Several years ago, David Cornwell (better known by his nom de plume, John Le Carré) told an interviewer that, “espionage was not really something exclusive and clandestine. It was actually the currency of the Cold War. Spies were the poor bloody infantry of the Cold War.”
They still are – though these days we are in a different war and battling another pernicious ideology.
Cold War spy novels make for entertaining reading, but the more we learn about the nuts and bolts of what actually went on back then, the more we come to understand that truth is in many ways even more dramatic than fiction.
Consider, for example, the case of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski. He was a Polish patriot who may have saved his nation, the whole continent of Europe - maybe even the world – from massive suffering at the hands of a Soviet war machine once poised to race from behind Warsaw Pact borders to the Atlantic Ocean.
I recently attended a symposium at Langley on the life and work of this remarkable unsung hero who risked life, limb, and loved ones to pass along vital information at a crucial moment during the Cold War.
Under the watchful eye of CIA Director General Michael V. Hayden, and as part of a very real “social-contract” with this country, voluminous de-classified materials are being made available to researchers and the public at large. General Hayden was a history major back in college days and has not lost his love for thorough and informed analysis of the past. This passion has clearly informed his directorate.
The most recent historical symposium corresponded with the release of materials relating to Rsyzard Kuklinski and his work on our behalf, but especially that of his beloved Poland. In fact, Kuklinski, who died in 2004, did not see himself as working for “us” – rather he consciously recruited America, via the CIA, to work on behalf of Polish freedom during a dark and difficult time.
In August of 1972, Kuklinski sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, West Germany, establishing contact with our intelligence operatives. Signing it “P.V.” (later Kuklinski said this stood for “Polish Viking”), this singular act began a relationship that would bear the fruit of literally thousands of vital documents and crucial information helping us to understand Soviet doctrine and intent.