February 24, 1992
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The Holy Alliance
As Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, a member of the House Intelligence Committee from 1985 to 1990, who was apprised of some of the Administration's covert actions, observes, "In Poland we did all of the things that are done in countries where you want to destabilize a communist government and strengthen resistance to that.
We provided the supplies and technical assistance in terms of clandestine newspapers, broadcasting, propaganda, money, organizational help and advice. And working outward from Poland, the same kind of resistance was organized in the other communist countries of Europe."
Among those who played a consulting role was Zbigniew Brzezinski, a native of Poland and President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser. "I got along very well with Casey," recalls Brzezinski. "He was very flexible and very imaginative and not very bureaucratic; if something needed to be done, it was done. To sustain an underground effort takes a lot in terms of supplies, networks, etc., and this is why Solidarity wasn't crushed."
On military questions, American intelligence was better than the Vatican's, but the church excelled in its evaluations of the political situation. And in understanding the mood of the people and communicating with the Solidarity leadership, the church was in an incomparable position. "Our information about Poland was very well founded because the bishops were in continual contact with the Holy See and Solidarnosc," explains Cardinal Silvestrini, the Vatican's deputy secretary of state at that time. "They informed us about prisoners, about the activities and needs of Solidarity groups and about the attitude and schisms in the government." All this information was communicated to the President or Casey.
"If you study the situation of Solidarity, you see they acted very cleverly, without pressing too much at the crucial moments, because they had guidance from the church," says one of the Pope's closest aides. "Yes, there were times we restrained Solidarnosc. But Poland was a bomb that could explode--in the heart of communism, bordered by the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Too much pressure, and the bomb would go off."
Meanwhile, in Washington a close relationship developed between Casey, Clark and Archbishop Laghi. "Casey and I dropped into his [Laghi's] residence early mornings during critical times to gather his comments and counsel," says Clark. "We'd have breakfast and coffee and discuss what was being done in Poland. I'd speak to him frequently on the phone, and he would be in touch with the Pope." Says Laghi: "They liked good cappuccino. Occasionally we might talk about Central America or the church position on birth control. But usually the subject was Poland."
"Almost everything having to do with Poland was handled outside of normal State Department channels and would go through Casey and Clark," says Robert McFarlane, who served as a deputy to both Clark and Haig and later as National Security Adviser to the President. "I knew that they were meeting with Pio Laghi, and that Pio Laghi had been to see the President, but Clark would never tell me what the substance of the discussions was."
On at least six occasions Laghi came to the White House and met with Clark or the President; each time, he entered the White House through the southwest gate in order to avoid reporters. "By keeping in such close touch, we did not cross lines," says Laghi. "My role was primarily to facilitate meetings between Walters and the Holy Father. The Holy Father knew his people. It was a very complex situation--how to insist on human rights, on religious freedom, and keep Solidarity alive without provoking the communist authorities further. But I told Vernon, `Listen to the Holy Father. We have 2,000 years' experience at this.'"
Though William Casey has been vilified for aspects of his tenure as CIA chief, there is no criticism of his instincts on Poland. "Basically, he had a quiet confidence that the communists couldn't hold on, especially in Poland," says former Congressman Edward Derwinski, a Polish-speaking expert on Eastern Europe who counseled the Administration and met with Casey frequently. "He was convinced the system was falling and doomed to collapse one way or another--and Poland was the force that would lead to the dam breaking. He demanded a constant [CIA] focus on Eastern Europe. It wasn't noticed, because other stories were more controversial and were perking at the moment--Nicaragua and Salvador."
In Poland, Casey conducted the kind of old-style operation that he relished, something he might have done in his days at the Office of Strategic Services during World War II or in the early years of the CIA, when the democracies of Western Europe rose from the ashes of World War II. It was through Casey's contacts, his associates say, that elements of the Socialist International were organized on behalf of Solidarity--just as the Social Democratic parties of Western Europe had been used as an instrument of American policy by the CIA in helping to create anticommunist governments after the war. And this time the objective was akin to creating a Christian Democratic majority in Poland--with the church and the overwhelmingly Catholic membership of Solidarity as the dominant political force in a postcommunist Poland. Through his contacts with leaders of the Socialist International, including officials of socialist governments in France and Sweden, Casey ensured that tactical assistance was available on the Continent and at sea to move goods into Poland. "This wasn't about spending huge amounts of money," says Brzezinski. "It was about getting the message out and resisting: books, communications equipment, propaganda, ink and printing presses."
Look for the Union Label
In almost every city and town, underground newspapers and mimeographed bulletins appeared, challenging the state-controlled media. The church published its own newspapers. Solidarity missives, photocopied and mimeographed on American-supplied equipment, were tacked to church bulletin boards. Stenciled posters were boldly posted on police stations and government buildings and even on entrances to the state-controlled television center, where army officers broadcast the news.
The American embassy in Warsaw became the pivotal CIA station in the communist world and, by all accounts, the most effective. Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO, which had been the largest source of American support for Solidarity before martial law, regarded the Reagan Administration's approach as too slow and insufficiently confrontational with the Polish authorities. Nonetheless, according to intelligence sources, AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland and his aide Tom Kahn consulted frequently with Poindexter, Clark and other officials at the State Department and the NSC on such matters as how and when to move goods and supplies into Poland, identifying cities where Solidarity was in particular need of organizing assistance, and examining how Solidarity and the AFL-CIO might collaborate in the preparation of propaganda materials.
"Lane Kirkland deserves special credit," observes Derwinski. "They don't like to admit [it], but they literally were in lockstep [with the Administration]. Also never forget that Bill Clark's wife is Czechoslovak, as is Lane Kirkland's wife. This is one issue where everybody was aboard; there were no turf fights or mavericks or naysayers."
But AFL-CIO officials were never aware of the extent of clandestine U.S. assistance, or the Administration's reliance on the church for guidance regarding how hard to push Polish and Soviet authorities. Casey was wary of "contaminating" the American and European labor movements by giving them too many details of the Administration's efforts. And indeed this was not strictly a CIA operation. Rather, it was a blend of covert and overt, public policy and secret alliances. Casey recognized that in many instances the AFL-CIO was more imaginative than his own operatives in providing organizational assistance to Solidarity and smuggling equipment into the country. According to former deputy CIA director Inman, Casey decided that the American labor movement's relationship with Solidarity was so good that much of what the CIA needed could be financed and obtained through AFL-CIO channels. "Financial support wasn't what they needed," says Inman. "It was organization, and that was an infinitely better way to help them than through classic covert operations."
The Solidarity office in Brussels became an international clearinghouse: for representatives of the Vatican, for CIA operatives, for the AFL-CIO, for representatives of the Socialist International, for the congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy, which also worked closely with Casey. It was the place where Solidarity told its backers--some of whose real identities were unknown to Solidarity itself--what it needed, where goods and supplies and organizers could be most useful. Priests, couriers, labor organizers and intelligence operatives moved in and out of Poland with requests for aid and with detailed information on the situation inside the government and the underground. Food and clothing and money to pay fines of Solidarity leaders who were brought before Polish courts poured into the country. Inside Poland, a network of priests carried messages back and forth between the churches where many of Solidarity's leaders were in hiding.
In the summer of 1984, when the sanctions against Poland seemed to be hurting ordinary Poles and not the communists, Laghi traveled to Santa Barbara to meet with Reagan at the Western White House and urge that some of the sanctions be lifted. The Administration complied. At the same time, the White House, in close consultation with the Vatican, refused to ease its economic pressures on Moscow--denying technology, food and cultural exchanges as the price for continuing oppression in Poland.
Much of the equipment destined for Solidarity arrived in Poland by ship--often packed in mismarked containers sent from Denmark and Sweden, then unloaded at Gdansk and other ports by dockers secretly working with Solidarity. According to Administration officials, the socialist government of Sweden--and Swedish labor unions--played a crucial role in arranging the transshipment of goods to Poland. From the Polish docks, equipment moved to its destination in trucks and private cars driven by Solidarity sympathizers who often used churches and priests as their point of contact for deliveries and pickups.
"The Administration plugged into the church across the board," observes Derwinski, now Secretary of Veterans Affairs. "Not just through the church hierarchy but through individual churches and bishops. Monsignor Bronislaw Dabrowski, a deputy to Cardinal Glemp, came to us often to tell us what was needed: he would meet with me, with Casey, the NSC and sometimes with Walters." John Cardinal Krol of Philadelphia, whose father was born in Poland, was the American churchman closest to the Pope. He frequently met with Casey to discuss support for Solidarity and covert operations, according to CIA sources and Derwinski. "Krol hit it off very well with President Reagan and was a source of constant advice and contact," says Derwinski. "Often he was the one Casey or Clark went to, the one who really understood the situation."
By 1985 it was apparent that the Polish government's campaign to suppress Solidarity had failed. According to a report by Adrian Karatnycky, who helped organize the AFL-CIO's assistance to Solidarity, there were more than 400 underground periodicals appearing in Poland, some with a circulation that exceeded 30,000. Books and pamphlets challenging the authority of the communist government were printed by the thousands. Comic books for children recast Polish fables and legends, with Jaruzelski pictured as the villain, communism as the red dragon and Walesa as the heroic knight. In church basements and homes, millions of viewers watched documentary videos produced and screened on the equipment smuggled into the country.
With clandestine broadcasting equipment supplied by the CIA and the AFL-CIO, Solidarity regularly broke into the government's radio programming, often with the message "Solidarity lives!" or "Resist!" Armed with a transmitter supplied by the CIA through church channels, Solidarity interrupted television programming with both audio and visual messages, including calls for strikes and demonstrations. "There was a great moment at the half time of the national soccer championship," says a Vatican official. "Just as the whistle sounded for the half, a SOLIDARITY LIVES! banner went up on the screen and a tape came on calling for resistance. What was particularly ingenious was waiting for the half-time break; had the interruption come during actual soccer play, it could have alienated people." As Brzezinski sums it up, "This was the first time that communist police suppression didn't succeed."
"Nobody believed the collapse of communism would happen this fast or on this timetable," says a cardinal who is one of the Pope's closest aides. "But in their first meeting, the Holy Father and the President committed themselves and the institutions of the church and America to such a goal. And from that day, the focus was to bring it about in Poland."
Step by reluctant step, the Soviets and the communist government of Poland bowed to the moral, economic and political pressure imposed by the Pope and the President. Jails were emptied, Walesa's trial on charges of slandering state officials was abandoned, the Polish communist party turned fratricidal, and the country's economy collapsed in a haze of strikes and demonstrations and sanctions.
On Feb. 19, 1987, after Warsaw had pledged to open a dialogue with the church, Reagan lifted U.S. sanctions. Four months later, Pope John Paul II was cheered by millions of his countrymen as he traveled across Poland demanding human rights and praising Solidarity. In July 1988, Gorbachev visited Warsaw and signaled Moscow's recognition that the government could not rule without Solidarity's cooperation. On April 5, 1989, the two sides signed agreements legalizing Solidarity and calling for open parliamentary elections in June. In December 1990, nine years after he was arrested and his labor union banned, Lech Walesa became President of Poland.
COVER STORY ............. PART TWO
"THE U.S. and the Vatican on Birth Control"
In response to concerns of the Vatican, the Reagan Administration agreed to alter its foreign-aid program to comply with the church's teachings on birth control.
According to William Wilson, the President's first ambassador to the Vatican, the State Department reluctantly agreed to an outright ban on the use of any U. S. aid funds by either countries or international health organizations for the promotion of birth control or abortion. As a result of this position, announced at the World Conference on Population in Mexico City in 1984, the U.S. withdrew funding from, among others, two of the world's largest family planning organizations: the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.
"American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican's not agreeing with our policy," Wilson explains. "American aid programs around the world did not meet the criteria the Vatican had for family planning. AID [the Agency for International Development] sent various people from [the Department of] State to Rome, and I'd accompany them to meet the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and in long discussions they finally got the message. But it was a struggle. They finally selected different programs and abandoned others as a result of this intervention."
"I might have touched on that in some of my discussions with [CIA director William] Casey," acknowledges Pio Cardinal Laghi, the former apostolic delegate to Washington. "Certainly Casey already knew about our positions about that."
The Administration consulted with the Vatican on other matters as well. In Lebanon, the Reagan Administration adopted policies favoring the interests of the church and Maronite Christians. On several occasions, Casey used church channels to deal with the contras, though the Vatican itself took no official position on the war in Nicaragua. (Indeed, the Pope issued numerous appeals for peace in Central America and implicitly criticized the U.S. for prolonging the conflict.) Cardinal Laghi, who had served in Nicaragua in the early 1950s as secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature in Managua, played a key role by assuring contra leaders that the Administration delivered on its promises.
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