Benjamin Weiser,
A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country
(New York: Public Affairs 2004). 383 pages, $27.50/$42.95.

 

Weiser has written a lucid, tightly organized book that can be read at several levels.  Foremost, this is an inspirational, but sad yet glorious, personal story of heroism, nobility, morality, sacrifice, and patriotism.  This is a magnificent tale that merits revelation from the obscurity of clandestine history.  It is a tale that illustrates the often instrumental and sometimes decisive importance of hidden acts that shape history; acts that, if credited at all, are known only decades later.  Colonel Ryszard Kuklinskiís nine years of nerve-wracking espionage on behalf of, firstly, Polandís independence and, secondly, the victory of the West over the Soviet Union, seen by him as civilization over savagery, ought to serve, but almost certainly wonít, as an exemplar to generations of Americans as to the ultimate demands of citizenship. 

 

The book also can be read simply as a narrative of one of the most important espionage operations of the Cold War and as one of the greatest, but purely fortuitous, successes of United States Intelligence, specifically the Central Intelligence Agency.  The book can be read also as an exemplar of extraordinarily patient, careful, cautious, and correct tradecraft by Colonel Kuklinski and his case officer team, foremost Dave Forden.  It was the constant, meticulous, and unremittingly rigorous attention to the details of tradecraft, the reliance on instinct, experience, and intuition, the profound understanding of the operational milieu, and a genuine, deep sympathy for the asset and his condition, physical, political, and psychological, that enliven this history with excitement and admiration.  The book can be read simply as a tale of almost unbearable danger, courage, and dedication to country and culture as Colonel Kuklinskiís own life and the lives of his wife, two sons, and one of the sonís fiancťe were in continuing jeopardy. 

 

The book also can be read as the story of a brilliant army staff officer, certain to attain the very height of his service, who sacrificed his ambition, talent, and prodigious labor and his own and his familyís comfort in recognition of the utter evil, the negation of humanity, and the absence of morality of the cause he served.  Colonel Kuklinski came to realize that the Polish Army that had embodied Polandís independence, sovereignty, and valor had become the very instrument for denying them.  The book also is a record of the Russiansí absolutely vicious, ruthless, scornful, and humiliating treatment, even unto genocide, of the civilized captive nations held by force in its uncultured, savage, criminal, evil empire.  Colonel Kuklinski, to preserve his honor and his soul, as a deeply moral and patriotic soldier had no choice but to spy for Poland, not for the USA and CIA. 

 

Weiserís narrative flows smoothly, explaining clearly and concisely all the main events of Colonel Kuklinskiís double life without descent into tedious detail; yet, it misses nothing of importance or interest of the case.  What Weiser leaves out and, presumably, leaves to some other book or to the knowledge of the reader are all the tragic historical events that preceded and paralleled Ė and impelled - Kuklinskiís choice.  This book would not have been possible without the unprecedented arrangement in which the CIA opened all of its operational archives on this case to Mr.Weiser and without his choice of Peter Earnest, a former clandestine service officer and former President (and current Chairman) of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, who brilliantly selected and synthesized the archival material to allow this story to be told so well.  As Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski told Colonel Kuklinski, ďSir, you indeed have served Poland well.Ē, so Mr. Weiser proves that Colonel Kuklinski indeed also served the United States well.

 

Walter Jajko

Brigadier General, USAF Ret
AFIO Member