Two issues led us to investigate what has led to a four (and maybe soon five) part investigation. One is that in recent weeks, a buildup of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border has rattled Western leaders fearful of an incursion similar to, or perhaps even more wide-ranging than, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Then, on Dec. 17, 2021, Vladimir Putin demanded that no former Soviet states, such as Ukraine, be added to NATO, the Western alliance that Ukraine has long expressed a desire to join, and that NATO cease all military cooperation in Eastern Europe. Such rhetoric harks back to the Cold War when global politics revolved around an ideological struggle between a communist Eastern Bloc and a capitalist West. It also serves Russia’s ideological and political goal of asserting its position as a global power.
The other almost accidental discovery was about the person responsible for smuggling six CIA agents who were in bad psychological condition and were in danger of being arrested by Iraqi forces out of Iraq into Turkey and back to the US. The US government wanted to reimburse Poland for its operating expenses. But the Poles refused any payment. Poland did the operation, but the person in charge told the Americans, NOT for money, but because US officers were in danger. That’s what partners are for. But for him, the most important issue in his life was his father’s disappearance when he was a child. His name is Andrzej Milczanowski. You will find mention of him below. Including also in part two.
A short history of Polish Spies
Having discussed both the First and the Second World War except for 1917-18 we have mentioned nothing about spies in the modern era whereby a good place to start is with Poland. Following the partitions in the late 18th century, Poland ceased to exist for 123 years until the end of World War I, when the destruction of the neighboring powers allowed the country to reemerge when in according to Wilson’s 13e point should have secured access to the sea. Which was reversed following the demarcation line in 1939 when Poland became part of the Soviet Union.
The CIA has the closest relationships with the intelligence services from other English-speaking democracies, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. So close that their alliance is named the Five Eyes. Even make-believe American and British operatives are thick as thieves. James Bond’s compadre is none other than the CIA officer Felix Leiter, who returns in the latest Bond thriller, “No Time to Die.”
But a hugely important intelligence relationship is with another country: Poland. Out of the way, under the radar, the officers from this nation have functioned for decades almost as an adjunct to the agency. “Poland is the 51st state,” a CIA official once recalled James Pavitt, a former director of the CIA’s clandestine service, as saying. “Americans have no idea.”
A recent book by Tim Tate, The Spy, who was left out in the cold highest-ranking intelligence officer in communist Poland ever to flee the country was Michał Goleniewski.
According to the book, Goleniewski’s betrayal exposed more than 1,600 Soviet bloc intelligence officers and agent handlers to the West, including notorious MI6 mole George Blake.
The CIA said that he was the best spy they ever had when he defected to them in 1961. Goleniewski rose to be a senior officer in the Polish intelligence service, giving him access to Polish and Russian secrets. Disillusioned with the Soviet Bloc, he contacted the CIA, sending them significant intelligence letters. He then decided to defect and fled to America in 1961 via an elaborate escape plan in Berlin. His revelations led to several important Soviet spies in the West.
He exposed, in Britain, George Blake, the KGB’s man inside MI6, and the Portland spy ring, a group of Soviet spies who were sending Admiralty secrets, such as details of the UK’s Polaris nuclear submarines, to the KGB. “He names and identifies some of the most devastating Soviet bloc spies who have been betraying British American and Nato secrets to Moscow for more than a decade, and only Goleniewski’s information enables them to be caught and the hemorrhaging of the west’s most vital secrets to be stopped.”
Goleniewski rose to be a senior officer in the Polish intelligence service, giving him access to Polish and Russian secrets. Disillusioned with the Soviet Bloc, he contacted the CIA, sending them significant intelligence letters. He then decided to defect and fled to America in 1961 via an elaborate escape plan in Berlin. His revelations exposed several important Soviet spies in the West, including the Portland spy ring in the UK, the MI6 traitor George Blake, and a spy high up in the West German intelligence service. Despite these essential contributions to the Cold War, Goleniewski would later be abandoned by the CIA after making the outrageous claim that he was actually Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia – the last remaining member of the Romanov Russian royal family and therefore entitled to the lost treasures of the Tsar.
On 4 January 1961, Goleniewski entered the US Consulate in West Berlin and announced he was ‘Sniper,’ the name he first used in April 1958 when he began sending the CIA secret intelligence reports. Goleniewski exposed 1,693 Soviet bloc agents, including some of the most infamous spies of the period.
“No other defector or agent, before or since, has identified such a vast haul of spies,” said Tim Tate, author of The Spy Who Was Left Out in the Cold.
Despite the remarkable scale of Goleniewski’s successful espionage on behalf of the West, he is not the celebrated spy he should be, Tate argues, because the “mind games” the CIA played with him after he defected made him paranoid and delusional. “The CIA was primarily responsible for driving its best and most effective spy insane,” says Tate. During his research, he used freedom of information requests to obtain the CIA’s files on Goleniewski, many of which had never been made public before. “The agency’s files, and Goleniewski’s own previously unpublished letters and affidavits, reveal how the CIA and the US state department betrayed Goleniewski, reneged on his contract, harassed, smeared and attempted to discredit him and, ultimately, pushed his already fragile mind into full-blown madness.”
As a result, he says, Goleniewski is primarily known as the man who falsely claimed to be Alexei Romanov, heir apparent to the last Tsar of Russia. “His extraordinary contribution to western national security has been largely airbrushed from history,” Tate details in an interview.
Goleniewski was promised US citizenship and an employment contract at the CIA, and MI5 sent him a silver tankard as a thank you present. But then another defector, Anatoliy Golitsyn, arrived in the US and managed to convince the CIA’s head of counter-intelligence that “only he, Golitsyn, is a true defector and everybody else is bogus.”
According to Rebekah Koffler’s book Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America, Golitsyn is a Soviet KGB defector who wrote two books in the 80s claiming that the collapse of the USSR was a planned long-term deception by the Soviet government to lull the West into a false sense of security. He predicted things like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the rise of a democratic regime in Russia. As Golitsyn tells it, in reality, the Soviet power structure would secretly continue to control the old Soviet states from Moscow, the KGB would secretly influence the heart of Russian politics, and things like the rise of the EU were designed to consolidate European (and secretly, Soviet) power against America.
Goleniewski remained a familiar figure for researchers of the Cold War for at least thirty years. In The Spy Who Was Left Out in the Cold, Tim Tate retells, somewhat uncritically, stories from the headline revelations of the 1960s, when Goleniewski’s case was first revealed to the public, adding to the relatively newly released information from the CIA and reports from Polish sources. For example, various CIA reports declassified in the early 2000s and the UB case file TELETECHNIK, concerning their hunt for Goleniewski after his defection.
Goleniewski died in 1993 in New York, still claiming he was Tsarevich Alexei. But not all the secrets he knew died with him, however. Tate says the one file on Goleniewski he did not manage to access was MI5’s due to what was described as its “continuing sensitivity.” “I cannot find a legitimate reason for MI5 to withhold it. I cannot work out what ‘continuing sensitivity’ there could be in a file on a man six decades after he defected and three decades after the fall of the iron curtain. It makes no sense.”
Rebekah Koffler herself is a Russian-born U.S. intelligence expert. Working with the Defense Intelligence Agency, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Clandestine Service, she has led “red” teams during wargames and briefed the Pentagon, the White House, and NATO on Russian affairs, from 2008 until late 2016, she has delivered classified briefings to top US military commanders, NATO ministers, the directors of the CIA and DIA, the White House National Security Council, and senior congressional staff.
There were other important critical Polish spies during the time of Koffler and Goleniewski and mainly post-1993.
Polish Intelligence informed old comrades in the KGB that, in the view of Poland’s Intelligence Command, the Soviets were betraying Poland by considering German unification – without getting Germany to recognize Poland’s western border formally. The second message was a bombshell: Polish officials intimated that they were considering membership in NATO and the European Economic Community and open to recognizing the United States’ leadership role.
The man whose father was murdered during the Katyn Massacre
On 6 July 1990, Czesław Kiszczak stepped down as minister of interior. In 1981 he played a crucial role in imposing martial law and suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland. But eight years later, he presided over the country’s transition to democracy as its last communist prime minister.
Although he’d been running Poland’s government since August 1989, Mazowiecki had been cautious around Kiszczak and the rest of the security officials from the old system. He’d waited months before he appointed a Solidarity man to the Ministry of Interior. That man was Krzysztof Jan Kozlowski (18 August 1931- 2013), a Polish journalist and politician who served as Poland’s Minister of the former Interior and Administration with the Cabinet of Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki from 1990 until 1991. Kozlowski also served as the first Chief of the Office of State Protection in Polish Urząd Ochrony Państwa (UOP) from 1990 to 1992.
In August 1990, Prime Minister Mazowiecki appointed a formerly jailed dissident, Andrzej Stanisław Milczanowski, to take Kozłowski’s place as deputy minister and chief of the UOP. This personnel move marked a watershed in the transformation of Poland’s Communist-era intelligence operations.
Andrzej Milczanowski was an enlightened choice to run the UOP. He liked to say he couldn’t remember anything about the most important person in his life. “It may be grand rhetoric,” he said, “but it’s true.” He loved his mother, his big sister, his wife, and their daughter, but it was the specter of his father, who’d vanished when he was four months old – that shaded his existence. Milczanowski’s dad was a prosecutor in the eastern Polish city of Równe. On 23 September 1939, a week after the Soviet Union invaded Poland, agents from the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, seized him and other leading Poles from the city administration. Other than a note smuggled from prison a few days later that read, “Take the kids and run,” the family never heard from him again.
With “two children and her parents on her back,” as Milczanowski put it, his mother kept the family together in territory occupied first by the Red Army and then by the Germans. First, she feared deportation to Siberia and then to a German labor camp. Thanks to her daring, the family remained intact.
With the end of World War II, Milczanowski’s family became part of Poland’s massive population reshuffle. Stalin turned Równe into Rivne and assigned it to Ukraine. Milczanowski’s family was uprooted and moved four hundred miles westward to a Silesian town that a Polish government hadn’t ruled in three hundred years. The ghost of a missing father haunted Milczanowski, engendering hatred of the Soviets and their client state, the People’s Republic of Poland. “Let’s just say I wasn’t predisposed to Communism,” he observed. Despite being on the shorter side, Milczanowski loved to box as a youth. Well into his eighties, he retained the steely-eyed look and pitbull intensity of a man who could take, and give, a punch.
Free Poland’s first prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, initially offered Milczanowski the job of the public prosecutor general, Poland’s version of attorney general. Milczanowski turned it down; he’d already been a prosecutor. A few days later, Mazowiecki had another idea. Would Milczanowski consider directing the UOP, forming the first free intelligence service in the new Eastern Europe? “That’s more like it,” Milczanowski replied.
Milczanowski understood that Poland needed seasoned spies. Given Poland’s dangerous neighborhood, reinventing the wheel wasn’t an option. He needed to merge fresh recruits in with the old. So, in July 1990, the Poles began vetting officers in the Ministry of Interior to rid the service only of those who had seriously violated human rights during Communist times.
As he transformed the UOP, Milczanowski earned the respect of the ex-Communist officers who made up the bulk of the service. As he managed this process, Milczanowski had a powerful ally: the CIA. The agency lobbied against a purge of the intelligence services. The reason was simple. Communist spies were often very good. The Polish service was a natural partner for the CIA.
The CIA was eager to capitalize on Poland’s enduring reputation as a Communist nation to cloak its espionage. Time was of the essence. The CIA subsidized Poland’s intelligence operations ever since 1990, when the CIA began joint operations with Poland’s communist-era foreign spy agency.
On 28 June, five CIA officers arrived in Warsaw on two flights, one from Frankfurt and Vienna.
The station chief at the US Embassy was Bill Norville. What I loved about the Poles was Norville said, “You could be on opposite sides but still be friends.” The Poles gave Norville a codename: Naughty.
Norville and his wife, Maggi, who later became a CIA officer herself, cemented a family bond with Poland when they became the first American diplomats granted permission to adopt a child, a son they named Matthew.
Smuggling six US officers out of Iraq
On August 2, 1990, at about 2 a.m. local time, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, Iraq’s tiny, oil-rich neighbor. Kuwait’s defense forces were rapidly overwhelmed, and those not destroyed retreated to Saudi Arabia.
Iraqi forces also placed more than one hundred Americans and seven hundred British, European, Australian, Japanese, and Kuwaiti men at scores of strategic sites in Iraq and Kuwait as a hedge against military action.
On the morning of Sunday, 5 August, three days after the invasion of Kuwait, Krzysztof Smoleński had just finished breakfast at home in Warsaw when he received a call from the duty officer at the UOP. “There’s an urgent message for you, Major,” the clerk said.
Polish firms had been working in Baghdad since 1965, and cartographers had been drawing such a map for years. The map, which had already been presented to the Iraqis, was a treasure trove of strategic military intelligence. It showed Baghdad’s sewage system, its electrical grid, the locations of Saddam’s palaces, the headquarters of the army and secret services, other ministries, factories, and sensitive facilities. The cartographers had retained their notes, early mock-ups, and drafts, which filled three large bags and weighed more than 120 pounds. The challenge was to get the materials out of Iraq.
Poland’s resident in Baghdad was Colonel Andrzej Maronde, a veteran spy, fluent in Arabic and English, with postings in Cairo and New York. Since February, Maronde had been serving undercover as the head of the consular section. Because Poland was between ambassadors, Maronde was the highest-ranking official in the embassy. Maronde was one of the first foreigners to learn of Saddam’s “human shield” policy during a dinner with a high-ranking member of Saddam’s Baath Party shortly after the invasion of Kuwait.
In an attempt to get the map materials to Warsaw, Maronde reached out to his contacts in the Baath Party and requested that LOT Airlines be permitted to fly into Baghdad to evacuate several Polish workers. He claimed they were deathly ill and needed immediate medical attention. The Iraqis turned him down. Then in early September, a deputy minister of foreign affairs approached Maronde and said Iraq would let a plane land if it could take an extra passenger out of Baghdad. A relative of Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, had been a medical student in Kraków and was desperate to get back to Poland. As the chief consular officer, Maronde issued him a visa; Maronde’s wife stamped his passport herself. In passing, Maronde informed the Iraqi official that the embassy would be sending its “archives” to Warsaw in three large sacks. The official agreed.
A few days later, the sacks arrived in Warsaw with a few Poles and one relieved Iraqi. The map brought cooperation between the United States and Poland to a new level. The Poles presented the three sacks with full knowledge that US Air Force and Navy pilots would be using the intelligence to target Baghdad. As Minister of Interior Krzysztof Kozłowski told friends later: “The Americans would’ve traded Florida for those bags.” Just a few months earlier, cooperation between the CIA and Polish Intelligence had been nice in theory. Here it was in practice.
What I loved about the Poles,” Norville recalled. “You could be on opposite sides but still be friends.” The Poles gave Norville a codename: Naughty. Norville and his wife, Maggi, who later became a CIA officer herself, cemented a family bond with Poland when they became the first American diplomats granted permission to adopt a child, a son they named Matthew.
On 16 January 1991, the United States military launched its first major war in the Middle East: Operation Desert Storm.
On September 20, shortly after noon, Norville said to Krzysztof he’d been instructed by CIA headquarters to ask Poland to sneak – the technical term was “exfiltrate” – six US officers out of Iraq. He said the officers were in bad psychological condition and were in danger of being arrested by Iraqi forces at any time.
This was Poland in 1990. There was “shock therapy” measures being taken to salvage Poland’s economy. There were negotiations on the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The Communists had lost control of the old world but the new world had yet to take hold. The stakes were high everywhere and everyone was making big bets.
Milczanowski knew firsthand how much the CIA had helped the Solidarity movement, with cash, printing presses, and intelligence during the struggle in the 1980s. In Szczecin, his own work had directly benefited from CIA support. “The Cold War was won by the Americans,” Milczanowski said. “We owed them.” Plus saving American officers would provide a solid foundation for future cooperation between the UOP and the CIA.
As Milczanowski saw it, it’d give Poland the opportunity to show that it was loyal to the United States. And as Norville saw it, it’d give the CIA the opportunity to confirm the wisdom of its decision to collaborate with its former foes.
Milczanowski however worried that either might nix the mission. The presence of thousands of Polish workers in Iraq coupled with Saddam’s apparent willingness to take revenge on civilians raised the risk of negative consequences in case of failure. Among those consequences, Milczanowski considered, was the collapse of the new Polish government. “I made the decision so I could take all of the blame if we flopped,” Milczanowski said. “The downside was so huge that only a deputy minister like me was stupid enough to try.”
On October 12, 1990, a LOT Airlines plane with 180 seats took off from Warsaw, bound for Baghdad. Only two passengers were on board: Krzysztof Płomiński, the newly appointed ambassador to Iraq, and a second secretary assigned to the embassy named Andrzej Nowak.
Meanwhile, in Warsaw, Smoleński directed his team to count the checkpoints around Baghdad and on the major routes leading out of the city.
Since then known as Operation Simoom, on October 14, the colonel managing security at the embassy went over the prisoner-of-war code of conduct with the six men. The six also learned the technique of using their fingers to pass a message if they were photographed in captivity.
The order was that they were going to pretend that they were Polish engineers. They were given names, fake bios, and a Polish phrasebook and were ordered to start memorizing. They were told they’d be provided with Polish passports and that they’d leave Iraq with some other Poles.
Delegations of American and Polish intelligence officers began crisscrossing the Atlantic. American CIA officers, masquerading as employees of private contractors, came to Poland to lecture at Poland’s Intelligence Training Center at Stare Kiejkuty, in the scenic Mazurian Lakes region northeast of Warsaw. Polish spies went to the United States for training in counterterrorism, counterintelligence, recruitment, and other skills. The US government began providing Polish Intelligence with millions of dollars in cash and equipment. Rozbicki and others helped Poland establish an analysis section in the UOP.
It was six twenty in the evening on October 25, 1990. The group, of six Americans along with two polish officers, squeezed into a VW Passat station wagon.
The Polish embassy in Ankara had provided the Polish officers with a one-pound sack of Turkish lira to feed the phone. Thye immediately called international long-distance to Warsaw.
Spy chief Henryk Jasik was at his desk. Just received the package in good shape, they reported. No damages. we are shipping it further up the road. That was at seven in Turkey and six in Warsaw. Almost immediately, a cable winged its way from the US embassy to Langley, Virginia, where it was noon. There, the roomful of CIA officers who’d been monitoring the situation erupted in cheers. Milczanowski told Prime Minister Mazowiecki a day later. After hearing the story, Mazowiecki paused to let the news sink in. Then a look of relief spread over his face.
In Warsaw, as the men deplaned polish intelligence officers took them to a dacha where Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had stayed during a state visit in 1988.
The US government wanted to reimburse Poland for its expenses in conducting the operation. But the Poles refused any kind of payment. Poland did the operation, Milczanowski told the Americans, NOT for money, but because US officers were in danger. That’s what partners are for.
The Poles did their best to make sure that no one knew about the operation. Word of the mission didn’t leak to the Western media until 1995.
Joining with CIA operations
Next senior CIA officers came to Poland to advise Milczanowski on how to reform the agency to cope with the challenges of the new world. A veteran operations officer who’d managed the CIA’s liaison with the rest of the US intelligence community spent hours with Milczanowski helping him understand how the CIA fit into the US system.
Poland was in an unusual position. It had embassies in countries that Americans couldn’t access. Many of those embassies sat on large plots of land, a legacy of the Cold War, where, as a socialist brother, Poland had been offered choice swaths of real estate in central locations. This was true in Beijing; it was also true in Pyongyang, where Poland’s embassy occupied a veritable campus near the much smaller British mission.
For a while, Poland considered selling its embassy campuses in Pyongyang and in other cities around the world so it could downsize to cheaper diplomatic digs. Washington opposed this plan and the Poles didn’t sell. Pretty soon, Polish diplomatic couriers began bringing American-made intelligence equipment to the embassy in North Korea to fill up the otherwise empty space. Even as trade evaporated between North Korea and Poland, the traffic between Warsaw and Pyongyang picked up. So did CIA financial contributions to the coffers of the UOP.
In April 1990 also, the Soviet Union also finally acknowledged what everybody had known. Fifty years earlier, Soviet forces had perpetrated the Katyn Massacre, murdering twenty-two thousand Polish military officers, government officials, and leading intellectuals from April to May 1940. On a trip to Moscow in 1991, UOP director Milczanowski was summoned to KGB headquarters at Lubyanka Square. A Soviet official met him outside, handed him a list, and walked away. On the list was his father’s name, Stanisław Jozéfowicz Milczanowski, and that of thirty other Poles. The list confirmed that all of them had been shot in the forests of western Russia.
Milczanowski had never entertained any fantasies that his father was still alive in Siberia or elsewhere in the Soviet gulag. But seeing his father’s name on a piece of paper in front of the headquarters of the Soviet secret police brought a grim finality to the story of a man who, in Milczanowski’s estimation, had watched over him all his life. It also underscored the otherworldly compassion evinced by Milczanowski and the rest of his comrades in the Solidarity movement who refrained from exacting revenge on the Communists in their midst.
Intelligence cooperation was strengthened and formalized by the visit of the next CIA director, Robert Gates, to Poland in October 1992. This time it wasn’t secret. Gates’s trip inaugurated permanent top-level contacts between the CIA, the FBI, the UOP, and Poland’s military intelligence service. Subsequent CIA directors were eager to put Poland on their itineraries: the Poles didn’t criticize the CIA (or the FBI) like some other allied services did.
North Korea was just one place where Poland had access and the United States did not. Cuba was another.