Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

A Secret Life by Benjamin Weiser

- Abstract

Patriot Games A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country by Benjamin Weiser
Public Affairs. 383 pp. $27.50
Reviewed by Richard Pipes

Mark Twain once wrote:“Truth is stranger than Fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth is not.” This paradoxical thought applies well to the biography of Ryszard Kuklinski, a Polish colonel who between 1972 and 1981 supplied the CIA with a steady stream of information about the most closely held secrets of the Warsaw Pact. The courage of this modest man, and the cunning he and his American “handlers” displayed in eluding Polish security services, make a tale filled with such improbabilities that I doubt any writer would consider it suitable for a work of fiction.

Born in 1930 into a worker’s family, Kuklinski lost his father during the war: he died in a Nazi concentration camp after having been arrested and tortured by the Gestapo. When the war ended, young Kuklinski joined the Polish army, an institution that enjoyed a reputation among Poles second only to the Catholic Church, and rose rapidly in its ranks due to his outstanding intelligence and industry. In time, he joined the general staff, where he had access to the Warsaw Pact’s war-fighting plans.

About the Author

Richard Pipes is professor of history emeritus at Harvard and the author most recently of Russian Conservatism and Its Critics (Yale).