Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Whatever they're calling it these days - the KGB still has a long arm

Former KGB/FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko died in London a few days ago. Reportedly, some of his last words were, "The bastards got me."

He seems to have been poisoned with a radioactive isotope of Polonium, ironically enough. The element Polonium was named after the nation of Poland by its co-discoverer Maria Sklodowska, better known by her married name of Madame Curie. In 1897 when the element was discovered, Poland was still partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary, and Madame Sklodowska-Curie hoped that naming the element for her country would bring world attention to their desire to be a free state again. This makes it the only element named to highlight a political cause and one of the few to be named after a country.*

Litvenko paid a high price attempting to reveal to the world that the heads of the Russian state are still killing people who talk too freely. And he was murdered in London, among cities the gem of the western world. And he wasn't the only one. Others have paid as high a price - or higher.

But we here in America can be complacent can't we? We know America is too far away for such things to happen here, don't we?

Whenever I run up against this attitude (frequently), I am reminded of the great re-make of "Goodbyb Mister Chips" with Peter O'Toole and Petula Clarke. Near the outbreak of the Second World War, Chips and his best friend, the German master at their prep school are walking across the lovely old campus. The German master tells him that the Fuhrer has ordered all German nationals home. Chips implores him, "Don't go." The German master tells him that his mother is still alive in Germany. "My dear old fellow, they wouldn't." The German master gives him such a look, and says, "My dear old fellow - they would." He looks around the place he loves and remarks, "You English. How much you have, and how little you appreciate it."

Poland regained independence and sovereignty at the end of the First World War. They got to keep it for twenty years. Poland was first dismembered in 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and then incorporated as a satrapy of the Soviet empire until 1989.

In the last decades of communist rule in Poland, a rising young officer named Ryszard Kuklinski was promoted to positions that gave him frequent contact with Soviet military leaders and allowed him see much in the way of Soviet plans, and to infer more. What he found was that the Soviets intended to conquer Western Europe when they thought they were ready. He could reasonably infer from past Soviet behavior that they would drive the forces of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania before them to take the first bullet, and to make sure they knew which direction to attack. And he found that the Soviets planed that if the battlefield went nuclear, Poland was expendable. Meaning, no more Poland, just a glass self-lighting parking lot.

Kuklinski contacted the CIA and began passing secrets to them. He rose in rank to become a Colonel and chief of the planning division of the Polish army before suspicion began to fall on him. In 1981 he was extracted with his family.

Kuklinski's story has been documented by Benjamin Weiser in 'A Secret Life: the Polish officer, his covert mission and the price he paid to save his country'. Available from Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Officer-Mission-Country/dp/1586483056/sr=1-1/qid=1164725493/ref=pd_bbs_1/105-5967188-7978867?ie=UTF8&s=books You can also read the generally favorable review from Publisher's Weekly.

I said "generally favorable" but it has this caveat: "At times Weiser goes overboard in establishing the point, reprinting at inordinate length Kuklinski's high-minded letters to his CIA handlers and their equally gushing tributes to his idealism and strength of character (the question of how much money the CIA paid Kuklinski is somewhat coyly skirted). " Which makes me want to shout at them, "You smug fools! Don't you know that you're talking about the hero who more than any other single man, prevented World War III?"

How much money was he paid? My wife, daughter of a Major in the Secret Chancellery of the Polish Military (who thinks Kuklinski was a hero who did what a lot of them would have liked to) remarked, "Whatever it was - it wasn't enough." Kuklinski's two sons were killed in America. One in a hit-and-run where the driver of the car was never found (surprise! surprise!), the other disappeared while on a diving trip with friends. His daughter is living in hiding. The KGB has a long arm. And never, never think that it can't reach into America.

Ion Mihai Pacepa, head of Romanian Securitate and the highest-ranking defector of the Cold War also confirms the Soviet plans - but then, he is more than just a bit of a self-promoter. Actually, Romanian dissidents I know tell me he's a cast-iron son of a bitch. And nobody gets to be head of Securitate with clean hands.

So did the Soviets really intend to invade western Europe? My son's godmother, widow of a Russian KGB defector (from SMERSH no less), says, of course. The planned date of the invasion was 1981. She says that family sources in NATO had it that actions such as the Falkland Islands war convinced the Soviet general staff that the West's technical superiority offset the Soviet superiority in numbers along the European frontier - and more importantly, that they still had the will to resist. And with Colonel Kuklinski's defection, the Soviets knew that the details of their plans were known to the West.

I still know Americans and Europeans who refuse to believe this. Well guess what? The Polish government is now publishing the Warsaw Pact documents that detail all of it. Russia is not happy with this (at the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact they coerced the member states to sign agreements not to do so). The Poles could care less what the Russians think.

Colonel Kuklinski died in 2004 and is buried in Powaski Military Cemetery in Warsaw. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of general.

* Chemical elements: There are other countries represented on the periodic table, such as Francium, Gallium (from Gaul, that's France twice) and Germanium. Two continents, Americium and Europium. One American state, Californium, one city in California, Berkelium and quite a few European cities, sometimes under their Latin names. But there is a diddly-squat little village in Sweden that has four chemical elements named for it. The town of Ytterby boasts: Terbium, Erbium, Ytrium and Ytterbium.


  • At 10:51 PM, Blogger The Jackel said…

    I just wanted you to know that I really appreicate your blog. I especialy enjoy your observations on your time in the middle east and central europe. Your doing an excellent job.

  • At 3:49 PM, Blogger gilmoure@gmail.com said…

    from SMERSH, no less

    Looks like I sold my Minox camera too soon.

  • At 6:56 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Yes, when she told me this my jaw dropped and I exclaimed, "James Bond's old enemies?" She replied, "Oh yes, those dreadful Bond books."

    Isn't a Minox a film camera? In Germany I saw a vest pocket digital camera for sale called appropriately enough, the Spion.


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