The 1980s

Col. Ryszard Kuklinski

Weiser, Benjamin. A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country. New York: PublicAffairs, 2004. New York: PublicAffairs, 2004. [pb]

The paperback edition includes a brief addition to the "Postscript" noting Kuklinski's death on 11 February 2004 and the return of his ashes to Poland.

Clark comment: This may be the best book on human intelligence ever published. The people -- on both sides of the case officer/spy tandem -- are real people. The author allows their humanness to come through in both their words and actions. The dilemmas faced by Kuklinski and his handlers are presented in such a way that even those who have never had to face such decisions can readily understand and even identify with the potential harm that could come from a wrong move. The use of tradecraft -- the excellent use of tradecraft -- by the CIA officers and Kuklinski is carefully blended into the fabric of the story and is not overstated. Tradecraft is given the appropriate appearance of being little more than a normal part of the life of those who have to live by what otherwise would be rather strange-seeming activities. As Tom Troy says in Studies 48.2, "A Secret Life is a joy to read. Col. Ryszard Kuklinski is a hero, and Benjamin Weiser has written a great book about him." See also, my review in Defense Intelligence Journal 16.2 (2007): 155-156.

Eisner, Washington Post, 25 Apr. 2004, comments that "this well-done biography ... reveals the passions and tensions faced by Polish leaders under the thumb of Moscow during the 1970s and '80s. Weiser has produced a fascinating portrayal of Kuklinski, who decided that the best way to serve Polish nationalism was to become a spy for the West." The author's "lively narrative describes Kuklinski's nine years working for U.S. intelligence, converting interviews and a mountain of documentation into a page-turner."

For Jajko, Intelligencer 14.1, this is "a lucid, tightly organized book" and "a magnificent tale." The author's "narrative flows smoothly, explaining clearly and concisely all the main events of Colonel Kuklinski's double life without descent into tedious detail."

Troy, Studies 48.2 (2004), says the author's "riveting account .. of Kuklinski's life as a spy is superb; it should be 'must reading' for anybody interested in intelligence matters, the Cold War, or simply a good read.... Weiser never introduces extraneous material, embellishes the story, or speculates about what people were thinking, saying, and doing.... Col. Ryszard Kuklinski is a hero, and Benjamin Weiser has written a great book about him."

To Fischer, IJI&C18.1 (Spring 2005), this book offers insights into CIA tradecraft in "denied areas." However, Weiser approaches Kuklinski's story "from a human-interest angle and with a strong desire to recount the life of a courageous man to whom his Polish countrymen and Americans owe a debt of gratitude."

Chapman, IJI&C 18.2 (Summer 2005), reminds us that this "book was the first to detail the secret tradecraft used to run an agent deep inside the Iron Curtain in the face of competent counterintelligence police." This review is worth reading as an essay on the subject of its title: See Robert D. Chapman, "Patriot or Traitor?" International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 18, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 364-374.

For Hansen, JIH 5.2 (Winter 2005), Weiser's "is an important work done by a writer who ... has a fascinating way of telling an ex[c]iting story." Arnold, AIJ 24 (2006), finds the book "more engaging and much easier to read than many biographies that examine complicated and covert lives." In addition, Weiser "offers much to students of HUMINT tradecraft."

Szalacha, I&NS 22.2 (Apr. 2007), calls Weiser's work "an eminently readable volume that tells a controversial story in a relatively straightforward fashion." In what seems to be a rather strange interpretation, the reviewer thinks that A Secret Life "was written with an eye to glorifying the CIA as an institution, rather than to praise or vindicate Kuklinski."

Weiser's remarks to a CIRA luncheon on 6 October 2004 are well worth reading. See "Speech by Ben Weiser," CIRA Newsletter 26, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 3-14.

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