He defied the communist authorities by serving US intelligence to protect Poland from nuclear annihilation.
Ryszard Kuklinski was born on 13 June 1930 in Warsaw. His father was active in the underground during the German occupation. Arrested, he died in a concentration camp. After the war, his son stayed in Wrocław, where he found work as a guard in a factory.
In 1946, he joined the Polish Workers’ Party. In 1947, Kukliński enrolled in an officers’ school, from where he was threatened with removal on suspicion of conspiratorial activity. However, after the intervention of the Deputy Minister of National Defence, he was allowed to complete his studies. In 1950, after completing his schooling, he was promoted to the rank of warrant officer. Over the following years, he progressed up the military career ladder to be promoted to the rank of colonel in 1972. In the meantime, he began serving on the General Staff of the People’s Army of Poland (LWP) and won the trust of the command. By then, he already had experience as an LWP counterintelligence collaborator.
In 1971, he began passing secret information to the Americans, a total of some 40,000 pages of documents from military safes by 1981. He handed over copies of material containing data such as the parameters of military equipment, the location of military units and nuclear weapons, or the strategy for their use, as well as plans for the imposition of martial law. He communicated with his superiors in the CIA through a system of caches, which he cleverly masked.
In the autumn of 1981, several of Kuklinski’s associates fled the country, increasing counterintelligence surveillance. However, Kuklinski’s final escape with his family was triggered by an incident during a meeting between CIA chief William Casey and Pope John Paul II. At the time, the American revealed that the US had an agent in the LWP command. The information was obtained by a priest, who was most likely in the service of the communist Poland’s intelligence service. Kuklinski was at a briefing where officers were informed that an investigation had been launched. The evacuation of the Kuklinskis took place on the night of 7 to 8 November 1981.
After fleeing the country, Kuklinski was demoted and sentenced to death in absentia. After the regime change, the colonel was rehabilitated. His younger son vanished during a sea voyage in 1993 and his older son died in mysterious circumstances while studying at the University of Phoenix in 1994. Ryszard Kuklinski died of a stroke in 2004.