Hero or Traitor? The Story of CIA Secret Agent Ryszard Kukliński, aka 'Jack Strong'

27 Oct 2023
Ryszard Kukliński was a colonel in the Polish Army during the Cold War era who began spying for the US in 1972. Colonel Kukliński had been instrumental in the invasion by the Polish Army of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to put down the protests there and his unease with this and his realisation that Poland would likely be the main target of a nuclear strike in the event of war motivated him to contact the Americans. Over the next nine years he was to pass countless secrets to the CIA before he and his family were whisked out of the country on the eve of Martial Law being imposed in December 1981. In his absence he was sentenced to death by a Polish military court in 1984, a sentence that was commuted to 25 years' imprisonment when the death sentence was abolished after the fall of communism. In the mid-90s both of Kukliński's sons died under mysterious circumstances in the US within one year of each other. Though opinion in Poland was very divided at the time (and still is today), Kukliński was pardoned in 1997 after US President Clinton officially stated he would oppose Poland's NATO membership if Kukliński were not exonerated. He visited his home country again in 1998 and was buried in the row of honour in Warsaw's Powązki Cemetery after dying in Florida in 2004 at age 73.
Bust of Kukliński in Kraków's H. Jordan Park.

Kukliński's legacy today is still a matter of debate between Poles over whether he was a good or bad man. Despite Kukliński’s stated aims and the fact that he received no payment from the Americans, many consider him a traitor to his fellow soldiers and to the country he was supposed to be serving; a statue to him in Kraków has been vandalised on numerous occasions. By many others, on the other hand, he is considered an anti-communist hero who was trying to undermine the Soviet grip on Poland, protect his country and prevent a catastrophic war. In 2014 a Polish film about Kukliński’s life was released, entitled Jack Strong, his CIA codename.


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