentenced him to death without him present in the country.
By the early 1990’s with Communism breathing its last breathe his sentence was reduced to 25 years in prison. In 1995 this sentence was commuted to nothing and cancelled this was because the Polish said that while Ryszard Kukliński was seen to be doing wrong there were extraneous mitigating circumstances involved and that his actions served a higher purpose at the time.
Ryszard Kukliński finally managed to visit his homeland in 1998 with the potential of arrest. However he never returned permanently and lived the rest of his life out in Tampa, Florida where he passed away at the age of 73.
After passing away in 2004 the body of Kukliński was flown home and he was buried in honour in the Powązki military cemetery, found in his home city of Warsaw.
The Impact of Ryszard Kukliński
While many say there is no real knowledge of what impact the information passed to the CIA by Kukliński had on the bearing of the Cold War, there are quite a few that say his information was vital in stopping World War III. If World War III had occurred then it could potentially have been a massive nuclear affair that would have meant the world as we know it.