On Wednesday, February 11 at 8:13 AM, EDT, Reuters, quoting the Polish news agency PAP in Warsaw, reported that Polish-born colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, one of the United States' top Cold War spies, died in a Washington hospital at the age of 74.
The PAP report, like so much other information over the years about this enigmatic character, was inaccurate. Kuklinski was 73, and he died in a hospital in Tampa, Florida, brought there on February 5 after a heart attack. Several reports, including one in The New York Times, said he was survived by his wife, Joanna, and a grandson. Others mentioned that the couple had had two sons, both of whom were killed in mysterious circumstances – one in a road crash and the other in the Atlantic Ocean after falling off, or being pushed off, the deck of a yacht.
Kuklinski always held they were murdered by the First Directorate of the KGB to warn off would-be defectors who contemplated following in his footsteps. But even the few individuals who managed to reach Kuklinsky did not know that, until his dying day he not only lived under the close protection of the CIA, but rarely spoke the truth. For he had a third son from a secret mistress, who also helped him build and maintain his double, and even triple, identities.
CIA director George Tenet eulogized Kuklinski as “a true hero of the cold war to whom we all owe an everlasting debt of gratitude”, but the Polish ex-colonel took his secrets to the grave. No one knows for sure what role he really played in the murky world of international espionage or to whom he ultimately deferred as his true master.
It may be safely postulated, however, that had Kuklinski still been in the game between 1998 to 2000, the United States might well have been put on guard against al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks and might even have found Saddam Hussein’s missing weapons of mass destruction. Not only was the Polish-born turncoat a super spy of unparalleled brilliance, but he possessed a deep, first-hand acquaintance with the leading spooks of the day. He would have caught wind of the al Qaeda attack in time and known where to go looking for the “smoking gun” to inculpate Saddam Hussein.
According to the official accounts, Kuklinski started his undercover career with the CIA in 1972. He was then deputy head of Polish military intelligence, WSW. On a visit to West Germany, he was said to have sent a letter to the US embassy in Bonn offering his services.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence experts are sure his first contact with Western intelligence services took place many years earlier – in 1961 or 1962, when a member of one of the British turncoat Kim Philby‘s networks approached Kuklinski at Kolobrzeg, the giant Polish naval base on the Baltic Sea. Kuklinski was the commanding officer of the marine battalion of the 7th sea assault division. The ambitious Polish officer had by then made up his mind that joining the shadowy world of counterintelligence was the only sure way to put his military career on the fast track. Kuklinski had no moral qualms about his decision.
In 1967 — some five years before the date given out in the official version of his life as a double spy – Kuklinski communicated with the CIA for the first time. He was on a visit to Vietnam as a member of the Polish delegation to the ICC, the international group that monitored compliance with the Geneva Conventions, when he met William E. Colby, then chief of the Far East division of the CIA’s directorate of plans, and later the agency’s director.
It was Colby who planned Operation Phoenix, aimed at evacuating Vietnamese from parts of their country to prevent them cooperating with the communists. Kuklinski also ran into Phan Xauan An, who was regarded as most important American intelligence asset in North Vietnam.
It was only after Xauan An’s family and the spy himself failed to show up for the 1975 American evacuation of its most trusted South Vietnamese operatives during the fall of Saigon that the other shoe dropped: While pretending to spy for the Americans, An had consistently betrayed them to the North Vietnamese army of which he was a general.
Kuklinsky likewise posed as Colby’s man at the same time as he served the communist side.
Much later, General Wladyslaw Podoga, former head of Poland’s counter-intelligence services, led a three-year investigation into Kuklinski’s defection to the United States. In the report issued by his panel, Podoga wrote: “The Americans acquired compromising materials on K. during his ICC service in Vietnam from 1967 to 1988, when they recruited him to work for the CIA.” Podoga went on to suggest that in 1972, Kuklinski, a “dormant agent was reactivated by the CIA and fabricated the sequence of events to disguise the real story”.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, this account appears to be accurate. What is still unclear, however, is why go to all that bother?
The answer is simple: If Kuklinski really began working for the CIA in 1970 or 1971, it would have been impossible for him to have known Phan Xauan An back in 1966 or 1967.
And it goes without saying that his career would not have coincided with that of another notorious double spy who betrayed America, Larry Wu-tai Chin, the Chinese CIA operative who was one of Xanuan An’s handlers.
“Larry”, as his American friends called him, passed CIA secrets to his real masters, China’s MSS intelligence service. He also carried out missions on behalf of the KGB. Larry began spying for the Chinese back in the Korean War in the 1950’s, when he served as a translator in US military headquarter in Seoul. It was there that Larry met MI6’s man in South Korea, George Blake, another double agent who played an important role in the Philby network and still lives in Moscow.
After the Korean War, Larry made his way to Washington and also traveled on CIA business to Asia. He became friendly with Carleton and Rachel Ames, the parents of Aldrich Ames, the CIA double agent who was caught in 1994 betraying to Moscow secrets of the shared CIA-FBI counterintelligence branch in which he served as a top officer.
Had he joined the CIA as late as the 1970s, as claimed in the official records, Kuklinsky would never have run into Ames or cooperated with him.
But, as other information has suggested, Kuklinski was hard at work for the CIA back in the mid-1960s and was reactivated, as Podoga confirmed, in 1972 when Ames was carrying out his first intelligence missions in Istanbul.
Both men knew Xanuan An and Larry Wu-tai and almost certainly knew each other. In fact, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s experts, Kuklinski and Ames established a “virtual” intelligence corridor that served as a central clearing house for information and disinformation, as well as the movement of double and even triple agents, between Washington and Moscow. This was a secret Cold War device like the hot line between Washington and Moscow to prevent animosities from blowing up out of control and threatening the outbreak of a nuclear war through mischance.
The corridor also connected Warsaw and London, where MI6 agents who were in contact with Kuklinski and Ames operated. The workings of this intelligence corridor could fill chapters in a history of counter-intelligence. But one “side door” into the corridor is of particular relevance to the subsequent 9/11 attacks, the global war against terrorism and the US campaign in Iraq.
From the mid-1970s, shortly after Kuklinski and Ames first got together, Egyptian intelligence agents, many of whom were secret members of banned fundamentalist Islamic movements that spawned Egyptian Islamic Jihad, used the clandestine corridor to relocate from the Middle East to the United States.
These agents were hand-picked by the Moscow-based Philby and Blake networks after the two British traitors had defected. The fundamentalists were instructed to blend in with the Middle Eastern communities that sprang up in central US cities. Some penetrated US intelligence agencies and the armed services. These sleeper cells were responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and also provided the intelligence and operational infrastructure for Al Qaeda networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Today, we find them preparing more terrorist attacks in the United States and contributing resources to the guerrilla war that Al Qaeda and Arab fighters are waging against American troops in Iraq.
The reference to “a black hole in US intelligence” on the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, cited in the lead article of this issue, underscores the growing acknowledgement among American politicians and top brass that the global war against terror has been far less successful than official spokesman have claimed it to be. The same black hole dogs its operations from then until the present day.
The only person alive who knows all about the genesis and methods of operation of these Islamic fundamentalist terrorist networks is Aldrich Ames, the ex-CIA double agent serving a life sentence without parole, and he isn’t talking. The other true insider, Kuklinski, has just died.
In any case, their officially “adjusted” personal histories mean that they had no such knowledge to provide.
The US president and the Director of Central Intelligence are not about to call witnesses to untangle the labyrinth that predated both their tenures for the benefit of any inquiry commissions. It would mean first debunking the artificial historic timeline that counterintelligence agencies have worked so hard and for so long to preserve.