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Poland: Communist-era Spy Kuklinski Returns Home

Washington, 29 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The most famous American intelligence agent of recent years has returned to his native Poland for an 11-day visit.

Shortly after his arrival two days ago (April 27), Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski had a two-hour meeting with Poland's Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek who praised his decision to supply the United States with top-secret data on Soviet military plans in Poland.

Once declared a traitor and sentenced to death, Kuklinski is now a state guest. He is to be compensated for his house, confiscated by the communist government. His old yacht is refurbished free of charge and will be presented to him as a gift. Kuklinski is also being awarded with honorary citizenship in two Polish cities: Krakow and Gdansk.

Between 1972 and 1981, Kuklinski volunteered his services for U.S. intelligence, delivering more than 34,000 pages of classified Warsaw Pact information. Serving as the operations chief for Poland's general staff, he knew the plans to impose martial law to break the Solidarity movement and sent them to the West.

In November 1981, a few weeks before that martial law was declared, the U.S. government spirited Kuklinski out of Poland. In 1984, a military court convicted him of treason and handed down a death sentence in absentia. Since then, Kuklinski and his family have lived in the United States under government protection, under another name. His address and telephone number have been closely guarded secrets.

Following the collapse of the communist government in 1989, the death sentence was rescinded. Last September the government dispatched two military prosecutors to Washington to interview Kuklinski. The prosecutors reported their findings to a military tribunal in Warsaw which dismissed the charges altogether on the grounds that "higher imperatives" had motivated Kuklinski.

Polish diplomats in Washington describe Kuklinski as "a tragic figure," as both of his children recently perished: one was killed in a car crash in Virginia and the other disappeared in a boating accident off Miami, Florida. Though the police ruled both accidents, many observers -- and reportedly Kuklinski himself -- believe that rogue intelligence agents of the old order in Eastern Europe might have been responsible for helping the accidents happen.

Former U.S. Ambassador in Warsaw Richard Davies called him "one of the most important agents in the annals of espionage." Kuklinski acted out of patriotism, Davies said, and not because of any thought of financial gain. Ambassador Davies called Kuklinski "the last victim" of the cold war.

His return to Poland, originally scheduled for last December, was postponed a few times. Earlier this year, the Polish embassy in Washington honored Kuklinski on the 251st birthday of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Polish military hero who also fought the British during the American Revolution, by giving him a new Polish passport and restoring his military rank and pension. Kuklinski is one of several former Warsaw Pact officials who secretly worked for a NATO member during the cold war. A handful of his lesser known colleagues have been released from prison since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but, according to Congressional sources, most are unable to get decent jobs and are often treated contemptuously by the authorities. Others, who found their way to the West, are at times handled like pariahs when visiting their native lands.