The Reform of the Polish Secret Services

by David M. Dastych *

The die is cast. On June 11, 2002 the President of Poland, Mr. Aleksander Kwasniewski, put his signature on the Internal Security Agency and the Foreign Intelligence Agency Act of May 24, 2002 and the most controversial reform of the Polish Secret Services became a documented fact. At the same time the Office for State Protection (UOP) ceased to exist. But the Military Counter-Intelligence and Intelligence (WSI) remained almost intact.

This reform, carried out by the present coalition Government, led by the social democrats (SLD), wasnít the first one in the post-1989 Poland. Urzad Ochrony Panstwa (UOP) (Office for State Protection) was founded on April 6, 1990 as a department of the Ministry of the Interior. In 1996 it was transformed into a separate government agency under the supervision of the Prime Minister. It was responsible for intelligence, counter-intelligence and government electronic security. The UOP replaced the communist-era Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa (SB) (Security Service), founded in 1956, whose responsibilities had additionally included the suppression of the democratic opposition to the communist government, prior to 1989. The Military Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence (WSI) slipped out of the 1990s reform, just changing its former name Wojskowe Sluzby Wewnetrzne (WSW) [literally: Internal Military Services] to Wojskowe Sluzby Informacyjne (WSI) [literally: Military Information Services].

After the collapse of the communist system in Poland (June, 1989), in other "socialist countries" [1990-1991] and in the USSR (December, 1991) there was an urgent need to disband the repressive communist secret service system and to get rid of thousands of its functionaries and secret informants. Each of the post-communist countries dealt with this problem in its own way. The general trend was to verify the professional cadres by dismissing the most compromised functionaries of the regime and to form new institutions and recruit new people. In Poland this had been accomplished in the early 1990s but never to the end. A "ZERO OPTION" or the complete dismissal of the Secret Services (called in Polish: Special Services) and building them anew in the reformed structures and with new people was also sought but never fully materialized. The reasons were simple: the lack of qualified people to man the Intelligence and Counter-intelligence Services of the democratic country. It was then more easy to organize new institutions with a "mixed personnel", consisting in part of the old (previously "positively verified" or "screened") agents and the new would be agents, recruited from among the members of the former anti-communist opposition. This had been done in practice. The "positively verified" former officers of the communist Foreign Intelligence and Counter-intelligence were transferred to the Office for State Protection (UOP) and their main task was to train the new admissions. The key jobs were in the hands of the former opposition activists, politically appointed and responsible to the new government. Not a small number of the former officers and agents pleaded loyalty to the Republic of Poland (RP) and voluntarily dropped their obligations to the (communist) Peopleís Republic of Poland, the state that ceased to exist. Some of the new recruits, mostly young people from anti-communist organizations, quickly learned the trade and advanced to the higher ranks and posts, even to the post of the Head of the Office for State Protection (Urzad Ochrony Panstwa, UOP), Head of the Counter-intelligence (in the UOP), department heads and the like. The remaining former communist functionaries, sacked of their jobs, became professionals in many trades, some of them went to business and were successful. But there were also some "black sheep" among them, who organized their mafia-like organizations and used their spy and spy-catcherís experience to indulge into the illegal trade in arms, military equipment and nuclear materials and products. Some became the bosses in the narcotic trade or "specialized" in financial and banking swindles, very popular after the change of the regime. This is often called the "criminal offspring" of the former communist Secret Services.

The verification of the personnel had been also done in the Military Secret Services (WSI) but no new institutions were founded there. The MI (Military Intelligence) and the MC-I (Military Counter-intelligence) remained subordinated to the Ministry of Defense, headed by a number of civilian politicians from the often changing democratic governments. Some experts and critics claim that there was no reform at all in the Military Secret Services and these Services still remain under the influence of the "old" communist functionaries. This is true only in part as many young officers advanced to the higher ranks and posts on their jobs. The Military Services were always "secretive", due to the nature of their secret operations, aimed at the protection of the Polish Land Army, Navy and Air Force from enemy spies and at the covert intelligence operations, carried out abroad to "steal" foreign countriesí military secrets. But since Poland joined NATO (March 12, 1999), the reform of the Polish Military Secret Services became also a priority.

Turf wars and scandals

From 1990 until 2001 and later on the structures of the Polish secret services were gradually reformed and institutionalized. The "civilian" foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence shifted from the Ministry of the Interior to the Office for State Protection, responsible to the Prime Minister of the Government and the Military Services remained under the Ministry of Defense, now headed by a civilian politician, not by a military person as before. The subsequent governments and presidents of Poland as well as the political parties actually in power engaged in a series of "turf wars", seeking the hegemony over the Secret Services. Finally a post of "Minister-Coordinator of the Special Services" was specially formed to oversee the Services and to report to the Prime Minister and the Government, as well as to the Parliament. All the time, during these 11 years, there was an open question rised: to what extend the Secret (or Special) Services should be non-political and impartial, serving just to the Polish State. In practice that goal could never be reached as the changing governments formed by a number of political parties and coalitions always wanted to control the Services to their own benefit. Moreover, the control over the Archives of the former SB (Security Service or political police) and the WSW (Military Services) became the top priority task to each of the ruling parties and political groups, who used the dossiers to compromise and blackmail the opponents by accusing them of being "foreign spies" or secret agents and/or informants of the SB or the WSW, in order to eliminate them from the active political life and to deprive them of the high posts in the state administration. This trend is being continued until now, however in a more "civilized" way, by the legally approved lustration process of all political figures and public functionaries. By trial in a special Lustration Court theoretically all people holding government or other public jobs can be cleaned of false accusations or judged guilty of the participation in the former communist repression system. In practice this is sometimes a lottery, as a large part of the secret documents has been destroyed or taken out of the SB and WSI archives before 1990 or even later.

The best known scandal came out in December 1995. It was a (false) accusation, brought by the then Minister of the Interior, Mr. Andrzej Milczanowski against the Prime Minister of the Government, Mr. Josef Oleksy. The Minister, responsible directly to President Lech Walesa, used the Office of State Protection (UOP) to spy on the Prime Minister from the social-democratic (SLD) government and publicly accused him in the Parliament of being "a Russian spy". The unproven accusation caused the demission of the Prime Minister and the "spy-case" went to the Military Prosecutor, who dismissed the alleged testimonies of the UOP agents. Mr. Josef Oleksy was found not guilty but the intelligence officers, who manipulated the accusations, were promoted by President Lech Walesa to higher ranks, before Walesa left the Presidential Office after the lost re-election campaign in 1995 (the winner was the actual president, Mr. Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is serving his second and last term now). That scandal had a close similarity to a political provocation against the so called post-communist Left. President Walesa, who executed the constitutional power over the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense, could have used the "Oleksy spy-case" to proclaim a martial law in Poland and to remain in the Presidential Palace for a longer time, in spite of the lost elections. Did he really want to do so? I doubt. But certainly he wanted to prove that the post-communists are "former Soviet agents" not worth to rule over the democratic Polish state. If so, the scheme had failed. But the Oleksy case wasnít the last scandal involving the Secret Services. In the year 2000 both presidents - the former Mr. Lech Walesa and the actural Mr. Aleksander Kwasniewski Ė became subject to the lustration trials as the contestants in the presidential elections. At that time some efforts were made with the "help" of the UOP to manipulate by the SB archive documents to prove at court that both presidents of Poland were communist secret agents or informants, before the regime change in 1989. But the truth prevailed and the presidents were found not guilty. Lech Walesa, again, lost the elections to Aleksander Kwasniewski, who became the President of Poland for the second term.

"Zero option" and the Present Reform

In Fall of 2001 there were to be held the elections to the Polish Parliament (the Sejm and the Senat). The reform of the Secret Services became an important part of the Election Program of the social democrats (SLD Ė the Social Democratic Alliance), led by Mr. Leszek Miller, the actual Prime Minister of the Polish Government. A long time before the elections, SLD founded a National Security Institute in order to work out for Poland a new system of the Secret Services to replace the one compromised by the enduring scandals and political rivalry. At that time the country was ruled by a bizarre coalition of the Right and Center parties, called Akcja Wyborcza Solidarnosc, AWS (The Election Action Solidarnosc). The Prime Minister then was Professor Buzek and the Minister-Coordinator of the Secret Services was Mr. Palubicki, a former anti-communist activist. Mr. Palubickiís role in the "turf wars" with the use of the UOP was evident.

The AWS Government wasnít at all interested in the reform of the Services, as they were under the control of their own political factions. In fact, the UOP and the WSI noted a number of successes in the counter-espionage and in the disrupting of the organized crime: the mafias and narcobusiness. But the Social Democratic Alliance (SLD) had itís own vision of the Secret Services, inspired by the organization of the foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence as well as of the domestic security in some Polandís NATO partner states of Europe, mainly in Germany and Great Britain. The draft of the reform had been prepared by the National Security Institute of the SLD, with the participation of a number of the former intelligence and counter-intelligence officers and some members of the Special Services Control Commission of the Sejm. It was consulted with the National Security Bureau of the Presidential Office and also with President Kwasniewski himself.

The team working on the reform wanted to change the whole system of the Secret Services, splitting them into two main Agencies: the Foreign Intelligence Agency (Agencja Wywiadu) and the Internal Security Agency (Agencja Bezpieczenstwa Wewnetrznego). The office of the Minister-Coordinator should be abolished and, in its place, an Intelligence Community should be established to serve to the main political leaders of the country. The Intelligence Community should be led by the Head of the Foreign Intelligence Agency (Agencja Wywiadu, AW). The powers of the Internal Security Agency (Agencja Bezpieczenstwa Wewnetrznego, ABW), formed mainly on the base of the former UOP, should embrace the counter-intelligence, the constitutional state protection, the fight against the corruption in the state administration and against the organized crime. To some extend the initial model for the ABW was the American FBI. But the new agency had no police powers, like the power to arrest people. The AW should be a typical foreign intelligence service, working abroad. It should comprise the majority of the intelligence officers of the former UOP as well as a part of the WSI officers, a certain number of them to work in the strategic intelligence. Both Agencies should be headed by civilian politicians of the actually ruling parties or coalitions, responsible to the Prime Minister and controlled by the Parliament and other state control institutions. The officers in the Agencies (save for the Heads) should not be political nominees but impartial "state servants".

Following the parliamentary elections of 2001, won by the social democrats (SLD), the Center-Left coalition Government formed by three political parties : SLD, UP and PSL, started the reform of the Secret Services . The concerning Act was approved by the lower chamber of the Parliament (the Sejm) in May of 2002 and signed by the President of Poland in June of this year, after a prolonged discussion and in spite of the protests from the opposition of the Right parties. The main argument against the reform, voiced by the opposition, was that it enabled the return of former communist functionaries to the active service, at the cost of the dismissal of officers and agents, previously recruited from among the former democratic opposition to the communist regime. The social democrats replied that it never was true and that the two Agencies would employ non-political staff, selected by virtue of their professional qualities. Actually the forming of the two Agencies is in progress but the polemics never end. The heads of the Agencies: Mr. Zbigniew Siemiatkowski (AW) and Mr. Andrzej Barcikowski (ABW) represent the ruling SLD party. The lower position jobs are being filled in by intelligence and counter-intelligence professionals and people from other trades, like lawyers, technicians, analysts. Only the future practice will prove who were right and how the new Agencies are going to serve Poland, at home and abroad. Polandís Secret Services will be also carefully watched and assessed by the NATO partners and by the secret services of the "opposition".


SB: Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, a former communist home security & counter-intelligence service and a secret political police, founded in 1956 and dissolved in 1990, after the change of the regime in Poland. The SB recruited informants (TW) for the secret police as well as agents for the foreign intelligence service, operated abroad by the Ministry of the Interior (MSW), as itís separate Department.

WSW: Wojskowe Sluzby Wewnetrzne, former military counter-intelligence and intelligence as well as military police in communist Poland.

WSI: Wojskowe Sluzby Informacyjne, the actual military intelligence and counter-intelligence, since 1990. Since June 2002, a certain number of military intelligence officers will pass to the Foreign Intelligence Agency (AW) and will be engaged in strategic intelligence. The WSI will carry out intelligence tasks near Polandís frontiers.

UOP: Urzad Ochrony Panstwa (Office for State Protection), founded in 2000 as a department of the Ministry of the Interior. In 1996 reorganized as a separate government agency, responsible for intelligence, counter-intelligence, government electronic protection and fighting corruption and organized crime. The UOP was subordinated to the Prime Minister of the Government. The Office for State Protection ceased to exist in June 2002 due to the reform of the secret services. Its functions, property and personnel were divided between the two new agencies: the Foreign Intelligence Agency (AW) and the Internal Security Agency (ABW).

AW: Agencja Wywiadu, the Foreign Intelligence Agency, founded in June 2002. Its functions are intelligence and analysis. Its personnel works in Poland (HQ, special operations) and, mainly, abroad. Itís predominantly a civilian institution but a certain number of officers are military, transferred from the WSI to work in strategic intelligence. The Agency is subordinated to the Prime Minister, its head is a civilian politician (now Mr. Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, member of the ruling party, SLD). So far the AW has no official Web site.

ABW: Agencja Bezpieczenstwa Wewnetrznego, the Internal Security Agency, founded in June 2002. Its main tasks: counter-intelligence, government electronic security, fighting corruption and organized crime. It is responsible to the Prime Minister. More information on this Agency is to be found on its official Web site: [in Polish and partly in English].

WW: Wspolnota Wywiadowcza (the Intelligence Community), founded in June 2002 as a result of the reform. It comprises all Polish secret services and is headed by the Head of the Foreign Intelligence Agency (presently by Mr. Zbigniew Siemiatkowski). Its responsibility is to inform the President of Poland, the Prime Minister of the Government and other prominent political leaders of the country.

Short information about the Heads of the new Agencies

[by David M. Dastych, last updated August 31, 2002]