How the world loves spies - though governments and corporations shudder at the mere thought that their security has been breached and that their secrets have been sold to the highest bidder, or worse yet, exposed in embarrassing detail to public scrutiny. We have all been captivated by the recent controversy involving the escapades of Julian Assange and the top-secret government documents he has been uploading to Wikileaks. Contrary to popular opinion, Assange's goal is not to "disempower institutions and governments" but rather make them accountable for their actions and imposing upon them the need for greater transparency.
His struggle for truth and justice has not gone unnoticed. Assange has been nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize by Snorre Valen, a Norwegian politician who rightly praised Assange as "one of the most important contributors to freedom of speech and transparency" in the 21st century. He added that "Wikileaks is a natural contender for the Nobel Peace Prize" because it disclosed "information about corruption, human rights abuses and war crimes."
Despite his hero status, Assange is fiercely vilified by many Canadian and American politicians: Tom Flanagan, advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, publicly called for the assassination of Assange: Sarah Palin said that "Assange should be targeted like the Taliban"'; Mike Huckabee, US Republican Chairman has called for the death penalty; even former U.S. President Bill Clinton has jumped on the bandwagon and condemned Assange as a criminal "who will not escape U.S. law". Unable to pin him down politically, Assanges enemies have resorted to laying false charges accusing him of rape and sexual assault. Maybe they can get him on a charge of jaywalking.
Spies have always been the object of public fascination. We read about or listen with rapt attention to the details of their mysterious, secret lives, and envisage the glamour and excitement with which they pursue their dangerous and clandestine missions. Their lives have been the grist for endless stories, television shows, Hollywood movies, and even featured in animated cartoons.
Who among us has not heard the folklore surrounding one of the most famous of spies, Mata Hari, an exotic dancer and courtesan, who gained notoriety as a result of her scandalous lifestyle, and even more so for her alleged activity as a double agent during World War I. She was executed in 1917 by a firing squad; and that of the Rosenbergs - American Communists who were convicted of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union during WWII. They were executed by electric chair at Sing Sing prison in the United States in 1953; and former CIA operative, Aldrich Ames, who was convicted in1994 of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. He is serving life imprisonment, without parole, in the U.S. Penitentiary at Allenwood, Pennsylvania.
Media attention has often been lavished on spies like these, purely for entertainment value. Unfortunately very little or nothing has been said about Polish spies. Espionage during World War II was a very complex and vast underground network involving the Resistance from every Nazi-occupied country, but whose organization was definitely the largest and most effective within Nazi-occupied Poland. In fact, stories about Polish spies are the stuff of legends. It was the Polish Underground during World War II which made the most significant contributions that gave the Allies the means with which to win the war. Indeed, Polish spies are the unsung heroes and they are the subject of my special series of blogs.
Polish Greatness (Blog) has scheduled a series of articles to begin on Valentines Day, February 14, 2011, entitled SPY WEEK: Famous Polish Spies. Daily briefings will be posted about many Polish spies, such as Witold Pilecki, the Polish soldier who had himself arrested and interned in Auschwitz; Krystyna Skarbek, the sultry Polish femme fatale, who parachuted into France as an SOE operative for the Allies. (She once had an affair with Ian Fleming, the famous author of James Bond stories who based several characters of his books on her.) Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski known by the code name, Polish Viking, whose covert activities provided the United States with vital information and copies of secret Russian documents during the Cold War. Kuklinski single-handedly "helped keep the Cold War from getting hot." These and many other fascinating Polish spies will be featured - from World War I, World War II and post-war Communist Poland. Finally, this special series of Spy Week will end on February 20th, 2011 with a special series of videos of a former KGB agent who gave a public lecture on the topic of psychological warfare techniques - a hallmark of overt espionage. The lecture is both enlightening, very witty, and peppered with many humourous anecdotes. Though it was filmed in 1983 the observations and analyses have not lost any of their relevance over time. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same).