A COVERT ACTION by Seth G. Jones


Reagan, the CIA, and the Cold War Struggle in Poland
Email this review


The untold story of the CIA's rescue of Solidarity, “Poland’s flowering democratic movement.”

On Dec. 13, 1981, Poland's virtual dictator, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, imposed martial law on his country, suspending and later banning the independent trade union Solidarity. The Ronald Reagan administration responded publicly with vocal condemnation and sanctions directed at the Polish economy. Almost a year later, the president signed a secret presidential finding authorizing the CIA to provide covert nonlethal assistance to moderate Polish opposition groups, including money, printing equipment, videotapes, and telecasts. Between 1983 and the fall of Poland's communist government in 1989, the aid program, code-named QRHELPFUL, delivered publications and materials that kept Solidarity alive at a cost of less than $20 million. To preserve the opposition's legitimacy and independence, the aid was delivered through a web of intermediary organizations, foundations, and individuals so tangled that the Poles themselves did not know the original source. National security consultant Jones (Waging Insurgent Warfare: Lessons from the Vietcong to the Islamic State, 2016, etc.) delivers a comprehensive and insightful account of how Poland moved from communism to democracy through the nonviolent efforts of its independent trade unionists, with assists from Western nations and Pope John Paul II. Along with biographical sketches of Lech Walesa,, Jaruzelski, Reagan, and CIA director William Casey, the author tracks the high-level decisions in the American government to maintain the pressure on Poland and illustrates the Polish government's desperate efforts to navigate between threats of military intervention from Moscow and of domestic upheaval from its own workers and the Catholic Church. Readers hoping for a real-life James Bond adventure will be disappointed, however. The CIA's assistance ultimately plays an important but minor role in the story and includes no tales of personal derring-do, though the details of how materials such as printer's ink were smuggled into Poland are colorful.

A revealing sidebar to a familiar story that has been thoroughly told elsewhere.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-393-24700-8
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2018


NonfictionHUNTING IN THE SHADOWS by Seth G. Jones
by Seth G. Jones
NonfictionIN THE GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES by Seth G. Jones
by Seth G. Jones


IndieTHE REAGAN FILES by Jason Saltoun-Ebin
by Jason Saltoun-Ebin
NonfictionSOLIDARITY’S SECRET by Shana Penn
by Shana Penn
NonfictionFROM THE SHADOWS by Robert M. Gates
by Robert M. Gates