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U.S. Intelligence and the Confrontation in Poland, 1980–1981

Douglas J. MacEachin

Publication Year: 2004

Despite the U.S. government’s sophisticated intelligence capabilities, policymakers repeatedly seemed to be caught off guard when major crises took place during the Cold War. Were these surprises the result of inadequate information, or rather the use made of the information available? In seeking an answer to this question, former CIA analyst Douglas MacEachin carefully examines the crisis in Poland during 1980–81 to determine what information the U.S. government had about Soviet preparations for military intervention and the Polish regime’s plans for martial law, and what prevented that information from being effectively employed. Drawing on his experience in intelligence reporting at the time, as well as on recently declassified U.S. documents and materials from Soviet, Polish, and other Eastern European archives, MacEachin contrasts what was known then with what is known now, and seeks to explain why, despite the evidence available to them, U.S. policymakers did not take the threat of a crackdown seriously enough to prevent it.It was the mind-set of those who processed the information, not the lack or accuracy of information, that was the fundamental problem, MacEachin argues. By highlighting this cognitive obstacle, his analysis points the way toward developing practices to overcome it in the future.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Copyright Page

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pp. v

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pp. vi

This book is the outgrowth of an ongoing program of case studies sponsored by the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI) to examine past performance as a learning process for current and future practices. It would not have been possible without the major effort of Tom Troy, ...

Abbreviations and Acronyms

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Background and Process

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pp. 1-14

On 13 December 1981 the Polish regime imposed martial law to crush the civil opposition being led by the Solidarity labor union and diverse groups of dissidents. Many U.S. policy officials declared publicly at the time that they had been surprised by this move and that the U.S. government as a whole had not been prepared for it. ...

Part I: The Rise of Solidarity and the Threat of Soviet Intervention, July–December 1980

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pp. 15

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1 The Burgeoning Confrontation

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pp. 17-32

On 1 July 1980 the Polish government, without advance notice, announced that it had raised prices of food and other consumer goods. Meat prices were increased by as much as 60 to 90 percent. The next day, strikes for compensatory wage increases erupted throughout Poland. ...

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2 The Confrontation Escalates

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pp. 33-46

In the last week of September Soviet media attacks began portraying the Polish situation in the context of an East-West confrontation. Western “forces” were accused of “inciting antisocialist actions in the [Polish Peoples Republic],” attempting to “drive a wedge in the relations with the fraternal states of the socialist commonwealth” ...

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3 U.S. Launches Public Policy and Diplomatic Offensive

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pp. 47-62

At the beginning of December, the pattern of events moved into overdrive, with a flood of intelligence reporting on fast breaking events, White House meetings held almost daily to determine how the United States should react, and various public and diplomatic moves. ...

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4 Filling Out the Picture

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pp. 63-80

In mid-December the weather conditions that had been impeding assessment of the status of most of the Soviet forces in the western USSR dissipated. Imagery obtained at that time showed that only three regular ground force divisions in the western USSR were fully mobilized—one each in the Baltic region, ...

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5 Intelligence and Policy

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pp. 81-88

If Moscow had in fact intended to carry out some military action in December 1980—whether an exercise or something more—the evidence now available leaves little doubt that it had been called off by the end of the Moscow summit and probably sooner. ...

Part II: The Brink of Military Intervention, January–April 1981

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pp. 89

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6 Escalating Challenges to the Polish Regime

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pp. 91-104

The 5 December meeting of the Warsaw Pact party chiefs in Moscow had a sobering impact on Solidarity’s national leadership. The circumstances of the meeting itself and the public alarms sounded in the West conveyed a clear warning that the union had pushed party authorities both in Warsaw and in Moscow ...

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7 Jaruzelski Takes the Government Reins

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pp. 105-116

The party opened its latest Central Committee meeting on 9 February, and at the end of the first day announced that Prime Minister Pinkowski had resigned and that Defense Minister Jaruzelski had been selected as his successor. This was not unexpected. ...

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8 A Setup for Military Crackdown

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pp. 117-136

By the time the Soyuz ’81 exercises began in the third week of March, the image of a “honeymoon” period for the new Polish prime minister was already proving to be an illusion. On 8–9 March, less than a week after Kania and Jaruzelski had been again dressed down by Soviet leaders in Moscow, ...

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9 A Close Call?

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pp. 137-150

The release of official documents from the archives of the former Soviet Union and other states of the former Warsaw Pact military alliance have included many records of deliberations related to imposing force in Poland in the spring of 1981. Accounts by Polish and Soviet participants in the events have also been made public. ...

Part III: Marching to the End Game, April–December 1981

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pp. 151

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10 Liberalization Infects the Party

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pp. 153-168

From mid-April to about mid-July 1981, the level of confrontation between the regime and Solidarity was relatively constrained—certainly by comparison with the preceding nine months. To some extent this was result of the union’s tacit agreement to abide by Jaruzelski’s call for a strike moratorium in his 10 April speech to the parliament. ...

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11 Solidarity Charges Ahead, and the Regime Digs In

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pp. 169-188

Solidarity completed its own elections of delegates for its first national congress at the end of June, about the same time the party finished its delegate elections. Solidarity’s congress was not scheduled to take place until September, however, and was to be held in two parts. ...

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12 Bringing Down the Curtain

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pp. 189-210

Calls for a party Central Committee “plenum” had begun to be aired in the last week of September, after the parliament’s rebuff on workers self-management laws and the opening of the second session of Solidarity’s congress. After some juggling of the schedule and at least one postponement, the meeting was set for 16 October. ...

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13 Caught Off Guard

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pp. 211-234

For more than six weeks prior to the imposition of martial law, the U.S. government had been notably silent on all aspects relating to a possible military crackdown in Poland. This was in stark contrast to the klaxons sounded and reprisals threatened on earlier occasions, when the concern was a Soviet invasion ...

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14 Would It Have Made a Difference?

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pp. 235-244

Jaruzelski’s claim that he imposed martial law as a lesser evil to pre-empt an inevitable Soviet military intervention has had fairly widespread acceptance, as illustrated by the comments of U.S. policy officials at the time and by much of the literature since.1 This interpretation is a logical offspring of the strongly held conviction ...

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Author’s Note

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pp. 245-246

I would like to record a view on an issue that has been a subject of considerable debate among many who are aware of the role of former Polish military officer, Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski. Recently, some American scholars and Polish officials have asked me if I did not believe that Colonel Kuklinski’s reporting for the United States ...


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pp. 247-250


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pp. 251-256

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053110
E-ISBN-10: 0271053119
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271025285
Print-ISBN-10: 027102528X

Page Count: 268
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2004