Between March 1983 and 1991, the Central Intelligence Agency expended less than 20 million U.S. dollars to assist “Solidarity,” Poland’s national liberation movement masquerading as a free trade union. This is peanuts in comparison to the $5 billion spent on the Afghan mujahedeen to defeat the Red Army in a comparable period. And the results in the Polish case were much more salubrious and beneficial to all parties involved, including the United States, according to Seth G. Jones, A Covert Action: Reagan, the CIA, and the Cold War Struggle in Poland (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018) (p. 10, 297, 301, 304).
“Solidarity” was not a creature of the CIA. It sprung up spontaneously in August 1980. In many ways, it was a continuation of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa – AK), the war-time underground resistance movement, which likewise received assistance, including funds, arms, and other material, from the Brits and the Americans. Yet, the AK would have fought, and did fight, for Poland’s freedom with or without Western aid. The same applies to “Solidarity.” Neither was anyone’s puppet.
Soon after its birth, “Solidarity” attracted around 9 million members, or roughly 30% of Poland’s population. If one includes the families, nearly 90% of all Polish people were affiliated with the free trade union. The Communists outlawed it and crushed its overt activities after imposing martial law in December 1981. “Solidarity” kept fighting underground until 1989, when it re-emerged apparently victorious.
Just like the Nazi narrative designated the AK a “British agentura,” so Communist propaganda dubbed “Solidarity” a “CIA agentura.” Both the browns and the reds insinuated that the Polish freedom fighters were somehow paid lackeys of foreigners hostile to the cause of Polish liberty. The truth was to the contrary. Nonetheless, the Gestapo and the Communist secret police furiously pursued various leads to find proof for their propaganda narratives. The former succeeded; the latter failed because the CIA outsmarted the KGB.
Yet, the CIA stepped in late in the game. Assistance began trickling in only in March 1983, even though the decision to extend covert help was made in November 1982. That means that “Solidarity” had been left largely to its own devices for a year and three months as it fought a clandestine struggle following the imposition of martial law.
The CIA program to aid the Poles reflected the will of President Ronald Reagan, a staunch anti-Communist. He rejected containment as too defensive and passive. Instead, he pushed for rollback and liberation. In other words, Reagan wanted to overthrow Yalta, the accursed post-war agreement by which Franklin D. Roosevelt ceded half of Europe to Joseph Stalin.
Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey, agreed wholeheartedly. It was personal for Casey. During the Second World War, he served with the Office of Strategic Services, America’s intelligence and commando outfit. He was a liaison with the Polish Government-in-Exile and worked closely with Polish spies and special operators. The American acutely experienced a sense of betrayal during the infamous Katyn affair, when the Germans discovered the mass graves of Polish POW officers murdered by the Soviets, while the West ignored the evidence and exculpated Stalin for the sake of so-called “Allied unity.” Yalta was the last straw of this dastardly policy of appeasement of the Communists. It was then that Casey and other conservatives, often Catholics, including Bill Buckley, vowed to fight for a free Poland. When Casey joined the Reagan administration and was sworn in as its CIA director, he finally got his chance.
Officially, the CIA commenced its operation QUHELPFUL, assistance to “Solidarity,” only after a presidential finding and appropriate orders from the White House on November 4, 1982. Unofficially, Bill Casey sprang into action long before that. Early on, he established an informal relationship with Pope John Paul II. And he kept himself apprised of the situation in Poland. What Jones does not know is that after the imposition of martial law in December 1981, Casey told his son-in-law, Owen Smith, to use his own money to buy printing equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars and dispatch it to the Vatican to be smuggled into Poland.
The CIA director acted swiftly and privately because he knew well the glacial reality of federal bureaucracy. He also realized that the Agency lacked Polish-speaking personnel and sophistication to comprehend the intricacies of Poland’s political underground. Further, the liberal and “realist” fans of détente with Moscow sabotaged the orders from the White House.
Let us remember that Reagan inherited an often liberal, and demoralized, state administration from Carter, Ford, and Nixon. His predecessors presided over a string of stinging foreign policy defeats in the 1970s: from Vietnam to Iran. The Kremlin spread its might everywhere, taking over African nations one after another. It also pushed itself into Central America.
Reagan opposed that. He resolved to support whoever opposed the Communists. The President believed that Poland was the weakest link of the Soviet empire. “Solidarity” was proof of it. Reagan and Casey agreed that – unlike in Afghanistan and elsewhere – one must not permit an armed uprising in Poland. Therefore, the assistance would be exclusively to foster non-violent struggle. According to Jones, “since a direct confrontation between U.S. and Soviet military forces could escalate to nuclear war, Reagan and Casey agreed that countering the Soviets with covert action through local surrogates was a better option. Solidarity leaders were moderate; most didn’t support the overthrow of the Jaruzelski government or armed resistance. American military help would be unwelcome” (p. 137).
Hence, QUHELPFUL “was a war of ideas” (p. 13). It was a multiagency effort, including such legends as Ambassador Hugh Montgomery, who headed the Office of Intelligence and Research at the State Department, and Dr. Jack Dziak, a counterintelligence and a counterdeception expert at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Richard Malzahn and others at the CIA assumed that they should help so-called “moderates” in the Polish underground. The “extremists” were excluded. That means that the CIA discriminated against all secret organizations which openly called for Poland’s independence. This concerned chiefly “Fighting Solidarity,” which in theory refused to eschew self-defense (p. 354). As a result, the bulk of assistance went to the “moderates,” primarily the leftist Tygodnik Mazowsze and its avatars as well as Radio and TV “Solidarity.”
Nota bene, most of the funds arrived in Poland only after 1988. This needs to be stressed. Only when the possibility of serious political change surfaced did the CIA pour the greenbacks in. The Agency was not the only source of funding for “Solidarity,” by the way. A bit over $1 million came from the AFL-CIO, and the National Endowment for Democracy sent about $9 million (which included a $4 million subsidy directly from the CIA).
It appears that much of U.S. taxpayer money went to pro-Solidarity, Polish émigré activities: from Paris, through New York to Mexico City. Most often, the CIA supported leftist initiatives. For example, the post-Trotskite Smolar brothers received subsidies for the periodical they ran, Aneks. The CIA funded Jerzy Gedroyic’s liberal Kultura through a separate program: codenamed QUBERRETTA (p. 62), virtually from the inception of the periodical. Following martial law, the subsidy was substantially increased.
The CIA resolved not to take advantage of the pre-existing “Solidarity” structures and to set up its own network instead. This essentially entailed recruiting émigré activists and funding them. Catholic activist Piotr Jegliński, whom Jones calls “Artur Kowalski,” was one of them. The likes of him conducted pro-Solidarity operations on their own chiefly in the West. However, they also smuggled assistance to the underground in Poland through their own channels. Some of those were penetrated by the Communist Security Services (SB), as were some émigré “Solidarity” structures outside of the CIA’s structure, for example the “Solidarity” main office in Brussels.
Aside from this, the CIA also took advantage of other venues. They included Mossad connections; friendly philanthropists; and Catholic Church networks. Throughout, the Agency masked its presence to maintain “plausible deniability.” Washington did not want to compromise “Solidarity” by providing ammunition for Communist propaganda, which would further besmirch the union as a “Western agent.”
Essentially, the role of the CIA was reduced to being a cashier for “Solidarity,” or as the Poles say, “a good uncle from America.” Well, there was at least one good aunt, Cecilia “Celia” Larkin. Because she knew Polish, the officer was seconded to operations from FIBIS, the CIA’s open source outfit. Although her preparation for operations was quite inadequate, she made up for it through her zeal for “Solidarity.” Retired from the Agency, she serves as the president of the Polish-American Arts Association.
The cashier did not control how the money was spent or have an idea on how the funds were specifically earmarked. The CIA handler knew, however, who was sending the money and other assistance. The objective was to prevent the KGB and the SB from acquiring tangible proof of the Agency’s involvement and deploying it in anti-Solidarity propaganda. The ruse worked like a charm.
However, it is not obvious how effective the aid was. Naturally, the go-betweens tended to embellish every success, and the CIA reports are also full of self-congratulation, for example about the achievements of Radio and TV “Solidarity.” Jones admits openly: “While it was unclear how beneficial CIA aid was for Solidarity, the available evidence suggests that it was undoubtedly helpful for an opposition movement that was cash- and material-starved to run an underground political movement – especially in the initial years after martial law” (p. 306).
The CIA helped “Solidarity,” in particular by banking on Lech Wałęsa as a symbol of Polish resistance. It was mostly the left that benefited from America’s largesse, in particular the post-Stalinist and post-Trotskite advisors to “Solidarity.” Jones claims that the return on such small investment in Poland was stupendous. It allowed “Solidarity” to survive and, as a result, independence and democracy followed after 1989.
One thing is certain. “Solidarity” came to existence and fought on its own. It endured with the CIA funds. And it never surrendered. American money allowed a part of the “Solidarity” leadership to maintain themselves in prominent posts; to control the union to a degree; and to promote their cronies, on the one hand, and suppress their opponents, on the other. In particular, the beneficiaries of US largesse targeted those who openly fought for independence and not for reforms of socialism.
A Covert Action is interesting in places. Alas, the author’s liberal prejudices impact the narrative adversely. It is most jarring as far as his grasp of the history of Poland is concerned. Jones ignores, or at least underappreciates, the role of Pope John Paul II in the drama. In his telling, the third papal pilgrimage to Poland in 1987 was the most important one. In reality, it was the first trip by the Pope in 1979 which planted the seed: “Fear not!”.
There are minor mistakes stemming from Jones’s lack of Polish. For example, Cardinal Józef Glemp was born in Włocławek, not in Wrocław (p. 210). Most egregiously, Jones has made Lech Wałęsa a virtual pivot of his story. Thus, we are served a silly hagiography of the union leader, mostly based on his own (ghost-written) “memoirs.” Jones stubbornly and contemptuously rejects all proof that Wałęsa was a Communist secret police snitch codename “Bolek.” He allows that, perhaps, it is “plausible” that “young and unemployed” and naïve Wałęsa, burdened by family, may have informed for money on his comrades (p. 134, 314). But this was an episode that did not define Jones’s “hero.”
Even though the author footnotes cutting-edge work by Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk and the mine of documents they unearthed, along with original affidavits of Wałęsa’s snitching acquired from the boss of his handlers, General Czesław Kiszczak, Jones just waves it all off. This will not do.
First, Jones never read the evidence as he knows no Polish. Instead, he relied on friendly native obfuscators, whose mission is to defend Wałęsa. The truth be damned. Consequently, the author is unaware of any specific charges against his hero.
Second, Jones, who considers himself an expert on intelligence, shows himself utterly at a loss about the modus operandi of the Communist secret police. Only when an informer’s cover was blown, he defected, he died, or otherwise ceased to be useful, did the SB and the KGB relent. They always considered a snitch to be an asset. And that was the case with Wałęsa. He has never disavowed his activities and remains in denial. So does Jones. For him Wałęsa is a “true hero” (p. 309).
Jones is ignorant even about such simple things as the fact that in 1972 TW “Bolek” snitched on fellow workers who intended to lay flowers at the graves of their comrades killed by the Communists during the strikes two years prior. The would-be commemoration never happened because the “perpetrators” were arrested by the secret police. Even more egregiously, in August 1980 TW „Bolek” agreed to end the strike at the prompting of the Communists. “Solidarity” would not have come into existence if not for the determined action of Alina Pieńkowska and Anna Walentynowicz, who physically stopped the workers from leaving the Gdańsk shipyard, thus saving the strike. In 1983, Wałęsa boasted to his secret police handlers that he had destroyed for them such “Solidarity” “extremists” as legendary human rights activist and union leader Andrzej Gwiazda. Perhaps Wałęsa was joking, but it behooves Jones to be at least aware of such facts. In fact, it is embarrassing to have to invoke crucial events like these.
Jones’s critique of General Wojciech Jaruzelski fails to smite the dragon, but at least the author does not consider him a hero. However, here also basic facts from the dictator’s life are missing in A Covert Action. The reader learns not of Jaruzelski’s participation in the extreme nationalist School Groups of the National Radical Camp (GS ONR) in the pre-war period. There is further nothing about his collaboration with the Smersh (Soviet military counterintelligence) during the war, and with the GRU and native military intelligence afterwards. Would mentioning this in a book on intelligence be out of place? What about the General’s leading role in anti-Jewish purges in Poland’s Communist army in 1967 and 1968? Moreover, Jones missed the fact that Jaruzelski fought against the Home Army insurgents at the behest of Stalin in 1945 and later. He also claims that the dictator lived “modestly.” Thus, Jones apparently has no idea about the villa in Warsaw on Ikara Street, which Jaruzelski acquired for peanuts after it had been confiscated by the Communists from its rightful owners, the Przedpełski family (some of whom fought with the Free Polish Forces in the West, while others saved Jews from the Nazis). Jones further claims that the General had “no country home” (p. 45). What about the dacha near Natać in the Mazury region?
Generally, we have two books under one cover. One is about Ronald Reagan and the CIA; the other one focuses on Wałęsa and “Solidarity.” The former is interesting, in places even fascinating, if saddled with liberal clichés and stereotypes as well as ad hominem sneers at Reagan and Casey’s physiques, dictions, and styles. Their anti-Communism is always “rabid” or “extreme,” and their vision of the world “black and white,” and thus, allegedly, simplistic. But Reagan, Casey, and other American Cold Warriors were definitely less simplistic than Jones’s depiction of Poland’s recent history and some of its protagonists, in particular Wałęsa. It would have been best to discard that part altogether. At best, by retaining it, Jones conserves the myths roaming around the United States and elsewhere in the West about a magnificent hero, a simple electrician who liberated Poland. Granted, it is very hard to admit that one was deceived. Jones is not an exception here. It is a rather ubiquitous affliction in America as far as Wałęsa is concerned.
And what happened to the 9 million “Solidarity” members? What about the 200,000 fighting in the underground? Did they not have a role in the drama? They sure did. As important as Wałęsa was as a symbol, they were much more important. But Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II were most important, not only as symbols but also as leaders whose words and actions led to Communism’s collapse. By the way, the UK’s Margaret Thatcher helped too.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, D.C., 15 October 2018