In his book, A Covert Action: Reagan, the CIA, and the Cold War Struggle in Poland, Dr. Seth Jones examines the Reagan administration’s efforts during the Cold War to aid Poland’s Solidarity movement. Reagan used the CIA to support underground operations in Poland like printing leaflets, producing radio and television broadcasts, and coordinating public demonstrations. After extensive research, including review of recently declassified documents, Jones details the success of CIA’s covert activities including the emphasis on leaving no identifiable indicators of U.S. involvement.
Dr. Michael Ledeen served in the Reagan administration and is an analyst and commentator on the Iranian peoples’ efforts to achieve a democratic system of government. Ledeen will interview Dr. Jones about the findings of his book and will inquire as to what comparisons may exist between the Polish Solidarity movement and the Iranian peoples’ struggle for freedom.
Dr. Seth G. Jones, Harold Brown Chair; Director, Transnational Threats Project; and Senior Adviser, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and author, A Covert Action: Reagan, the CIA, and the Cold War Struggle in Poland
Dr. Michael Ledeen, Freedom Scholar, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
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Operator: Welcome to The Federalist Society's Practice Group Podcast. The following podcast, hosted by The Federalist Society's International & National Security Law Practice Group, was recorded on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, during a live teleforum conference call held exclusively for Federalist Society members.
Micah Wallen: Welcome to The Federalist Society's teleforum conference call. This afternoon's topic a book review on A Covert Action: Reagan, the CIA, and the Cold War Struggle in Poland. My name is Micah Wallen, and I am the Assistant Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society.
As always, please note that all expressions of opinion are those of the experts on today's call.
Today we are fortunate to have with us our author, Dr. Seth Jones, who is the Harold Brown Chair and Director of the Transnational Threats Project, as well as a Senior Advisor of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We also have Dr. Michael Ledeen, who is a Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. After our speakers give their opening remarks, we will then go to audience Q&A. Thank you all for sharing with us today. Michael, the floor is yours.
Dr. Michael Ledeen: Thank you. Hello, Seth. Good to be with you. I wanted to start by saying that this is one of those books that people who are really interested in how the 20th Century worked really must read because it opens a window into the underground world of Poland, which was the place where the Soviet Empire really came apart. The great benefit of Seth's book, aside from the fact that it's wonderfully written, and easy to read, and chock full of previously unknown bits of information, the great thing about it is that it shows that, contrary to what a lot of us have believed all along, the CIA was very busy in supporting Solidarity and in challenging the Soviet Empire in Poland.
And the reason for that is that both the Poles and the Soviets, as well as President Reagan and Director of Central Intelligence Casey understood that if the Russians couldn't manage Poland and couldn't manage Solidarity that they were doomed, and that Soviet Empire was teetering. And the key to it all was Solidarity.
I had a different role in this. I was, at the time, First Special Advisor to Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and then, later on, worked as a consultant at the National Security Council where my point of contact was Bud McFarlane. Seth does not deal with this part of the story, and he's quite clear about that. He's just dealing with CIA and how CIA made contact with the Solidarity underground and so on.
I would just like to point out a couple of things that are not in the book, and that we don't really know enough about, and haven't been able to document. I worked largely with a man named Boguta who ran the Solidarity underground publishing operation. And after Poland fell and after the Soviet Empire came apart, he started working, interestingly enough, with American entrepreneurs and created a free publishing house in Poland. And their first effort was to publish an encyclopedia, a free encyclopedia so that the Polish people would be able, for the first time, to go to a place and get information about their real history, who they were, what the Polish government was all about, and so on.
I'd like to start out with what seems to me still to be the most controversial and challenging aspect of all of this, which is General Jaruzelski. And my impression, based on my conversations with the Poles during that whole period, was that the Russians were very disappointed in Jaruzelski, and that contrary to a lot of what's been written about this, the Russians did not want to occupy Poland. They did not want to send military troops in. They wanted the Poles to do it themselves. They wanted Jaruzelski to clamp down on Solidarity by himself. And he was unwilling to do that.
So I'd like to start by asking Seth is that your impression? I mean, the big deal for CIA, after all, was that there was a history of Soviet invasions of satellite countries who were acting up. And when it came Poland's turn, then found Jaruzelski non-cooperative. He did not do what they wanted they wanted. Do you agree with that?
Dr. Seth Jones: I would put it a little differently, but generally in the same ballpark. I think what's important is to understand the time period we're talking about. There were various elements of opposition, the precursors of Solidarity throughout the 1970s, and even earlier, for that matter. But as we got into 1980, and there is what looks like a budding opposition movement that happens at the Polish port city of Gdańsk, it puts the Polish government in a pretty tough position because I think they did not want to crack down hard on Solidarity, particularly brutally.
And so in August of 1980, we get the Gdańsk Agreement, and the Polish government agrees to allow self-governing independent trade unions, a remarkable achievement. And it's really over the next year that the Soviets start to get concerned because Solidarity starts to blossom in Poland and grows in size up to nearly 10 million people. And it's really over the course of 1981 that the Soviets began to push very hard for Jaruzelski to crack down.
And they begin weighing -- I mean, it's interesting looking through some of the Soviet archives on the debates within the Soviet Politburo, for example, and even the KGB. There were concerns about sending Red Army and broader Warsaw Pact forces into Poland, in part because this was not Czechoslovakia. There were concerns that Solidarity members and others would -- they were well organized and would resist Red Army forces in their country. And so what they wanted Jaruzelski to do by December of 1981 was to crack down on Solidarity.
And there was a period in late 1981 after martial law, the end of December, and parts of 1982 where the Soviets seemed to be satisfied that Solidarity was under significant duress. Key members, including Lech Walesa, had been arrested. It looked like Solidarity was potentially on the ropes. But Jaruzelski just couldn't kill Solidarity as a movement. And I think in that sense, Soviet leaders, over time, became frustrated that Jaruzelski was strong enough to declare martial law, but weak enough not to eliminate Solidarity. So in the end, it was somewhere in the middle, Soviet leaders believed.
Dr. Michael Ledeen: Do you think there's any chance that Jaruzelski gulled the Soviets and that he pretended to be tougher than he was, that he was never prepared to really clam down on Solidarity? And there we have to talk about the Pope, don't we?
Dr. Seth Jones: Yeah, I think Jaruzelski was extremely concerned about a major military crackdown against Solidarity. It would have, as I think he rightly recognized, it would have led to almost certainly large-scale bloodshed. And so in that sense, he was willing to go only so far. Now, to be clear, martial law was pretty tough on Solidarity members, but there were other forces in Polish society that caused Jaruzelski to be concerned about how far to go. And one of them you noted, which is the Catholic Church.
And at the time, as people will remember, Pope John Paul II was Polish, and much of the Church in Poland at the time was sympathetic to Solidarity, in the end, actually aided chunks of the Solidarity underground, allowed churches like St. Bridget's in Gdańsk to be used for meetings, facilitated the movement of material, duplicator machines, ink, paper, to the Solidarity underground to print material. And so I think when Jaruzelski looked at the opposition movement, looked at the Church's role in supporting it, and looked at the high costs of what even a major Polish military crackdown would entail, he was pretty cautious on how far he was willing to go.
Dr. Michael Ledeen: And then the Pope went to Poland and had this monster rally in which he said to the Polish people, "Don't be afraid. Do not be afraid. You can challenge these people." And I think one of the key questions that we're going to have to answer both now and in the future is what was the real nature of the Solidarity revolution in Poland?
You wouldn't believe how many Polish intellectuals during this period came to Washington and talked to their counterparts in the United States. Commentary magazine was like a kind of Solidarity university in exile. We had dozens of these people who would come to us and ask us questions, and try to develop theories about what could happen to Poland in the future, and what was the nature of the Soviet Empire, and how could you challenge it, and what was the nature of revolution? I mean, it was wide open.
Dr. Seth Jones: It was wide open. One other major difference is when martial law happens, it happens under a relatively new U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, who had equated Solidarity with the founding of the United States. And he looked at them, for right or wrong, as something akin to the founders of the U.S. in pushing back against a British occupation. So when, over the course of 1982, the U.S. administration is debating what, if anything, to do in Poland other than sanctions, which were put on both the Soviet Union and Poland, should the U.S. provide some other type of assistance, and what should it look like? That became a huge question.
And I think what was different about Reagan than some other previous U.S. Presidents is that many of them prior to 1981 and 1982 had essentially gone along with the interpretation of Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta in 1945, which was to essentially cede Eastern Europe to the Soviets. That was their sphere of influence. And when it came to what the U.S. could or should do in Eastern Europe, there were some limited steps that the U.S. might do, but in general, it would largely cede that territory to the Soviet sphere of influence.
Well, Reagan didn't buy that, and you could see it in National Security Decision Directives 32 and 54, which -- particularly 54, which is on U.S. policy towards Eastern Europe. And it basically tosses Yalta out the window and says that the, in so many words, the Soviets are meddling in Latin America, including in Cuba. It's open game for us, not just to conduct military or diplomatic activity, but information operations because this is, at its core, the Cold War is a struggle of ideas. So what that meant is that the Reagan administration, with Casey as CIA Director and a number of others, including some Catholics, and including Haig, the first Secretary of State, there was support for a covert action program to aid Solidarity.
So unlike CIA assistance to the mujahideen in Afghanistan at the same time, with was lethal aid, including eventually Stinger missiles, what the administration decided in Poland was that this was a political opposition group, and therefore, what the opposition needed and what it should get was CIA money that went to purchase leaflets and offset presses and duplicators and silk screen frames and typewriters and reams of paper, all of the elements that Solidarity needed to run an underground, in addition to radio programming and some limited efforts to break into television. So that was really the core at that time of the Reagan administration's decision on whether or not, and in the end, to go into Poland and to do it as a covert program.
Dr. Michael Ledeen: Right. And it's interesting to compare Poland in the early 1980s and Iran today because the same questions keep coming up. What do you do? How do you do it? And we learned a lot. I mean, when I talked to the Solidarity underground and asked them, "What do you need? What do you want? What can we do for you?" and so forth, it emerged, first, that the great revolutionary technology of the time was the fax machine. We weren't into the internet era yet. But they needed to communicate with one another.
Oddly enough, it turned out that the Polish intellectuals who came to Washington and talked to us knew everything about the United States. They could tell you what was going on in Hollywood and on Broadway and so forth. But people in Gdańsk did not know what was going on elsewhere in the country. And the people who did that were people that CIA helped, which is Radio Free or Radio Liberty. Our broadcasting to them was enormously important because it -- then they learned what their counterparts all over Poland were doing, that they were not alone, that they weren't abandoned, that people were willing to stand with them and so forth. Was CIA surprised to discover that? Because we non-CIA people working on this were very surprised.
And here again, the Catholic Church played an enormously important role. I, myself, went virtually every month to Rome and talked to one of the Pope's two private secretaries, an African by the name of Kabongo. And Kabongo would brief me on what was going on in Poland because they knew. They had priests in every town and village, and we did not. They had much better sources than we did. So was the CIA equally surprised to discover the extent of the underground and the way in which what they needed to know was what was going on inside their own country?
Dr. Seth Jones: Yeah, I think they were surprised in a sense, or at least some were. What I also found relatedly, interesting, was there was a question about how the CIA would actually get the material that was needed by the underground in Poland either to use for printing or radio programs, or to communicate with each other, as you've just noted, inside of Poland.
And the way the CIA did this—and this is why this was a covert action program—was it -- and I think this is what made, frankly, this program, which went by the cryptonym QRHELPFUL, brilliant in many ways is they leveraged already existing rat lines, to use the clandestine terminology. They were already bringing black market material into Poland. So even before the CIA made a final decision with Reagan signing off on it to bring the duplicator machines and the paper and the ink cartridges into Poland, the question was how to do it. And there were already existing rat lines that went from Paris, or Brussels, or Malmö, or Stockholm, Sweden, by land routes or by maritime routes into Poland. The CIA simply recruited the range of the individuals that were running some of the key smuggling routes.
So just to give people an example of how this worked, what a CIA case officer might do is meet with his or her asset in Paris, provide funding for material, let's say a duplicator machine or a couple of duplicator machines to go by truck. That individual would take the cash, purchase the duplicators, put it on trucks. That truck might go from Paris to Brussels, Brussels to Hamburg, Hamburg by maritime route to Malmö, Malmö to Stockholm, Stockholm to Gdańsk. By the time it actually got into the underground area of someone's basement in the Polish -- in the Solidarity underground, it might have changed hands six or seven times. And anybody along that way would not have known where the funding came from or where the material came from.
The U.S. government's hand was hidden multiple layers, and this drove the KGB and Polish Security Services absolutely crazy. They could never find definitive proof because there was never a CIA case officer, for the most part, in Warsaw meeting with members of Solidarity. They put six, seven people or more in between themselves and the final destination. That's the way a cover action like QRHELPFUL ran.
Dr. Michael Ledeen: Right. And it was truly international. You had the European trade unions, European political parties. I mean, for example, I learned through these conversations that Sakharov's book was smuggled to the West by a Dutch Socialist who was in and out of the Soviet Union and in and out of Poland all during that period. And there were lots of these people.
Dr. Seth Jones: Yeah, there were. The CIA assistance, which is what I focused on, was, indeed, part of a broader effort of trade unions, government officials, occasionally some other intelligence services, broadcasts, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Voice of America, BBC, and others, and the Polish émigré community that was located in the suburbs of Paris, in various places in the United States, even in Mexico City, among other places, that were providing some types of assistance and aid to Solidarity.
So it was indeed broad international effort that played out in the smuggling of material, in books, in radio programming, and multiple other forums, all of which highlight that a lot of what we tend to remember about the Cold War is Star Wars. It may be U.S. weapons to the mujahideen in Afghanistan. And yet, what the Polish program in all its different forms shows us is that the Cold War was also to a great degree about the struggle of ideas between democracy and even capitalism, and Marxism, Leninism.
And I think that is -- as the CIA program really ramped up in Poland and other assistance was coming in, that is what really got the Soviets concerned because I think they felt that by the mid-1980s, they were now on the defensive, that Solidarity had survived, it was continuing to get material into Poland, it was gaining recognition across the world, and that the Soviets were losing this battle of ideas. And obviously, as we make our way later into the 1980s, into the era of perestroika and glasnost and Gorbachev, that it becomes very clear that the ideological struggle in Poland is symptomatic of the broader struggle of ideas in Eastern Europe and that the Soviets are losing and losing big.
Dr. Michael Ledeen: Right. If they couldn't manage Poland, they couldn't manage the empire. All of Eastern Europe was up for grabs, and they knew it. And Reagan understood that, and Casey got that one right, dead right. He knew that if they lost Poland, they were going to lose the whole thing. Seth, thank you very much. I hope all our listeners get your book and read it, and study it, and learn from it. Why don't we take some questions from the listeners now?
Micah Wallen: We have a few questions lined up, so without further ado, we will now go to our first caller.
Don Padou: Hi, Seth. My name is Don Padou. I don't expect you to remember me, but I was a student of yours well over a decade ago. The question I have is it's my understanding that some groups help the CIA smuggle things like newsprint and Xerox machines and ink into Poland. It's been reported that one of those groups was the AFL-CIO. I'm curious -- was the AFL-CIO's operations on its own, or was it cooperating closely with the CIA?
Dr. Seth Jones: Good question, and great to hear from you again. On the AFL-CIO, let me just differentiate two components. One of them is the program in Poland which went by the CIA cryptonym QRHELPFUL, was almost entirely just a CIA program. And that is, it was run by case officers, managed out of Langley, run by case officers in cities like Paris where there was a large émigré population, definitely not in Warsaw or in other Polish cities where there was far too much penetration by Polish security services and the KGB.
And that when it came to those rat lines that I described earlier, that the most significant groups that moved that material -- so CIA would provide the money. The money would then go into the hands of different black market smugglers. There were a few cases, philanthropists, and they would then push it through their networks to get it into Poland and into the hands of Solidarity members. There was a little bit of British assistance in QRHELPFUL, and occasionally, the CIA would leverage -- actually, really, the smugglers would leverage small numbers of Catholic officials including priests, which generally were not checked at the border. But for the most part, this was largely a CIA orchestrated and executed operation.
Now, switching gears, there was CIA/AFL-CIO cooperation at various points, including on issues related to Poland. But the vast majority of this particular program which was, as far as I could tell in looking at funding streams going into Poland, the largest source of funding into Poland, it was largely just a CIA, not a CIA/AFL-CIO operation. QRHELPFUL was a CIA run, CIA executed operation. And there were other things in other areas of the world that were done in cooperation or at least leveraging the AFL-CIO. And certainly, the AFL-CIO was involved, and Lane Kirkland was involved in getting material into Poland and to Solidarity, but I would characterize that as a cooperative endeavor rather than one that was centrally coordinated.
So they were essentially two operations. There was the AFL-CIO one; there was the CIA one. They were both aware -- certainly, the CIA was aware of AFL-CIO. I think AFL-CIO -- Kirkland likely was. Other elements of AFL-CIO, probably less so because even, as I've found out, much of CIA didn't even know the specifics of this covert action program. So to answer your question, some cooperation in general, but they were two separate programs.
Micah Wallen: All right, we'll now move to our next question.
Karen Lugo: This Karen Lugo, and I want to first thank both of you for your fascinating insights. I have conversed with Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of Parliament in the U.K., and she tells fascinating accounts of how she would ride in the back of utility trucks into Poland and smuggle the various writing supplies that you've spoken of from the U.K. or other areas where she'd gather them. But she also talked of her work within the religious community in Poland. And I, over the years, have kind of taken on some research interest in the life of Father Jerzy Popieluszko.
And he, while probably very close to the Pope, was, I think, more the person on the ground in Poland who, when the Pope would say from a distance, "Fear not," Father Jerzy Popieluszko lived that maxim where he was stopped by the Polish Security Services, KGB. There were threats against his life. He knew that they were perusing him, and yet, he would still publicly meet in the public squares with thousands and thousands of people.
And so my question is when someone like this becomes kind of the symbolic galvanization for a people -- and ultimately, he was martyred, brutally tortured, and his body dumped in the Vistula River in 1984. So if this coincides with when the Soviets began to understand they were losing their grip, how instrumental is somebody like this who lives among the people and is looked at as such an example of leadership in a situation like this?
Dr. Seth Jones: Oh, he was incredibly influential. And I spend a little bit of time in the book looking at his influence and at his October 1984 assassination. I think it's interesting that he was a strong anti-communist. He was a strong Solidarity supporter. His sermons were broadcast in Poland and, importantly, across Eastern Europe by, among other channels, Radio Free Europe. And he was viewed by the Polish regime, the Jaruzelski regime and the Soviets as dangerous. And so when he was beaten, tied up, stuffed in the trunk of a Polish built Fiat, and then, eventually, had his body dumped into the water, as you noted, and was killed, it added to his legendary status.
And so I think what it showed, among other things, is there was significant anguish at this death. It was a major moment where Polish people -- they attended an open-air requiem for him in November of 1984. There were large numbers of Poles that showed up. There were a number of foreign dignitaries that came. And even in the United States, what's interesting is the Polish community in Chicago erected a monument to him in the Garden of Memory at the Basilica of St. Hyacinth. The Catholic Church in Trenton, New Jersey, constructed a bust of him. And we see that at other locations.
It's also interesting, as I identified over the course of the research, that the CIA got involved in this, so recognizing his symbolic value. They printed roughly 40,000 postcards -- they, the CIA, printed roughly 40,000 postcards with the Father's image on it, along with texts of his sermon. And then Radio Free Europe broadcast audio segments of those sermons after his death. And so there was some CIA effort to use the death to continue to support the underground movement. So even the CIA, as I found out, attempted to take advantage of his murder in ways that would support Solidarity. So I think that the answer to your question is his life and death were instrumental in undermining the regime support and strengthening Solidarity, particularly in the mid-1980s as we get into that Gorbachev period which, really, we see Marxism, Leninism begin to unravel.
Micah Wallen: All right, we'll now go to our next question.
Joe Morris: Hi. This is Joe Morris in Chicago, coincidentally enough, just a few miles away from that memorial at St. Hyacinth's. I want to ask you a question about President Reagan's involvement in all of this. Around the same time, he was tasking CIA and other agencies, including a non-intelligence agency, USIA—they no longer exist, the U.S. Information Agency, its public diplomacy program seemingly a lot dismantled in the intervening decades—tasking them to do similar things in many places around the world, in Afghanistan, for example.
That is to say, giving people on the ground access to modalities, then-modern modalities of communication, technology that would allow them to communicate with each other and get the story out to the outside world of the atrocities and other things that the Soviets and their allies were committing. My impression is that this was very much something driven by the personality and worldview of Ronald Reagan himself. Is it fair to say that but for Ronald Reagan, the Polish exercises and the rest of this probably would not have happened?
Dr. Seth Jones: I think it's an interesting counterfactual. I think the election of Ronald Reagan, his strategic approach in dealing with the Soviet Union, and his choice of cabinet officials, including actually bringing Casey, the CIA Director, into the cabinet, likely made his administration different than almost any other previous one. Now, if this had happened under the Carter administration, one of Carter's National Security Advisors who I spoke to about this subject, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was a hawk, was Polish himself and a strong supporter of Solidarity. He would likely -- and he was, over the course of the Reagan administration, a supporter of the CIA's program and had been briefed on it.
But I find it unlikely that in most previous U.S. administrations, they would -- the range of advisors to the President would have been willing to really throw out the U.S. decision at Yalta to go into Eastern Europe in a relatively aggressive way. And so I think what Reagan did is strategically with his national security decision directives, make it very clear that all parts of the globe, including Eastern Europe, were open game.
And also very importantly, and we see this in his national security strategy, that individuals like Richard Pipes wrote, is that the issue of information operations or ideology were -- ideology was elevated to really the same playing field as diplomatic, military, development, and other efforts. And for Reagan, who had spent much of his career in Hollywood, and actually even before that in radio programming—people forget that after college, he spent his early years as a -- involved in radio in the Midwest—he understood the importance of communication. So I think all of these things explain probably how under Reagan and maybe few other presidents, something like this would have happened.
Now, it should also be noted that Reagan himself was not that involved on a day-to-day basis in this program which was largely run by CIA. Where he was involved was signing off on the program. A covert action program, by law, has to be signed off by the president, and he did that in 1982. In addition, Reagan, if you look at the now declassified archives of the administration in 1981 and 1982, Poland dominated foreign policy of the Reagan administration, and Solidarity, and supporting Solidarity.
And if you look in President Reagan's diary, he felt very strongly -- and it's worth going back if people are interested, to his December 1981 Christmas address where he urges all Americans to light a candle and put it in their window to support Solidarity in Poland. He was an incredible communicator and gravitated toward the Solidarity cause in ways that I'm not sure another president would have done in similar circumstances.
So I think, coming back to your question, Reagan may have been one of the few American presidents, if those issues had come up, that would have supported it in the way he did. And I think it really is a testament to who he was and to his black and white view of good and evil, freedom and democracy versus Marxism, Leninism. He made a pretty stark call, and then pushed forward.
Micah Wallen: Not seeing any other questions join the line. Did you gentlemen have any closing remarks?
Dr. Seth Jones: I have two, just briefly. It's interesting to look at the context within which Solidarity emerges and the way the Reagan administration comes into office in 1980. There are some interesting parallels to today, not just as Michael noted earlier, Iran, but also with Russia because as the administration is being briefed in late 1980 by Stansfield Turner, the outgoing CIA director for President Carter, it becomes increasingly clear that the KGB is very involved in what they call active measures against the United States. It is a well-funded, ideological effort to benefit Moscow and communism and undermine the U.S., who the KGB considered the main enemy, and its allies. So the KGB was involved in establishing front groups to funnel money to political parties and non-governmental organizations, covertly broadcast radio and other programs, orchestrate information and disinformation campaigns, and other activity that were really on the level of a war of ideas.
And so when the Reagan administration comes to office, Poland and the administration's response to Poland is an opportunity for the United States government to go on the offensive ideologically in the Soviet Union's backyard to support a democratic opposition movement. And so in that sense, it was really clear by this period that this war of ideas is not just defensive. It is also offensive, the KGB heavily involved in offensive information campaigns, active measures overseas. Previous U.S. administrations were pretty cautious on offensive operations, and it's clear that Reagan wants to go and does go on the offense ideologically in Eastern Europe, and even in the Soviet Union itself. And so in that sense, this is a big break from previous campaigns.
And I think what I found really interesting, and this is the second part, is even though the administration with support to Solidarity did not expect that Solidarity would do anywhere near as well as it did, in 1989, Solidarity, with support over the previous decade from CIA and other trade unions and radio programs, wins, does extremely well in the Polish elections. And then, by 1990, Lech Walesa is elected President of Poland. So Solidarity comes full circle from nearly being decimated in December of 1981 to winning the elections.
It is an absolutely phenomenal story and is instrumental in triggering the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union more broadly. So Poland plays a major role in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the expansion of democracy, of capitalism across Eastern Europe. So the end of the story is a really, really interesting one, and one that, I think, shows how powerful democratic values during this period, anyway, were and what the impact of supporting them was.
Dr. Michael Ledeen: Right. Number one, get the book and read it because it's got things in there that you do not know and should know about how revolutions work and how totalitarian empires come down. And I think Seth has really done an outstanding job in illuminating that for us.
And the other is that the great missing piece in all of this, and we probably won't get it for a century or so, is what was the Catholic Church up to? What was the Vatican up to? What did John Paul II do that we have no clue about, at least up until now? Remember that Reagan used to send General Walters, a former top CIA official and ambassador-at-large under Reagan, used to send him to the Vatican to talk to the Pope about Poland. And we don't know what transpired there. We don't have those documents yet. We're blessed to be able to have the CIA documents, thanks to Seth. The next big chunk is going to be the Church documents.
Dr. Seth Jones: Yep.
Micah Wallen: And actually, one other question did come through on the line, so if you don't have any objection, Seth, we could try and squeeze that last question in.
Dr. Seth Jones: Yeah, that's fine.
Micah Wallen: All right. Caller, after you hear the prompt, please feel free to ask your question.
Carter Page: Hey there, it's Carter Page. Thanks a lot for adding that last bit. I agree with your point about Russia also being an interesting analogy beyond the Iran example that we spoke about earlier. I'm just curious to hear a little bit more about your thoughts in terms of that same analogy of Russia's alleged active measures more recently. And I see a lot of similarities along the lines of what you're alluding to similar to what happened with the AFL-CIO back in Poland. I think we've now seen a lot of evidence where the DNC and some of their operatives were working with CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies back in 2016.
And I'm curious, primarily, about your methodology. It sounds like a very interesting book. I look forward to reading it. But what led you to write this now? Was there some declassification that came out, etc.? And also, it seems like we're on more of an expedited pathway right now to getting some of the more recent disclosures coming out in terms of what happened in 2016. And I'm just curious how the book came about and any thoughts you have, given some of the things that DNI designate Ratcliffe and others have been saying about the importance of getting to the bottom of some of the collaboration between domestic groups in the U.S. intelligence agencies and active measures overseas. So thanks.
Dr. Seth Jones: Good questions. As for the origin, to begin there briefly, I had been looking with my agent and my publisher, which is W. W. Norton, opportunities and subjects to look at. And someone, a colleague, really a friend of mine who had served in the National Clandestine Service had suggested, "You know, you might want to look at some CIA programs that have not been fully declassified yet, and certainly not even been acknowledged. But there's a little bit of information out there."
So I looked at a few, and the Polish one, I was really drawn to. I found at least three sources. One of them was, for example, Bob Gates's book From the Shadows where he talks about the Polish program CIA assistance to Solidarity. There aren't a lot of details. And it came out in a few other books from former CIA employees that had to go through the review board. And so when I went to the Reagan archives and started talking with former National Security Council officials in the Reagan administration, and then retired CIA officials that had worked on the program, it just opened up a world of information.
So if you were to think about this as taking a puzzle and dumping all the pieces onto a table, as I went to the Reagan archives and talked to individuals involved in the program, and then also looked at some of the published material, primary source material, we started to put those pieces together. So that's really what drew me to this particular case study. This was really -- I started looking at this before even the current Russia situation had surfaced, certainly in the way that ended up happening in 2016 and afterwards.
What I would just say about this, in general, is that I think what's interesting here, and the case study of U.S. assistance to groups like Solidarity and what the Reagan administration did is, and this does get to issues today, is to recognize that with competitor states, and this could certainly be true just as much with Russia as with China and with Iran, is we will often forget -- people often forget that this is not just a struggle over economic issues, sanctions, military issues, but one that is a struggle over ideas. So active measures, what the Soviets called it in the 1980s and to some degree where the Russians are today, is, to a great extent, it's about competing at the level of ideas.
And I think what the U.S. has to do as well is stick to its core democratic principles in combating these kinds of efforts because at the core, I think, as I look at what the Russians and the Chinese and even the Iranian are up to, they are using all means disposable on social media, television, radio, person to person, in ways that benefit them and undermine the U.S. and undermine the U.S. relationship to its allies, and that we have got to recognize that this is, in part, a competition about ideas. We've got to be able to not just defend ourselves on the home front, but also be willing to go offensive.
And this period of the 1980s where the U.S. wins the Cold War, I mean, that's pretty unambiguous now. And it won it to a great extent by what it was doing in radio programming and covert assistance to democratic opposition movements. U.S. made mistakes during this period—Sandinistas and the Contras, Nicaragua, was problematic in some ways—but it also made huge and correct decisions about how to operate. So that, to me, is one of the lessons I take today is a lot of populations around the world which can't access the internet in China, in Russia, in Iran, that state-run media, that there are opportunities for helping their populations the way we did with Solidarity. That's, to me, one of the biggest lessons I take away from this period.
Dr. Michael Ledeen: Can I say amen to that?
Micah Wallen: Absolutely. Do either of you have anything else to say before I close the call today?
Dr. Michael Ledeen: I think that our greatest weapons against totalitarian regimes are political, not military, and that we need to use those weapons much more aggressively than we generally do.
Dr. Seth Jones: Amen.
Micah Wallen: All right. And on behalf of The Federalist Society, I'd like to thank our experts for the benefit of their valuable time and expertise today. We welcome listener feedback by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all for joining us. We are adjourned.
Operator: Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed this practice group podcast. For materials related to this podcast and other Federalist Society multimedia, please visit The Federalist Society's website at www.fedsoc.org/multimedia.