Wednesday, February 11, 2004

A former Polish military officer who supplied the CIA with crucial intelligence in the last years of the Cold War has died.

Polish Col. Ryszard Kuklinski died late Tuesday at a hospital in Tampa, Fla., from a stroke. He was 73.

During his career as a spy, he provided thousands of secret military and intelligence documents revealing Moscow’s plans for invading Poland and fighting a war in Europe. The intelligence helped the U.S. government stave off a Polish invasion and perhaps a wider conflict in Europe.

CIA Director George J. Tenet said Mr. Kuklinski was “a passionate and courageous man who helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot.”

“It is in great measure due to the bravery and sacrifice of Col. Kuklinski that his own native Poland, and the other once-captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are now free,” Mr. Tenet said in a statement.

Mr. Kuklinski was born June 13, 1930, in Warsaw and served as a liaison officer between the Polish military and the Soviet Army from 1976 to 1981.

Mr. Kuklinski first approached U.S. Army intelligence in 1972 with an offer to help organize a conspiracy of anti-Soviet Poles to sabotage the Soviet war machine, said Benjamin Weiser, author of a new biography of Mr. Kuklinski.

Instead of carrying out the plot, the Polish officer became a “defector in place” and worked clandestinely for the CIA on the Polish general staff, one of the most important members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact military alliance.

“He was very much involved in running operations and basically was put in charge of the army’s plans to crush Solidarity, the anti-Soviet labor union,” said Mr. Weiser, author of “A Secret Life.”

“In early December 1981 he gave us detailed plans and the fact that Soviet forces were ready to invade.”

The intelligence allowed President Carter to issue warnings to Moscow that helped stave off military action against pro-democracy elements in Poland, he said.

Mr. Kuklinski spied for nine years and was transferred secretly out of Poland weeks before the communist government imposed martial law. He was resettled in the United States under the CIA’s defector program.

In the post-Soviet period, Poles debated whether Mr. Kuklinski was a hero or traitor.

Mr. Kuklinski was sentenced to death in absentia in 1984 by the communist regime but pardoned in 1997 by a non-communist government.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who founded Solidarity, praised Mr. Kuklinski. “He did great things, risked his head when few of us would dare,” Mr. Walesa told the Polish News Agency yesterday.

Former CIA officer Jim Simon, who worked with Mr. Kuklinski, said the most important thing the defector provided was inside information about Soviet military intentions and doctrine.

The intelligence allowed the U.S. government to know whether Moscow’s military activities were an exercise or preparation for war, Mr. Simon said.

Mr. Kuklinski eventually visited Poland in 1998. He is survived by his wife, Joanna, and a grandson, Michal.

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