Why can’t we be friends? Establishing a relationship between Polish and American intelligence agencies in the context of political transformation

Tomasz Kozłowski

At the turn of 1989 and 1990, the Central Intelligence Agency, in consultation with the White House, decided to initiate relations with the intelligence institutions of three countries: Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. A similar, rather neutral invitation, was addressed to all of them to cooperate in the monitoring and elimination of three universal threats: terrorism, arms trafficking and drug trafficking. However, as soon as the Americans noticed interest in their offer, they were raising the stakes by offering closer cooperation, exchange of information and favours in return for their partners to discontinue intelligence operations against the US. They were also interested in using the contacts of the Polish intelligence service in the Middle East.

Why did the Eastern European intelligence institutions accept such conditions of cooperation? First of all, they were under political pressure. At the beginning of 1990, it was clear to everyone that the period of absolute Soviet domination in Central and Eastern Europe was over. No one knew how the situation would develop, but politicians saw the need to prepare for a geopolitical shift. In the case of Poland and Hungary, economic issues were particularly important – the governments of those countries expected Western loans and assistance in the implementation of economic reforms. Among other things, this motivated the two countries to take part in the transit of the Soviet Jews to Israel. Such a decision generated a threat from parts of the Middle Eastern terrorist organizations, but at the same time, created a platform for cooperation in combating that threat.

The heads of intelligence services had also more selfish motivations to accept the CIA's offer. By observing the developments in Hungary, Polish intelligence had come to the conclusion that the refusal to cooperate could be potentially dangerous. A Polish intelligence officer residing in Budapest had a well-developed contact network, including the broadly understood Hungarian secret service staff. His interlocutors were convinced that the scandal that wiped out the entire management of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior at the beginning of 1990 was inspired by no one else but the CIA. The Polish party learnt from this lesson, and willingly initiated cooperation. The cooperation quickly turned out to be very profitable for the US, as the Polish special services rendered them great favours, both during the Iraqi operation and during the transit of Soviet Jews. In return, the CIA provided protection of the former communist intelligence officers. As a result, not only did they keep their jobs in the newly established Office for State Protection, but they also held senior positions in the Office. The bene-fits were mutual: Polish intelligence was one of the institutions that played a major role in the Polish-American rapprochement, with a visible effect in the form of redemption of a large part of Polish debt.

Sylwia Szyc